Saturday, Oct. 15, Wales and France will meet in the first 2011 Rugby World Cup Semi-Final. If Wales wins, they will earn their first ever trip to a World Cup final. France has been the runner-up twice before – in ‘87 and’ 99. Although both teams have been in all 7 World Cups, this will be the first time they have ever met in a World Cup match. They play each other annually in the 6 Nations. This year France won at home 28-9.
In their quarterfinal Wales dumped Ireland out of the competition by a score of 22-10. This was the Irish side that beat Australia 15-6 on Sept. 17th. The Welsh tenacious defense and Irish handling errors and inability to quickly find the open space outside was the big difference. Shane Williams went over for a try with only a little over 2 minutes of the match gone. Williams is Wales’s all-time try scorer and this made his 56th career test try, but only his second try against Ireland in the nine times he has faced them. Ireland leveled the score at 10 all four minutes into the second half, but the Welsh put in two more unanswered tries by the 64th minute and as rain began to pour down and cold southerly winds began to whip the Wellington Stadium Irish hopes of getting to their first ever World Cup semi-final were dashed by the hard tackling Welsh. The Irish supporters’ hopes floated along until the end of the match, though. Loud chants of “Ireland” (quickly matched by “Wales”) reverberated around the stadium until the final whistle and the Irish definitely won the singing of the national anthem contest which is not an easy thing to do against the Welsh.
In the France vs England quarterfinal predictions that the French would put together their once a tournament great World Cup performance came true. Although England was only a converted try away from tying the match when the final whistle blew (19-12), they never really seemed in it. What had been labeled by media as the extremely boring but effective English playing style turned into the embarrassing appearance of a team that really couldn’t compete with a good open rugby playing team.
We watched the France v England match in a packed bar on the Wellington harbor waterfront. The Welsh , Irish, and Kiwi punters in the bar were unanimously behind Les Bleus. My English wife spotted one other person clad in a jersey with a red rose, and we attempted to spur the English on from afar with a chorus of “Sing Low”, but all for naught. The English will now go home to try to figure out what went wrong. Hopefully someone will come up with the idea that they should try practicing and playing open running and passing rugby. Where is Jeremy Guscott?
We left our Welsh friends to party on and wandered through the Fanzone where the green of the Irish and red of the Welsh danced together in something resembling a gigantic Christmas block party. Now that the English are gone it will be interesting to see who the neutrals will choose to support when the Welsh Red Dragons search for their first ever trip to a World Cup final against the French Les Bleus.