Rugby World Cup Daily: Controversial no-call that has left France fuming

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THE LEAD: Controversial no-call that has left France fuming

What. A. Weekend!

We’ve already witnessed one of the best tournaments ever and we were treated again to another weekend of incredible rugby, with two of the best World Cup matches to ever be played taking place to start the knockout rounds.

But, despite the incredible spectacle taking place between France and South Africa, which saw the hosts bow out in a one-point defeat to the defending champions, referee Ben O’Keefe has found himself in the spotlight for his controversial no-call on Eben Etzebeth’s knock down.

As France beared down on the Springboks’ line, hunting for their second try just minutes into the game, Etzebeth stuck out his giant paw, knocking down a crucial pass that would no doubt have seen Les Bleus bash over the line again. Instead, O’Keefe ruled Etzebeth had somehow knocked the ball backward, much to the displeasure of the vocal French crowd.

The fact it led to a Springboks try just moments later had many inside the stadium fuming, including the players.

It was just one moment of many according to Antoine Dupont though, who vocalised his displeasure at the referee’s decisions following the match.

“It’s hard to talk about things at the moment, but I think there were some clear and obvious things that weren’t whistled,” Dupont said. “When you have a 60-metre penalty and you’re going forward in the rucks, it’s pretty clear. I’m not sure the refereeing was up to the challenge.

“This doesn’t take anything away from the South Africans, who beat us in the fight tonight, they played really well.”

For Springboks captain Siya Kolisi though, there were no complaints, only praise for France and the battle that took place.

“From our side, all we can do is play rugby. We can’t control the decisions the ref makes,” Kolisi said. “We will have to look at the game but the communications with him and the calls he made were fair. I would never discredit the referee. Obviously Antoine [Dupont] has his own opinion.

“It was an amazing game, it was tough, physically it flowed. The way the two teams played outshines everything else. It was an amazing atmosphere. The French team have been building for four years so we knew it would take something special for us to win this game.

“For a leader like Antoine to come back and play like he did, we give credit to him and France and all the French people who made this World Cup so special. When we heard the anthems, we knew how loud it was going to be. The people of France can be proud of their team.

“It was a one-point game. Things like the charge-down from Cheslin [Kolbe], you don’t see that every day. It was going to take something special for us to win. The French team and Antoine can hold their heads up high.”

In the end it’s the spectacle between two of the top teams in the world that has captured the headlines, and rightfully so, as the Springboks move on after producing a performance for the ages, while France are left to lick their wounds and wonder what could have been.


Fiji bow out, but take plenty of pride

Fiji’s 30-24 defeat to England in Marseille marked their final input to this Rugby World Cup, but they depart having left an incredible impression on the tournament. They’ve played wonderful rugby, dispatched a tier one side in the process but while they’re proud, they’re not satisfied. The experience of beating Australia and coming so close to knocking out England has left them wanting more.

“We reached the quarterfinal in 2007 and after 16 years we reached it again, but we will make sure that the next coming World Cup we will climb higher again,” flanker Meli Derenalagi said.

What we saw in this World Cup was a Fijian style, mixing pragmatism with flair. Their journey saw them come close to upsetting Wales in the opener, but still come away with two bonus points, before then defeating the Wallabies, just about overcoming Georgia and then falling to Portugal. Against England they ran them incredibly close and threatened a huge victory, but Steve Borthwick’s team managed to find a way to get things over the line.

You sense the lingering hurt from this match will stay with Fiji. Captain Waisea Nayacalevu was angered by the final call in the match which saw a turnover penalty go in England’s favour.

“I’ll be honest. I was frustrated with a few calls,” Nayacalevu said. “They had already formed a ruck and then [Maro] Itoje just came in and grabbed onto the ball and there was no penalty there. Three times in the game.”

That hurt will subside in time.

“The joy is there. For 15 weeks these boys have worked hard and we will celebrate that,” Fiji coach Simon Raiwalui said. “We’re hurting now in terms of the result but I couldn’t be prouder of this group in terms of what they’ve put in. They’ve built something for the next generation of Fijian rugby players. They’ve laid a foundation.

“We’re hurting at the moment and it will hurt for a long time because it was something we had built and we thought we could go further. The belief in the team has always been there. I’m bursting with pride.”

Foster meant no disrespect with ‘cut and paste’ call

The All Blacks were on Sunday soaking up their gripping four-point victory over Ireland and yet another semifinal berth, basking in the glory of their tremendous thirty-seven phase defensive set that denied Andy Farrell’s side victory in the closing minutes.

They will soon switch focus to Argentina, whom they will be heavy favourites to defeat, but the mission in the shorter term was to enjoy one of the great World Cup wins of all time – and rest some weary bodies in the process.

Defence coach Scott McLeod was full of praise for his team’s effort, as expected, and also moved to play down any alleged disrespect after his head coach Ian Foster had described Ireland’s attack as “cut and paste”, in that New Zealand largely knew what was coming.

But McLeod attempted to clarify those comments on Sunday, saying Ireland asked a lot of questions of New Zealand’s defence.

“It wasn’t a derogatory comment at all. Cut-and-paste meant that they just kept running the same shape, the attack shape,” McLeod said. “They just kept trying to find a weakness in us, over and over and over again.

“They are one of the best attacking sides in the world. They make you make constant decisions and they test your execution. They just kept trying to run the same stuff against us and what I am saying is that I’m really proud that no one in our line really tried to win that on their own or win that moment on their own. They did it collectively, they stayed connected and they did what we trained and eventually we got the opportunity to turn the ball over.”

After three huge wins over Namibia, Uruguay and then Italy, the All Blacks could have been forgiven for being a touch undercooked. But they asserted their authority on the match inside the opening quarter, establishing a 13-0 lead, and then maintaining at least a one-point advantage throughout, before the final gripping exchange. McLeod credited “Kiwi ticker” for his side’s ability to keep getting up off the floor to make tackles, before Sam Whitelock finally won the decisive penalty.

“We had to make 276 tackles last night and 100 of those were in the last quarter, and particularly in that last 37 phases. You know, the most we’ve had to make in this tournament, or attempt to make was 137 against Italy.

“So, there’s a huge amount of care and a huge amount of ticker I guess, Kiwi ticker in you like, that we wanted to get the job done. I am really proud of our execution in that zone but also our decision-making. The ball wasn’t there to take a number of times and we had to wait for the moment and then execute really well. You know, Sam Whitelock put himself in the position twice to do that and so did Ardie [Savea] and we finally got it.

“We finally got it after that 37th phase and the boys are really happy with that.”


We have to lose France, too? Etzebeth powers Springboks to victory in another Cup classic

It will go down in history as one of the all-time great World Cup matches, the Springboks denying France a fairytale home World Cup semifinal appearance. But it’s a cruel blow for fans who are unlikely to be treated to matches as incredible next week, Sam Bruce writes.

Stoic England down Fiji to earn semifinal spot

Steve Borthwick paid tribute to his captain Owen Farrell as England staved off a late Fiji charge to reach the semifinals of the Rugby World Cup.



Friday, Oct.20

Semifinal 1: Argentina vs. New Zealand – (Stade de France, Saint-Denis; 9p.m. local / 6 a.m. AEDT / 8 p.m. UK)

Saturday, Oct. 21

Semifinal 2: England vs. South Africa – (Stade de France, Saint-Denis; 9p.m. local / 6 a.m. AEDT / 8p.m. UK)

Third place

Friday, Oct. 27

Runner-up semifinal 1 vs. Runner-up semifinal 2 – (Stade de France, Saint-Denis; 9p.m. local / 6a.m. AEDT / 8p.m. UK)


Saturday, Oct. 28

Winner semifinal 1 vs. Winner semifinal 2 – (Stade de France, Saint-Denis; 9p.m. local / 6 a.m. AEDT/ 8p.m. UK)