As a balding England fly-half who flitted on and off the Test stage during the Eighties, Les Cusworth once dropped a goal that left Ireland clutching a wooden spoon.
A decade or so later he went to the 1995 World Cup as England backs coach only to see his plans rail-roaded to smithereens by Jonah Lomu’s impersonation of a runaway freight train. Swept aside by the advent of professionalism, Cusworth sought relocation and reinvention in Buenos Aires as Argentina’s High Performance Manager.
And there, over a period of seven years, he orchestrated the samba rugby revolution which engulfed Ireland, an irresistible brand of high-octane running which left the champions of Europe with nowhere to go but home.
On a day when they were supposed to break new ground, the Irish fell victim to Argentina’s bewitching conversion from their rigid adherence to the ten-man game. Los Pumas had been transformed from the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park into their real identity as the fastest, smartest cats in the game.
In presiding over the creation of academies from the foothills of the Andes to the Atlantic, Cusworth set up the assembly lines for young players like Santiago Cordero and Pablo Matera. The English architect finished his work two years ago but predicts that ‘hundreds more are in the pipeline.’
None of that will lessen the sense of desolation within the Ireland squad and among what sounded like 250,000 Irish in Cardiff’s triple-tiered work of art. Giving the Argentinians a 17-point start rather confirmed the worst fears, that France the previous Sunday had been the most pyrrhic of victories.
With their stricken captain and playmaker supreme marooned in the stand alongside two-thirds of the back row, Ireland would have felt like Michelangelo turning up to work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel without the wooden scaffolding.
To use the absentees as an excuse for the defeat is to do Augustin Creevy and his Pumas a disservice. Who is to say that a fully-loaded Ireland could have lived with them?
Argentina had never been slow to poke Ireland in the eye metaphorically and literally, never more so than at the Adelaide cricket oval during the 2003 World Cup when props Roberto Grau and Mauricio Reggiardo were given bans totalling 15 weeks for gouging.
While a tango with the Pumas then could endanger your eyesight, they had never led anyone such a merry dance as they did yesterday. When sheer willpower dragged Ireland to within a penalty of drawing level going into the final quarter, Argentina finished as they started with another 17-point flourish.
And now their most famous fan, Diego Maradona, has promised to be at Sunday’s semi-final against Australia. On this form he could do worse than hang around for the final.
When it comes to finishing, nobody does it better than Julian Savea.
The Samoan Kiwi’s fourth All Black hat-trick raises his tally to 38 in 39 Tests, as near one per game as makes no difference.
None of the greats have come anywhere close to matching Savea’s strike rate. Even his three most prodigious predecessors in the All Black jersey are a long way back in his slipstream — Christian Cullen (0.793), Doug Howlett (0.790), Jeff Wilson (0.733).
Other notables are further back – the Welsh wizard Shane Williams (0.659), the goose-stepping Wallaby David Campese (0.634), the monstruous Jonah Lomu (0.587), the gazelle-like Bryan Habana (0.561).
It took Campese 14 years to build his world record of 64 tries from 101 matches. Savea is more than halfway there at the age of 25 and he’s really only got into his stride.
At one stage on Saturday night he had such a mesmeric effect on the opposition that three red-shirted defenders made room for him like a parting of the Red Sea. When others got in his way they bounced off him as if Savea was driving a dodgem car at a fairground. Lomu would have loved it.
As if the hosts being ejected from their global party wasn’t bad enough, the rest of the Six Nations have now been ushered off the premises. For the first time, a World Cup in Europe will be played out over the final fortnight without a single European team.
Six of the previous seven tournaments made the last four with a 2-2 split between the hemispheres. At the other, in 1999, France were alone against the usual suspects from south of the Equator.
When push came to shove, only the unsung Scots will feel they were robbed. The Wallabies got out of jail at Twickenham by virtue of Craig Joubert awarding a penalty against sub prop John Welsh for ‘accidental’ offside.
He was right in law. Another referee on another occasion might have taken a more sympathetic view, awarded a scrum and the Wallabies might easily have been out.
In what could be interpreted as an attempt to get the Pumas barking up the wrong tree, the Irish management issued daily bulletins indicating that Johnny Sexton would play yesterday. On Friday they named him in the team with coach Joe Schmidt adamant, saying‘’Johnny is fit’.’ Barely 24 hours later, surprise, surprise, the same Johnny was deemed unfit. No official word of explanation, of course, just that he wouldn’t be playing. A clue as to the misinformation can be found in Ireland’s Medical Policy.
‘’The Ireland medical team management believe in protecting patient confidentiality with regard to personal medical information yet recognise the media appetite for such information.
“The Ireland Medical team will provide appropriate levels of information regarding player injuries sustained during the course of the tournament. This information will be provided as advised by the team media manager.”
In other words, we’ll tell you what we want to tell you, even if it means bamboozling the public.
Nobody can have suffered more in this World Cup from the slings of outrageous fortune than Alex Cuthbert. The Welsh Lion’s campaign began badly and then went rapidly downhill, hitting rock bottom when he committed the cardinal sin of drifting inside from his wing and leaving the road clear.
Fourie de Preez took full advantage, his dart proving just enough to edge the Springboks through and send the depleted Welsh home stricken by an overpowering sense of deja vu.
In 30 matches against South Africa, New Zealand and Australia under Warren Gatland, Wales have lost 28, almost half of them by a single score.
Argentina’s exhilarating entry into a second successive semi-final deserves recognition, not least Joaquin Tuculet, their full back in fluorescent yellow boots who was playing next door at Cardiff Arms Park last season before some threadbare crowds.
Team of the weekend:
Joaquin Tuculet (Argentina); Santiago Cordero (Argentina), Conrad Smith (New Zealand), Mark Bennett (Scotland), Juan Imhoff (Argentina); Nicolas Sanchez (Argentina), Fourie du Preez (South Africa); Marcos Ayerza (Argentina), Rory Best (Ireland), Owen Franks (New Zealand); Brodie Retallick (New Zealand), Sam Whitelock (New Zealand); Juan-Martin Fernandez Lobbe (Argentina), Sam Warburton (Wales), Taulupe Faletau (Wales).
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