Image: Rugby Union – New Zealand v Georgia – IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool C – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales – 2/10/15 New Zealand’s Malakai Fekitoa scores their seventh try Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs Livepic
By Justin Palmer
LONDON (Reuters) – Will the real Rugby World Cup holders please stand up? Three games, three wins and a quarter-final place secured but New Zealand are still searching for fluency.
The misfiring All Blacks won an arm wrestle with Georgia on Friday, scoring seven tries in a 43-10 victory in Cardiff but making a slew of uncharacteristic handling errors in a scrappy and sloppy display.
“We realise we need to be better,” New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said.
“We were trying too hard at times. There is no panic… we have seven days to fix it before Tonga (in their last Pool C game).”
While fierce rivals England and Australia prepared to do battle at Twickenham in a must-win game for the under-fire hosts, New Zealand can turn their minds to the knockout stage.
There were pluses for Steve Hansen’s side in their 50th match since they lifted the trophy for a second time in 2011.
Rookie winger Waisake Naholo made an explosive return 10 weeks after breaking his leg, scoring the opening try after 73 seconds — the fastest of the tournament.
Prolific winger Julian Savea took his tally to 35 tries in 38 test with a hat-trick but the moment of the night belonged to Georgia fullback Beka Tsiklauri who could not quite believe it when he hacked through to pick up and score a try soon after Naholo.
The hosts must show Savea’s clinical finishing and beat Australia on Saturday if they are to avoid the ignominy of becoming the first England team not to make the quarter-finals.
They go into the Pool A game slight favourites with the bookmakers and the showdown is expected to attract the most money ever gambled on a rugby match with more than 10 million pounds ($15.16) wagered, Britain’s William Hill said.
Tickets have also been changing hands for eye-catching amounts with re-sale website Viagogo saying this week that two tickets were purchased for the match at 4,000 pounds each — the highest price ever paid for a non-finals ticket.
If Australia needed any more motivation to put one over the ‘poms’ then England flyhalf Danny Cipriani may have provided it.
Cipriani, who was left out of Stuart Lancaster’s 31-man squad, raised a few eyebrows when he said not one Australia player would get into the England team at the moment.
Australian winger Adam Ashley-Cooper retorted: “It’s nice that he’s tweeting about someone other than himself.”
Cipriani was not the only Englishman having a dig at their fierce sporting rivals with World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward calling the Australian players as “not the brightest”.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika took it in good spirits.
“I understand it’s all a bit of fun and games and a bit of a snipe here, a snipe there, I’m pretty comfortable with all that stuff,” he said.
The picture in Pool B should be clearer by Saturday evening after Samoa take on Japan in Milton Keynes followed by South Africa’s clash with Scotland in Newcastle.
The Scots are top of the pile after convincing victories over Japan and the U.S. but start as big underdogs against a Springboks side who bounced back from their shock defeat by Japan to thrash Samoa and get their tournament back on track.
Tonga prop Tevita Mailau became the latest player to fall foul of the disciplinary panel when he was suspended for two weeks for making a dangerous tackle during their Pool C match against Namibia.
He will miss his side’s final two group games against Argentina and New Zealand.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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