2008: A month by month look back - part two

(IRB.COM) Monday 15 December 2008
 2008: A month by month look back - part two
New Zealand won the IRB Pacific Nations Cup, but only after a last gasp penalty miss from Australia A

As the year draws to a close, we complete our month by month look back at 2008.



The Tri Nations burst into life in the southern hemisphere with South Africa looking to build on their World Cup success, New Zealand to bounce back from their own disappointment and Australia continue their new era under coach Robbie Deans. South Africa lost the opener to New Zealand, but bounced back to record their first win over the All Blacks in Dunedin a week later. Australia, meanwhile, made the best start, beating both South Africa and New Zealand on home soil.

There was better news for New Zealand in the final round of the IRB Pacific Nations Cup with the Maoris beating Australia A 21-18 in the title decider in Sydney to succeed the Junior All Blacks as champions. However had Mark Gerrard’s long range penalty not dropped agonisingly under the crossbar in injury time then Australia A would have been the ones celebrating a first title on point difference from the Maoris.

As the Pacific Nations Cup was concluding, the IRB North America 4 was resuming with the all-American affair between USA Hawks and USA Falcons. The Falcons ran out winners, before they and Canada West both enjoyed victories in the next round robin matches. West ultimately went unbeaten after emphatically beating the Falcons 55-0, the same side they would meet in the final for the third year in a row.

The road to Dubai 2009 continued with two more regional qualifying tournaments taking place in July, the first the European men’s event in Germany and then the Oceania men’s and women’s in Samoa. Portugal were crowned European champions with Wales, Georgia, Ireland and Italy securing the other qualification berths.

Samoa inevitably dominated the men’s qualifier on home soil, crushing Tonga 52-0 in the final to their supporters’ delight. Tonga, though, had already confirmed their qualification by reaching the final. The women’s final was a closer affair with Nicole Beck’s try right on full-time securing a 22-15 victory for Australia over New Zealand, although both sides will be in Dubai next March.

Australia's first Women's Sevens team enjoyed success in Samoa

Finally in Barbados, the Cayman Islands created their own piece of history by winning the NAWIRA Under 20 Championship to confirm their place at the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2009 – the first IRB international 15-a-side tournament they have ever qualified for.


The first weekend of August saw the final weekend of pool matches in the Africa Cup with Ivory Coast, Namibia, Uganda and Tunisia recording victories to top their respective pools and keep alive their hopes of securing the region’s one direct qualification berth for Rugby World Cup 2011 as well as a place in the Final Place Playoff. The semi finals won’t take place until next June, so the quartet will have plenty of time to prepare.

Canada West, meanwhile, made it three IRB North America 4 titles in a row after once again beating USA Falcons in the final, this time 16-11 at Glendale Infinity Park. It was an even tighter affair in the third place playoff with Canada East and USA Hawks drawing 17-17.

The race to claim the Tri Nations turned into a Trans Tasman affair with South Africa suffering back to back home defeats by New Zealand and Australia, before overwhelming a weakened Wallabies side 55-3 in their final match in the competition. With New Zealand having beaten Australia in Auckland before heading to South African shores, the title was still up for grabs going into September’s final match between the All Blacks and Wallabies in Brisbane.


It was now the turn of the African women’s teams to qualify for the first ever Women’s RWC Sevens tournament with seven teams converging on Uganda in late September. South Africa lived up to their billing as favourites, conceding only two tries in defending their CAR Sevens title, beating the hosts in the final after the Ugandans had shed tears of joy having overcome Tunisia in the semi finals to confirm their qualification.

As the European Nations Cup kicked off with the two-year competition this time doubling as the region’s qualifying process for RWC 2011, the Tri Nations drew to a close in the southern hemisphere with the title decider between Australia and New Zealand in Brisbane. The All Blacks ultimately retained the Tri Nations title and Bledisloe Cup with a slender 28-24 victory.

Two more nations secured their passages to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in September – following hot on the tails of Namibia who had won the African Under 19 tournament at the end of August – with Romania coming out on top in the European qualifier, beating Georgia 31-28 in a repeat of the third place playoff in the inaugural Trophy in Chile earlier this year. Papua New Guinea were overwhelming favourites to qualify from the Oceania region, a billing they lived up to by beating Vanuatu 84-0 in the final match.


The final three regional qualifiers for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009 took place with Hong Kong hosting the Asian men’s and women’s tournaments, Bahamas the NAWIRA event and Tunisia the African men’s showdown. Japan and Hong Kong claimed the Asian men’s tickets to Dubai, but Thailand pulled off a major shock in the women’s competition, beating the region’s powerhouse Kazakhstan in the semi finals to confirm their qualification. They were joined by winners Japan and China, who beat Kazakhstan in the third place playoff to claim the other spot.

If there had been surprises in the Asian qualifiers, the NAWIRA tournaments went according to the form book with Canada and USA taking the two qualification spots on offer in the men’s and women’s events, the Eagles men and Canadian women as winners. That left three men’s spots to be decided at the African qualifier with IRB Sevens core team Kenya coming out on top with Zimbabwe and hosts Tunisia also confirming their place in the Dubai spectacular.

Brazil had cause to celebrate after beating Trinidad & Tobago in their cross-continental RWC 2011 playoff in October

Rugby World Cup qualifying continued with the cross-continental playoff in the Americas with Caribbean champions Trinidad & Tobago tackling Brazil, the South American B champions, in a home and away tie. The Brazilians showed more signs of the strides they are making by winning both matches to remain in the hunt for passage to New Zealand and set up a South American Championship meeting with Uruguay and Chile next year.


The November Tests were given a fresh impetus in 2008 with the IRB World Rankings at the end of the month being used to seed the 12 pre-qualified teams for Rugby World Cup 2011 for the Pool Allocation Draw on 1 December. Argentina crucially held on to fourth despite defeats by France and Ireland, while Wales were the only nation to improve their ranking over the month after edging Australia 21-18 in Cardiff. South Africa and New Zealand both enjoyed unbeaten tours, the All Blacks completing the grand slam over the Home Unions.

Elsewhere in Europe, Russia and Spain had the honour of kicking off the top division of the European Nations Cup 2010, the competition which will see the champions and runners up qualify directly for RWC 2011. Russia ran out convincing 42-15 winners, although Spain bounced back the following weekend to defeat Germany 22-11 on their return to the top tier after an absence of more than two decades.

The 10th anniversary season of the IRB Sevens World Series kicked off in Dubai at the purpose-built The Sevens venue, which will also host Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009 in March. Fifty thousands fans packed The Sevens on both days as South Africa made the perfect start by beating England 18-12 in the final. Defending champions New Zealand and Fiji, the side they beat in the 2007 final, had to settle for 12 points as beaten semi finalists.

At the IRB Awards in London, Wales wing Shane Williams walked away with the IRB Player of the Year award, while New Zealand were named IRB Team of the Year and Graham Henry, the IRB Coach of the Year.


The final two nations in the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2009 field became known in November with Korea making the most of home advantage to beat Hong Kong 19-11 in the final to again qualify as Asia’s representative and Chile overwhelming Paraguay 68-14 to confirm their participation as the South American team. The line up will therefore be hosts Kenya, Cayman Islands, Chile, Korea, Namibia, Papua New Guinea, Romania and USA, the side relegated from the IRB Junior World Championship 2008 in Wales.


The Rugby World Cup 2011 Pool Allocation Draw took place in Tourism New Zealand’s ‘Giant Rugby Ball’ facility in the heart of London. The draw inevitably threw up some interesting pools with New Zealand to meet their RWC 2007 conquerors France and England paired with Scotland to name just two.


South Africa headed home, hoping to build on their Dubai success and win their home event for the first time in IRB Sevens history. With captain Mzwandile Stick again in inspired form, Paul Treu’s side realised their target in George – his home town – by coming from behind to defeat defending champions New Zealand 12-7 in the final.


Over the coming weeks we will be looking back in more details at some of the IRB tournaments, including the inaugural IRB Junior World Championship and IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy, as well as looking forward to a busy year in 2009.