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No time for complacency

Stuart Barnes24/9/07

Tonga will not be pushovers for England this Friday. A match which most thought a formality before the tournament commenced is now a straight knockout game.

Relief was the overwhelming emotion on display in Nantes on Saturday as England found the third gear required to overcome Samoa and the first hurdle towards qualifying for the last eight.

We can talk about the positive impact that Jonny Wilkinson's presence brought to the side, we can debate the continuing sub-standard nature of his tactical kicking (which Chris Latham will thrive on should England win Friday), but perhaps this is a time to acknowledge the spirit of the tournament as much as the tactics - which can wait for another day.

Nantes was a fine affair, one which will remain a happy memory for those who made it to this fine city.

We may have debated the palpitating excitement of the game itself had Tonga not risen to the challenge of South Africa and delivered the match of the tournament up to date.

One fortunate bounce of the ball and a win that would have eclipsed any shock through the long annals of the sport, so close and such credit goes to these small nations with huge hearts.

Tonga will not be pushovers for England this Friday. A match which most thought a formality before the tournament commenced is now a straight knockout game.

Home nations

The same applies to Wales against Fiji - who have the talent but probably not the technique to take the Welsh to the limit.

Scotland is another home nations side whose big date has arrived. Unlike the Tonga match, this collision has been slowly building but I suspect Scotland have it in them to beat Italy team whose confidence has never recovered from the pummelling at the hands, and feet, of the All Blacks.

Then, Friday night and Ireland have to score four tries and prevent Gus Pichot's Pumas remaining within seven points. If the debacles that have been the Georgia and French matches are Eddie O'Sullivan's low points, this achievement would represent a peak.

The odds are against them with Argentina, marshalled by their scrum-half, confident of winning the game to give themselves a shot at the semi-finals against Scotland or Italy.

If that does transpire France, the hosts, head to Cardiff and a showdown with New Zealand. The Blacks were indifferent against Scotland's second string but this fixture was never part of the French planning for 2007.

What a weekend we have ahead of us, starting Friday with that Tonga clash in Paris where my man of the tournament thus far, the magnificently proud and skilled Tongan flanker and captain, Nili Latu - along with the considerable bonus of Toulouse's Finau Maka - will take their shot at Tongan rugby immortality.

After South Africa's close call, Brian Ashton's men are not likely to be complacent.

 

STUART BARNES | SKY Sports | Monday, 24 September 2007 | Comment on this article

Articles
Stuart Barnes

Still fighting 15/10/07
Fiji accept Mission Impossible 2/10/07
No time for complacency 24/9/07
Step forward for Boks 16/9/07
Minnows impress 10/9/07
World Cup wonders 5/9/07
Stuart Barnes' dream XV 2/9/07
The gloom deepens 20/8/07
Backs to the wall 13/8/07
 





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