And so, three teams remain in Pool B. Georgia and Romania have huffed and puffed, and threatened to blow the houses of England and Scotland down, but now both teams are consigned to four years in the wilderness before the bright light shines on them once more.
Georgia can still leave their mark on the group; a shock victory would do nicely for both England and Scotland, but in truth their spirit left this tournament some time ago. Having won what both they and Romania admitted was the only game worth getting fired up for, Georgia will take to the field against the Pumas knowing there is little more they can do, nor is there anything more expected of them.
The Georgian Prime Minister turned up for one match, and one match only. Can you guess which one?
So that means that the onus lies with either Scotland or England to grasp the thorny rose or thistle. Scotland must claim their biggest ever win over the old enemy in 25 years while England must do one thing; avoid defeat.
But that isn’t everything riding on a game that counts for everything. Nick De Luca picked and poked at old wounds when he suggested that the sweet icing on the cake of qualifying from the group stages would come with English embarrassment.
“No matter who we were playing this weekend, it could be – it hopefully won’t be – our last game in the World Cup.” The centre said. “If we do it right, England would go out, which would be an added bonus, but it’s not the incentive itself.”
There is no doubt that either side would get a little kick of Schadenfreude from the misery of the other, but De Luca is embarking along a particularly dangerous path that could lead to bullet being lodged in his foot with a smoking pistol clenched in his hand.
In a game of such significance for both teams, there can be little room for sentiment or emotion, or at least emotion channelled in the wrong direction; baiting an opponent through patriotism, genuine dislike or just through mischievousness can easily backfire.
Introducing sub-plots and added elements to a game which has the importance of a World Cup winner-takes-all match complicates and takes the eye off what is important; just ask Warren Gatland. His outburst against Dylan Hartley before the 6 Nations curtain raiser between Wales and England provided England with enough ballast to take their rivals to the cleaners. He banned himself from doing any pre-match interviews for the rest of the tournament after he provided England with motivational material.
Not that De Luca’s comments were anywhere near the level of Gatland’s, he speaks only the truth. But the rivalry between these two is obvious. Both teams are aware of it and the importance of it, and De Luca need not set a see-saw in motion that he might not be able to control – such games are built upon controlling and suffocating errors and mistakes. There is certainly such thing as being too fired up.
Scotland have a good record against England away from Twickenham – in fact for the last game England won away from HQ you have to go back to 2004.
Having hinted at what they are capable of, Scotland must take something of a two footed leap into the unknown in their biggest game of the tournament. Despite being on top for much of the game against Argentina, they were unable to rely upon a moment of brilliance like the one Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino produced.
Now against England they must light the fire than has only so far sparked intermittently. This will of course be a tight game played out most likely through the pack. Neither side will want to take a risk with so much at stake (much like the Argentina game) but now Scotland must look to ensure that the moment of brilliance comes from a man in a deep blue shirt this time.
Max Evans has hinted at an ability to run the ball with some success, but he must show more. If the forwards can provide a platform or England repeat their penalty-prone antics of games gone by, then the stage is his to be the difference.
You never know, De Luca may see his replacement become the scythe to match the blunt, brute force of his country’s forwards. If so, then he can taunt England all he wants, safe in the knowledge that retribution or revenge is some way off and not a couple days away.
In a few hours I will post my reposte…