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Into the finals: Hawks, Cowboys and Wallabies

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England prepare for the Rugby World Cup quarter finals

Lachlan Barker focusses on footy, wrapping up the recent AFP and NRL grand finals, as well as mapping the Australian Wallabies promising progress in the Rugby World Cup.

This fortnight, we are very footy-focussed, the column dominated by the recently completed grand finals at home, and the Rugby World Cup in the UK.

Here at home, in the "Festival of the Boot – Part 1" – as the Aussie rules grand final is called by Roy & HG –  the flag was won by Hawthorn defeating West Coast, after pretty much, well, no struggle at all, actually.

West Coast did score first, but then it was a long dark tunnel of woe for the Western Australians as the Hawks kicked into gear and screamed away to win 107-61.

Hawthorn’s Cyril Rioli won the Norm Smith medal for Best on Ground in the grand final, and this award was a fitting tribute to Rioli and Hawthorn.

This victory for the Hawks takes them into the group of teams that have won three grand finals in a row. If they do it all again next year, they will become part of a select group of two who have won four, Collingwood being the only still current team to have achieved this — from 1927-30.

So, while it was well done to Alistair Clarkson, the coach of Hawthorn, and all the players in brown and gold, the best performed of all at the MCG that day were of course Roy & HG.

Their simulcast went out to a breathless world and we, who love this dynamic duo, were creased with laughter for the duration. I won’t do them the disservice of trying to repeat and explain any of their jokes, but will provide this link to the ABC News Radio webpage, where the two broadcasts can be heard if interested.

However I will provide this teaser to their mirth, during the broadcast, and for reasons that only they can explain, HG and Roy are calling for a Royal Commission into why aren’t all Aussie Rules stadiums air conditioned.

As for the "Festival of the Boot Part 2", the rugby league, there was considerable teeth-gnashing south of the Tweed, as this match was an all Queensland affair between the Brisbane Broncos and the North Queensland Cowboys, eventually won by the Cowboys, 17-16 in extra time.

As a spectacle, it was the direct opposite of the Aussie rules granny, in that it went down to the wire — and even then that barely hints at the tension.

At half time, the score was 14-12 to Brisbane, then early in the second half (the 43rd minute) Brisbane’s Jordan Kahu kicked a penalty goal to take the score to 16-12.

There the score stayed through an increasingly fraught second half almost up until the siren sounded, marking the end of the match.

However, just at that moment, when it was felt the aortic valve could take no more, the Cowboys crossed in the corner to tie the scores up at 16-16.

Then Cowboys main man Jonathon Thurston moved in to attempt to convert the try and take the Cowboys to victory. His kick then did more for heart surgeons’ prospective business around the country by hitting the post and bouncing away.

That is as close as it comes.

So then we went to golden point extra time, which soon became a horror show for Brisbane star Ben Hunt.

North Queensland kicked off, and Hunt dropped the ball from the kick off, knocking it on, right under his own goal posts. The ball came out of the ensuing scrum and, after one or two hit ups, duly went to Thurston who potted the field goal to take the North Queensland team to victory.

It was such a shame for Hunt as he had performed well all game – indeed all season – but these things come to even to the best of us.

It was, however, a fitting end to the career of Thurston; if anyone deserved a Cinderella story, it was him.

Roy & HG were again in full voice and were, on this night, opining that coaches were of no use to football and it was time that they were removed from the game. If that’s confusing, all I can say is go off to the link above and hear their carefully outlined case for why coaches are a blight on the modern game.

So then we move across the seas to the United Kingdom and the Rugby World Cup. Australia performed well throughout the pool matches, concluding with a tight-fought affair against Wales, won by the Wallabies 15-6.

This victory saw Australia top the group with Wales second. The big loser from this group was the host nation England, who were eliminated after losing to a brilliantly performing Australian team 33-13 and Wales 28-25.

Australia look to be the form team of the World Cup, with New Zealand still not reaching their full potential.

In group B, South Africa topped the group from Scotland as the two qualifiers, with the heroic Japanese close by in third — two match points away from qualification. Japan became the first team in World Cup history to win three pool games, yet still not qualify for the knock out stages.

In group C, a somewhat stuttering New Zealand duly achieved top spot, with fellow Rugby Championship nation Argentina qualifying in second spot with some promising performances.

In group D, it was Ireland on top after a dominant performance against France last night, who took second spot in the group.

So, the quarter finals see Australia take on Scotland, while Wales drew the shortest of straws, facing South Africa.

New Zealand takes on their arch-nemesis France, while the Irish go up against Argentina.

If Australia defeats the Scots, then Ireland will most likely be their semi-final opponent. On the other side of the draw, barring upsets, we will see a truly heavy artillery encounter between the All Blacks and South Africa. Barring upsets, because considering that Japan knocked off South Africa in this tournament and France have defeated the Kiwis before – in the semi-final of 1999 and, most famously, the quarter final in 2007 – a boilover is always a possibility.

What’s more in the last world cup final, in 2011, it was France v New Zealand at home in New Zealand. The Kiwis won, but the score was 8-7, and so the French have a history of giving the New Zealanders bad frights.

So, for those of us here, it’s fingers crossed for the Wallabies to make and then win the final. Australia have been extremely good so far in this tournament, winning four from four in their pool, with their last two games already being regarded as modern classics — one for superb attack and the other for tireless defence. The improvement in Australia since it's appalling performances on last year's Northern Hemisphere spring tour, where it lost three of four games, is testament to the skills of coach Michael Cheika, as well as the team as a whole.

So it’s well done to Hawthorn for their third flag in a row, a great thank you to North Queensland’s Jonathon Thurston for all the pleasure he has given league fans over his meritorious career – which is not yet over – and a final heart-felt cry of "Go Wallabies" in the Rugby World Cup.

Lachlan Barker blogs at cyclonecharlie88.blogspot.com.au. You can also follow him on Twitter @CycloneCharlie8.

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