RWC 2015: Weekend 1

Everyone know you can’t do an internet thing anymore and it not be a numbered list. I don’t know how many points I have though. So I will write them out and then retcon the number back at the end. It was 8.

  1. Massive shout out to the lads at New China House on Stamford Hill for putting me to the front of the order queue so that I could get my Meal A for one person and only miss 20 minutes of England vs Fiji. Top stuff chaps, great start for yourselves. They’ll be looking to build on this and then kick on through the tournament. A point off for Samosa who delivered my curry during the New Zealand game in 44 minutes, a cruel one minute off me getting a free meal *shakes fist at sky*
  2. JAPAN. What a moment, not just for the game but for a the concept of sport everywhere. Definitely the biggest upset in World Cup history, and probably tips the time Munster beat the All Blacks as the biggest in the history of the sport. It was like a movie. I was watching in the Faltering Fullback and a large contingent stayed for the following game — the place absolutely exploded when Japan went over at the end. When they shanked the conversion there were shouts from the length of the pub of “Who cares!”.

But unlike so many upsets this was not the product of fluke or underestimating their opponent. Japan’s victory was born from their immense physicality in repelling the Springbok pack including parity at the set piece, and from the speed and technical ability of their play. Faster, stronger and better. They haven’t lit the tournament up, they’ve set it ablaze.

But was confused about people saying how brave they were to go for the win. First of all, they were on SA’s 5 metre line with a Springbok in the bin. Secondly, no one ever wrote a song about a draw. “Do you remember the time we heroically held someone to an equal result indicating parity between our teams?”. Guts and glory man.

3. Even before Japan sent South Africa packing, I was thinking it’s increasingly difficult to get the balance right against the Tier 2 nations. It’s a massive game for them, whereas the Tier 1s are trying to avoid injuries whilst having to think about that 4 try bonus point before even setting on the pitch. Ireland and Wales managed to rack them up quickly — Ireland before half time — which then allowed Ireland the breathing space to use their bench and ease off. Wales lost that luxury as their luck with injuries is getting ridiculous now. Reckon a lot of pro players are currently going through their family tree trying to find a Welsh aunt.

For England it was quite the contrary, going right down to the wire to secure a vital BP in such a tight group. Fiji are known for their rambunctious running style of play — Nandolo on the wing carrying on from a strong Super 15 year for him with a joyous performance of exceptional aerial ability, huge collisions and the kicking style of a cocky dad knocking a ball back to some kids in the park. However here their set piece was solid, but worrying for England will be how easily and successfully Fiji were able to legally compete for the ball at the breakdown.

England will face Wales with Tipiric and Warburton, then Australia with Hooper and Pocock. If they do not tighten up their own ball those will be very long afternoons for the host. Their rucking intensity needs to come up several levels; I’d make a strong case for the dynamic Launchbury to start as too often Fiji’s jackaling player was allowed a free pop at a turnover by loose England rucking. Wales and Aus certainly won’t be as nice as Fiji, who always put hands on ball. I was under the impression refs were supposed to be clamping down on rucking beyond the ball and sealing it but it still seemed quite prevalent all weekend.

England were surprisingly reticent to structure the game at times. When they played phases it tied Fiji up and they made solid ground on the rumble, but they were happy a lot of the time to start trucking it up and down the line, which was helpful in enabling Fiji’s strong suit. England will be pleased with how their back three performed despite a lack of good ball to them. While Mike Brown does have the look of an EDL rally in Luton, he is a key player for England by how involved he gets. For his second try he took the ball at first receiver, then was on the shoulder of the playing taking the ball into contact for three consecutive phases before calling for it seeing the space open up to the line. His recovery from concussion if a big boost for England.

4. Sexton showed his importance for Ireland not through a top performance against a game but limited Canada but actually by his absence. I love Madigan because he’s got a flawed romanticism to his game of slight of foot and outrageous passes, and he’s a big auld hipster but he’s probably a bit more Mike Catt than Carlos Spencer. Shortly after his introduction with a gaping space on the wing he spooned the crossfield ball out on the full. Such are the high execution standards of Sexton it’s hard not to feel had he still be on the pitch it would’ve been a try.

Another big positive was the performance of Iain Henderson, clear man of the match for me, and I think might just have displaced Dev Toner from the starting line up. Sad as I’m a big fan of Toner, but with the season Henderson’s had and his natural ability it’s getting wasteful using him as an impact sub.

5. I’m no real fan of booing, but that’s because I’m a boring puritan who admires sportsmanship above winning, a handy trait to have for a fan of some of the sporting teams I have the misfortune to follow. However the booing of Richie McCaw at Wembley was clearly nothing more than a little bit of boo hiss pantomime as reward for some foul play when the crowd were really in the mood for Argentina to come and stamp all over the apples Japan had spilt the day before.

Therefore it’s very tempting to read a lot more than necessary into Hansen’s disproportionate reaction to the “disrespect”, perhaps because Argentina likewise had refused to be cowed by the All Blacks’ reputation. Arg’s line speed in defence was exceptional and forced NZ into several passages of very sloppy execution in their attacking play.

Of course New Zealand are still very, very good. The Pumas were guilty of overcommitting in defence and were caught sort of numbers out wide several times, as well as Smith’s try being the result of too many defender committing themselves ineffectually to a maul. But they were far from the standards we’ve come to expect from them. SBW offered a lot from the bench I thought. The direct running and behind the gain line offloading ability he has put Argentina very much on the back foot in the final quarter, and penned them into their own final third.

Of course I was quite glad. When Argentina were up into the second half all I could think was “FFS, they’re gonna do them and we’ll win the group and lose to NZ in the quarters because of this”.

So was it just a tough game, or the first cough of the famous choke? We’ll have to wait to the quarters to find out.

6. TMOs. Rugby is a beacon of how to use technology in sport, not just in game but post match with the citing system which I think football would benefit a great deal from. And we all want the right decision. But cancelling a try when they’re taking the conversion because it’s popped up on the screen is a bit much. I thought Woodward and Wilkinson talked a lot of sense on this — it’s the right call, but how far back can we go and alter things and are we at the mercy of whoever has curation of the screen?

Then again I watch rugby on the telly all the time and I get pretty much everything wrong so what do I know.

7. Jon Champion. Uggggh. Are we going to have to listen to this chump reel off his pre prepared lines for the whole tournament? Really bad. But who was the guy quoting Marcus Aurelius during the NZ vs Arg game? That’s the kinda shit I want in my rugby commentary

8. My liver. How many weekends are left? This and the All Ireland Final mean I am an absolute shell of a man today. Also, most importantly, is Wembley serving Guinness? I’m off to Ireland vs Romania and I will take the place apart brick by brick if it’s only Tetleys.

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