Write off the All Blacks at your peril
New Zealand were put through the wringer by South Africa on Saturday. The Springboks dominated the first 20 minutes, making the All Blacks look weak and frustrated, and then the match suddenly flipped and the world champions start offloading in traffic and scoring tries from everywhere. That’s New Zealand for you, just when they look down and out, they strike from deep with devastating affect. South Africa did well early, but didn’t put enough points on the board when they had all the possession and field position.
It demonstrated that teams are going to need to do something special to beat the All Blacks. Just kicking the ball to them and having great line speed in defence is not enough. You need to ask questions of their defence, and South Africa simply didn’t do that.
Australia are fragile
The Wallabies had a stern test of their own against Fiji in Pool D. The Fijians started very well and an upset looked on the cards. But Australia managed to rally, keep their composure and nick the 39-21 win they needed. Much of the Wallabies damage was done from rucks, scrums and lineouts close to Fiji’s try-line.
Australia will need to improve tremendously to knock off Wales in their next match. Consistency has been the Wallabies Achilles Heel for years, and the Wales game will determine who tops Pool D and gets an easier opponent in the quarter-finals.
The global standard is getting better
We are seven games into the tournament and we are yet to see a blowout, a cricket score posted. This goes to show that the global standard around the world is improving and the gap between the best and the rest is slowly closing.
Russia were plucky against Japan and displayed a lot of courage. Tonga gave it everything against England and won a few admirers. Fiji were impressive at times and Namibia, a team of many semi-professionals, never gave up against a fully professional Italy. An increasing competitiveness across the planet can only be good for the future of the sport.
Ireland mean business
There were some questions over Ireland heading into this tournament as whether they were real World Cup contenders. But the Irish put those doubts to bed with a dominant performance against Scotland on Sunday. Ireland won 27-3 and barely gave the Scots a bone to pick on.
They were physical, clinical and ruthless, grabbing a winning lead in the first 40 minutes. Ireland really do mean business in Japan and it’s going to take a hell of a good team to stop them in the weeks ahead.
Goal kicking is as vital as ever
Scoring tries is fun, and look good, but successful goal-kicking remains an essential for every team. The opening weekend has shown that if you don’t have an outstanding goal-kicker then you will be in deep trouble at this World Cup. Argentina would have beaten France if their goal-kicking was better.
South Africa stayed in touch with New Zealand for most of their game through the boot of Handre Pollard, while England managed to keep the scoreboard ticking away against Tonga thanks to Owen Farrell. If you want to win the World Cup, you need a dead-eyed sharpshooter with the tee. It’s virtually impossible without one.
World Cup fever has hit Japan and the locals are loving it. Social media has been hit with videos of fans in party mode and in fancy dress, with the atmosphere at stadiums first-rate. The pubs and bars have been heaving, beer sales through the roof and the Japanese friendly and welcoming. They’ve even been cleaning grounds of rubbish after matches have been. Japan is certainly the place to be as the tournament takes hold.