Sunday, 27 September 2015

RWC 2015 - England Under Pressure

9 days have passed since the 2015 Rugby World Cup started and the tournament so far has lived up to all the hype. When I last wrote about action in the tournament, I was talking about last Saturday’s shock win for Japan over South Africa plus the other games that took place on that day. There has been a lot of rugby since then to talk about. I will go through the games in chronological order and give some thoughts on them.

Sunday 20th September started off with Samoa versus USA – two teams that had played each other in the recent Pacific Nations Cup (with Samoa winning 16-21). The two teams before this contest had played each other 4 times, with Samoa winning all 4 games but by a slim margin (never by more than 7 points I believe). The game was entertaining enough but riddled with errors on both sides. USA looked handy enough at times but it was obvious Samoa were the better team and won 25-16 – their highest winning margin against the USA to date. Wales then kicked off their World Cup campaign against Uruguay. I didn’t give much hope to Uruguay in this one and even when they took an early lead through a couple of penalties, I didn’t see it lasting. Sure enough it didn’t. Wales scored 8 tries in this one-sided victory. I’m sure it could have been more as well. The final game of Sunday was the biggest clash in Pool C, New Zealand v Argentina. The game set a new record for highest attendance for a game at a Rugby World Cup (89,019). I missed some of this game but from what I saw, it looked as though Argentina gave the All Blacks a good game – they even went in at half time in front 12-13. New Zealand won 26-16 though denying Argentina a losing bonus point they arguably deserved. One further point from this game – I heard one of the commentators say that this was the first time New Zealand had failed to get a bonus point win in a pool stage game. Amazing record to have had, but if accurate, it is now over.

There was then a 2 day break where the opening weekend was chewed over a lot before the action resumed. Wednesday 23rd offered up 3 matches, all of which were very interesting. The day started in Gloucester with Scotland opening up their campaign against the previous weekend’s heroes, Japan. There was some chat before the game about how Japan only had a 4 day turn around between games and whether that would come back to bite them (both physically and mentally). Regardless of this though, after their win against the 2 time world champions, you couldn’t write them off. Japan dominated the first half pretty much, with Scotland on the back foot. When they did attack though, they made it count, with Greg Laidlaw looking very sharp scoring 4 penalties. Japan on the other hand were on the attack a lot but only had one try to show for it. Scotland almost got a try just before half time but a magnificent tackle from a Japanese wing prevented the try from being scored. Half time was 12-7 to Scotland and before the game, Eddie Jones had said if Japan were still in the game, they would come back and win it. With 5 points separating the teams, you had to wonder if this would happen. The first score of the second half went to Japan thanks to a penalty. From this point on though, it was all one way traffic. Scotland waited for their opportunity to strike and took it well. Not long after the Japan penalty, Scotland scored a try. As the half rumbled on, they scored another 4 tries. Japan looked dead on their feet during the second half, proving that they just couldn’t handle the 4 day turnaround between games. Credit where it is due for both teams though, as this was a really good game of rugby. Full time score was 45-10 to Scotland.

The day’s other games were Australia v Fiji and France v Romania. I think deep down I had hoped for an upset in one of these games but realistically knew it wasn’t going to happen (that Japan win has thrown me through a loop with how I think games will end). Due to the timing of the game, I missed the bulk of the first half of Australia/Fiji as I was at work and then travelling home from work. Fiji looked pretty good against the Wallabies, but it was clear who the stronger team were. That said, Fiji did manage to frustrate Australia in the second half. Australia won 28-13 but did not pick up a bonus point win – in Pool A, which could be crucial. Speaking of teams being frustrated, France were by Romania at times. They picked up a bonus point win, which probably doesn’t come as much of a shock, but Romania really caused them problems at times. They also looked pretty solid at the lineout and scrum – a good platform to build off of. I’m not sure if it was Romania tiring or France stepping up a gear (or both), but 3 second half tries confirmed the bonus point for them in a 38-11 win.

Thursday saw New Zealand field a weakened (!) team against Namibia. 1st in the world vs 20th – this one was pretty much an open and shut case – the All Blacks would win. Win they did as well, 58-14. I didn’t see the game but I was told Namibia actually did quite well at times and deserved their try. Richie McCaw came on and broke another record, most appearances for an All Black at a Rugby World Cup. It is going to take some player to break the records he has set. Friday saw Pool C opponents Argentina take on Georgia. At half time it was 14-9, and Georgia were looking alright and deserved to be close to Argentina. In the second half however, disaster struck. Their captain and talisman, Mamuka Gorgodze got sent to the sin bin. In the 10 minutes he was off the pitch, Georgia shipped 21 points. When he came back, Georgia were defeated and Argentina had their tails up. They secured a bonus point and won the game 54-9.

It was at this point we arrived at the second weekend of the Rugby World Cup. There were 3 games scheduled for yesterday – Italy versus Canada, South Africa versus Samoa and then the headline act – England versus Wales. Italy against Canada was going to be an interesting one. I suspect neither team will qualify from the pool but both teams would want to win this game as they don’t tend to win many games. Canada held their own throughout the game, and caused Italy a few scares at times. In the end though, it was 2 kicks which separated the two teams on the scoreboard with Italy winning 23-18. South Africa versus Samoa was going to be an interesting clash on the grounds that it really could have gone either way. Pre-tournament, I would have said South Africa without hesitation but after the Japan game, I had to give it some more thought. Samoa would go into this game hoping for a win anyway, but after the result the weekend before, I reckon belief would have soared in the Samoa camp. They however needed to turn up and play their absolute best as South Africa would be looking to strike back with a vengeance. I think it is fair to say that on reflection, Samoa didn’t play their best. I don’t think South Africa did either but I also don’t think they needed to. South Africa won 46-6 and it could have been more if their kicking stats were better. Samoa will be disappointed with this result for sure. They did however set a new first, having 3 brothers from the same family on the pitch at the same time – Ken, George and Tusi Pisi made history at this World Cup.

England versus Wales – what can I possibly say to describe how big this match was. The biggest between the two teams? Arguably. There was a lot of chat in the build-up about team selection. It started with the news that Ben Morgan and Jonathan Joseph were injured and would miss the game. It was obvious that Billy Vunipola would step in at No.8. What wasn’t obvious though was what the centre partnership would be. It was leaked in the week that Farrell would start at 10 ahead of George Ford and the centre partnership would be Burgess at 12, Barritt at 13 – another new centre partnership under Stuart Lancaster for England. I wasn’t happy with this team change – given the options, I would have started with Burgess or Barritt at 12 (probably Barritt), and Slade at 13. I’d also have preferred Ford to Farrell, but I understand why Farrell was picked. Going into the game, I suspected Wales would win. I thought it would be close, but I just didn’t see this England team being good enough to beat Wales. It should go without saying, but despite my opposition to the selection changes, I would still back the team 100%, whatever the result.

I hate being right. The first half was an even affair which I would say England edged. England conceded a few sloppy penalties which Dan Biggar had no trouble punishing England for. Farrell also looked good from the kicking tee and scored a drop goal. England’s only try came in the first half for Jonny May who was on the end of a well worked move. 16-9 and half time, and I found myself believing it was possible that a win would come. I had concerns about the partnership of Burgess and Barritt but up to this point, they had played well (and only been found out once). The second half started and again, England’s discipline was poor. Wales again did not hesitate to punish them. England were 10 points up on two separate occasions, but continued to concede penalties and Wales remained within 7. At one point they were within 4 until Wales conceded a pen and England were back in front by 7. It was 25-18 to England when a defensive lapse occurred (Watson and Barritt the main culprits for England) and Wales scored a try under the posts which was then converted. England then conceded a penalty for not releasing about 50 metres from the posts. Biggar proved that Wales were not missing Halfpenny by slotting the kick and giving Wales the 25-28 lead which would be the final score. It however could have been different but for one decision by Robshaw. Right towards the end of the game, in the Wales 22, England are awarded a penalty by the touch line. Instead of going for posts and hopefully securing a draw, the call is made to kick to the corner. The subsequent lineout is secured but the players could not form a driving maul and instead, Wales put them into touch. At this point, it was game over. It could be said that Wales wanted the win more, but my view of the game is that England generally played well enough to win, as did Wales. England’s biggest fault was they conceded too many penalties and allowed Wales to remain in the game. Of course, questions will be asked of Robshaw for that penalty call. Was he thinking of the Japan game? Did he think any kick would be too difficult to make? Did he think a draw would not be enough? These questions and more will be asked of him. But bigger questions need to be asked of the whole team, especially if they have an early exit in a fortnight. Wales suffered heavily though with this win, with two players stretchered off and another going off with what looked like a dislocated shoulder. You never want to see that and I hope the players all make a quick recovery.

What is the state of play then, just over a week in?

Pool A – Australia are top, having just beat Uruguay 65-3. They are on 9 points. . Wales are currently second on 9 points. England are third on 6, Fiji and Uruguay fill up the bottom spots, each with 0 points. England, to remain in the tournament, have to beat Australia. Wales need to avoid a slip up against Fiji and at least get a LBP against Australia. As for Australia, they have their two hardest games left, and they need to make sure they get something out of them both. This pool is far from decided, but the pressure is on England to remain in the tournament.

Pool B – South Africa went to the top of the pool with their big win over Samoa, and are currently on 7 points. Scotland are second with 5. Samoa and Japan are 3rd and 4th respectively, both with 4. The USA currently have no points. Scotland versus the USA is the next game after Australia v Uruguay concludes. I imagine Scotland will win, get a bonus point again and open up a 3 point lead at the top of the pool. They then however play both Samoa and South Africa. If they can beat Samoa, they will qualify. If they win both, they will of course top the pool.

Pool C – New Zealand top with 9 points. Argentina second with 5. Georgia 3rd with 4. Tonga are 4th with 1 and Namibia are bottom with 0. Tonga versus Namibia is the next game that will take place in Pool C.

Pool D – France are top with 9 points. Ireland are second on 5 (but have only played one game). Italy are 3rd on 4. Canada are 4th on 1, and Romania are bottom with 0. I expect Ireland, when they play Romania today will get a bonus point win and sit atop of Pool D.

Exciting times have happened, and there is still plenty more to get excited about. England have everything to do in order to progress in this World Cup. There will be some big questions to be asked this week, and potentially some even bigger ones to be asked next week. 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

RWC 2015 - The Opening Day

 Friday 18th September was a big day in the world of Rugby Union. The 8th installment of the Rugby World Cup was starting on this day. This was a big day for me personally as well as I was going to my first RWC game. When I woke up on Friday, I was up very early in the morning, almost like a child on Christmas Day. I often get excited when going to Twickenham to watch England (or Bath). The atmosphere at Twickenham is just something special and if you could bottle it and sell it, you would be a very rich person.

I was going to the game with a friend, and we had decided long before the start of the tournament that we wanted to guarantee going to at least one game at the RWC. By at least game, I mean one game that is geographically sensible and a match that we both wanted to see. I put in for 9 games when it came time to enter the ballot and got nothing (which on reflection, I wish I’d put in for any ticket to be in the stadium for South Africa v Japan yesterday – hindsight remains 20/20). So the best way we thought to guarantee a ticket for a game we both wanted to go to would be to go via the England Rugby Travel Agent. You pay significantly over the odds for the ticket but it can also include travel or a hotel depending on the package you opt for. Considering they offered a day return coach package for the game at the reasonable price of £280pp (!), we opted for that. The ticket you get in that package would have cost £75, so the rest of the deal cost £205. I resolved it was probably best not to think about that and just enjoy what was going to be an ace day.

The journey up to Twickenham was fairly uneventful aside from one unfortunate incident when we made a stop at a service station. I didn’t see what occurred but when leaving the station, there was an older woman sat in a chair, bleeding from her nose (I think) and a significant pool of blood on the floor. It turns out she had gone to stand up on her crutches, slipped and fell face first onto the concrete. She was being well tended to and am ambulance was being called as I left. I didn’t do anything but at the point I arrived, there was nothing to be done. We pulled onto the A316 and made our approach to Twickenham when we started to see coaches parked on the sides of the road. We were yet to see the stadium and I found myself wondering if this was going to be the coach park. I seem to recall on previous visits there were coaches parked by the west stand, so to see them here surprised me. We drove further down the A316 until we could see Twickenham. It was at this point that we turned around and drove nearly 2 miles back down the road where the coach parked. I will admit, having paid so much for the package, I was a bit miffed that the coach had parked so far away from the stadium.

We arrived just before 5pm and after the walk to get back close to the stadium, it was too early to be in the stadium. So in order to avoid paying stadium prices for beer, the next location was a nearby off licence for a few drinks (and a samosa) before heading into the ground. The atmosphere already was buzzing and I was quite surprised seeing fans of many different nations walking towards the ground. After a few cans of Lech (free plug), we headed into the stadium in order to take our place for the opening ceremony and the game. My seat was in the west stand, but very close to the corner of the north stand. As a result, we had a rear view of the opening ceremony which looked like it was going to be quite good. There was a giant, old school looking rugby ball sticking out the middle of the pitch with raised turf all around it. All in all, I would have to say for the time allowed, I think the opening ceremony was as good as it could have been. There was a serious moment of awkwardness before the ceremony started. Sat in the row in front of me, 2 seats to my right was a black man wearing what looked to be an old Fiji shirt (white jersey with 2 thin blue hoops going round). The people next to us for reasons unknown had a Fiji flag in its wrapping, and got the guys attention and gave him the flag, thinking he was a Fiji fan. After looking confused for a bit, one of the party turned to me and said “I hope he is from Fiji, otherwise this gesture could be considered casual racism”. Sure enough, the white shirt the guy was wearing was an RAF rugby shirt, and the guy sounded as though he was from the Birmingham area (I think) with no links to Fiji whatsoever. The party who handed the guy the flag all looked terribly embarrassed at this point but the guy laughed it off and made jokes about it throughout the match. Very awkward indeed, but it really could have been a lot worse!

The game itself was very enjoyable at times, and very frustrating at other times. We played well in the first half with a few errors creeping in, but we had two tries on the board and seemed as though if we continued to build, a bonus point try would be coming soon. The second half was a tougher watch from an England perspective as we started to struggle to build a platform. This was noticed by the block next to ours, full of French people who started singing songs about France and cheering on Fiji. The game turned back in England’s favour after the replacements came on, and England got their bonus point try, although it came right at the very end of the gamer. It was not the best England performance you will ever see, but if the target objective was to come away from this game unscathed injury wise and get 5 points, then job done. Mike Brown was definitely deserving of his MOTM nod.

The game finished just before 10pm and we had just over an hour to get back to the coach. Instead of messing around, we headed straight back there (via a food stand for a bottle of water). We arrived back at the coach for 10.35pm and relaxed a bit then, knowing we had made good time. Unfortunately, even though we were due to leave at 11pm, we didn’t. People arrived back at the coach late and held us up. On reflection, I was annoyed, but even though we left at 11.30pm, we still got back to Portsmouth nearly 30mins earlier than we were scheduled to, which is nice.

And so that is the opening day of the Rugby World Cup from where I was sitting. It was a great day out. I’m now going to be looking forward to more rugby as it comes on. The RWC takes a two day break now, but there are 3 games on Wednesday, with Scotland and Australia in action for the first time. I remain hopeful there will be more magic like we witnessed on Saturday with Japan upsetting the Springboks. What a game that was and what a tournament we have had so far. Hopefully, it will only get better, 

RWC 2015 - Japan Stun RSA

I had intended to write a blog about my experience of going to the opening day of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and that post is what I will be doing. However, we are five games into the tournament and it would almost be wrong to discuss the tournament without mentioning yesterday’s games. The Ireland/Canada and France/Italy games ended up the way I suspect most people thought they would. Yoann Huget picked up an injury and the France winger will likely miss the rest of the tournament. In my last post, I said I want to see the best players play on the sport’s biggest stage. That opinion has not changed, but I can’t help but feel no sorrow for Huget as I am firmly of the belief he should not be playing the sport anymore. For those who haven’t seen, in a game against Bordeaux Beagles, Huget stamped on the head of Bordeaux lock Andre Marais. If you want to watch, and I warn you now – it is unpleasant – then click here. I do not wish for any player to be injured, but this is a man who ought to have faced criminal charges for this attack, not be representing France on the biggest stage in rugby union. I am not sorry to hear he will miss the rest of the tournament as he should not have been in it in the first place. Georgia picked up their first opening game win at a Rugby World Cup but I think this was their biggest win (in that they beat Tonga, not in score line). I didn’t watch the whole game but I watched a good chunk of it and it was a cracking conclusion to the game. I really thought Tonga were going to draw level at the end but I was pleased for Georgia when they held on. That was one prediction I got wrong. Speaking of predictions I got wrong though - South Africa versus Japan – wow!

No disrespect to the other four teams in this pool, but South Africa will win this pool. I don’t see them being tested by USA or Japan.

Well, I got that one just a little bit wrong. The final score was 34-32 to Japan in arguably the biggest upset in Rugby World Cup history. This wasn’t a snatch and grab by Japan though – they were pretty damn good for the whole match (excusing a couple of defensive lapses which allowed South Africa to score). South Africa had flashes of brilliance but it has to be said, they were few and far between and they weren’t at their best for most of the game. This game had all the ingredients that a classic test match needs, with the added bonus of the upset. Right at the death, with the score at 32-29, Japan were awarded a penalty and South Africa were reduced to 14 men. They could have gone for 3 points and secured a famous draw (let’s face it, had they done this and got the draw, we all would have still been talking about the result as a shock). However, having led at several points of this game, Japan did not want to settle for a draw. They kicked for the corner securing a line out, and if it went to plan a chance to drive again at South Africa’s try line. It almost went exactly to plan but their 12 man driving maul was ruled to have been held up as it crossed the line (no possible way to tell from the video replays if a try had been scored or not). Japan then had a 5m scrum which was last chance saloon. They spread the ball out to the right, recycled it and spread it back and in the 83rd minute, Hesketh dotted down and the winning score was confirmed. The whole game was a fantastic watch and a perfect advert for the Rugby World Cup. This will be a result that will be talked about for years to come.

What does this mean for Pool B? Well, Japan now have a win which I never imagined they would get, and I think they have put the other teams on notice. I’m not sure if they will beat Scotland, purely because a 4 day turnaround against a fresh team could be too much for them (that said, I did say they wouldn’t even test South Africa, so I could be very wrong). I see no reason now why they couldn’t take the game to Samoa and perhaps get another big win. They didn’t play each other at the recent Pacific Nations Cup but Japan did play (and lose) to USA there. So really, this could be a one off or they could use this as a platform to build on towards potentially qualifying for the last eight. What I know for sure is that if any team were privately underestimating them, they won’t now. As for South Africa? Well, they got 2 points out of the game which could prove to be vital when it comes to qualifying time. Could this result destabilise their whole campaign? It is quite possible. Could you imagine South Africa not qualifying out of a pool where they would have been expected to win it? What a prospect. I think getting 2 points out of this game plus picking up a couple more victories will see them into the last eight, but it just made Pool B significantly more interesting. Samoa and Scotland will now look towards their game against South Africa and see it as a completely winnable game. Samoa v USA is on today. When they played in the Pacific Nations Cup, Samoa won but only by 5 points, so this will be a tight one for sure. Exciting times are ahead, that much is for sure. Today sees Wales take on Uruguay. As much as I’d love to see another upset, I suspect Wales will secure a bonus point win in this one. The final game of today is New Zealand versus Argentina. This is by far the box office clash of Pool C, and will likely be watched by the biggest live crowd at a Rugby World Cup, which is pretty cool. 

Friday, 18 September 2015

Rugby World Cup 2015 Predictions

Today is the day that Rugby fans have long been looking forward to. It is the opening day of the 2015 installment of the Rugby World Cup. Living in the host country, there has been a lot of hype for this tournament. On a personal level, I would say I am more excited about this World Cup than I have been previous tournaments. In 2011, I was still pretty new to the game - I had attended a couple of games and would occasionally watch England on TV. I would also keep an eye on the Bath results. In the 2010-11 domestic season, I made the switch from football being the main sport I follow to rugby union. By the time the 2011 World Cup rolled around, I was a fan but I still had a lot to learn about the game (hell I’m still learning). This time around, I’ve been a supporter for several years. I try to keep up with the game as much as possible and as such, have been caught up in the hype of this tournament for some time. The opening game is today, and I’ll be heading to Twickenham soon to be there. The point of this post is to not just talk about my excitement about the tournament and how it has finally arrived, but to post my predictions for the tournament. I’ve not opted for any major surprises in this prediction I don’t think (although if the quarter finals pan out the way I think they will, there will be a couple very interesting contests). Anyway, onto the predictions! For the pool stages, I won’t be predicting each game but rather putting up the way I think the pool will finish.

Pool A

What a tough pool! It seems to get worse the more I look at it. 4 of the top 10 teams in the world in one group – quite something really. It is also a bit frustrating when you look at other pools but never mind. I think England will come out on top of this pool. I think home advantage will give them the edge over Wales and Australia. I’m not sure they will go through the pool stage undefeated, but I can see them doing enough to win it. I would have predicted Wales to finish 3rd in the pool 3 weeks ago. Now they have lost Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb? I know they are just two men in a 31 man squad, but they are two massive names to lose right before the tournament. I think that will be their undoing this time around which I am sad about. One thing I love about the World Cup is watching the world’s best players play on the biggest stage. Injuries can happen at any time, but them happening right before the world cup just seems cruel. I think Fiji won’t be anyone’s pushover, but I don’t see them beating England, Australia or Wales. As for Uruguay…at least they qualified!

Pool B
South Africa

No disrespect to the other four teams in this pool, but South Africa will win this pool. I don’t see them being tested by USA or Japan. Samoa and Scotland might throw up a bit of a challenge, but I think they will be able to see them off. The big battle for me will be between Scotland and Samoa. I think Samoa will win the match between the two of them and see themselves through to the last eight. There are a lot of positive noises coming out of the Japan and USA camps, but I think at this world cup, they will finish in 4th and 5th place respectively. I think Japan will beat USA and use that as a platform to build on for when they host the world cup in 2019 (by the way, has a host ever gone out at the group stage?)

Pool C
New Zealand

No disrespect to the other four teams in this pool (wait a minute…) but New Zealand will win this pool. Their main challenge will be Argentina and they are undefeated against them (21 matches, 20 wins and 1 draw). I think Argentina have been looking fairly good as of late though (especially that win away against South Africa) and I think they will get the better of the other teams in the pool. I have guessed Tonga will finish 3rd. I think they will better Georgia and Namibia. As for Georgia v Namibia…I mean I’m pretty confident that I’ll watch it. It could be the game I’m looking forward to least in this tournament to be honest (possibly tied with Canada v Romania from Pool D). Speaking of…

Pool D

Italy will make some noise in this pool, but for me it will be between Ireland and France, and I think Ireland will finish top. It really could go either way between these two though. I predict it will finish this way, but I also hope it will finish this way for reasons that will become clear when discussing the quarter finals. The only way I see Italy making the last eight is if they pull off an unlikely victory over France. They have done that a couple of times recently so it could happen. Canada and Romania will unlikely get a win against the top 3 teams in this pool and will scrap it out to not go home having lost all four games.

Quarter Finals
South Africa v Australia
New Zealand v France
Ireland v Argentina
England v Samoa

South Africa against Australia will be an epic encounter. I reckon Australia will win this as they have looked pretty good in recent months but this is one that could go either way. New Zealand v France at the Rugby World Cup – if only there was some history to refer back to…! I think New Zealand would win this rematch of the 2011 final, but France have a bit of a habit when it isn’t the final of sticking it to the All Blacks in the knockout stages so who knows? I think Ireland will be given a tough match against Argentina, but I see them winning that one. I think it will be a similar story between England and Samoa to be honest. At this stage in the tournament, no game is a sure thing, but if I were a betting man, I’d say England will win this one.

Semi Finals
Australia v New Zealand
Ireland v England

Australia against New Zealand have had so many fantastic matches between them. The most recent of these clashes saw both teams each grab a win. I appreciate that I’ve said this a lot so far, but this one could go either way. I am calling a New Zealand win, but I would not be surprised to see Australia get the win. Before the tournament, I thought this is where England would bow out. However, the performance against Ireland a few weeks ago really encouraged me. I think if England go into this game and don’t underestimate Ireland’s game, they could come out victorious in this one. This game being at Twickenham could be a huge advantage as well.

Bronze Medal Match

Australia v Ireland

I have a ticket for this game, so I’d love to see Ireland win it. I think they would stand a good chance of it as well.

England v New Zealand

New Zealand of course would be the favourites going into this match. However, they are not unbeatable. I remember a conversation I had with my Dad the morning of the 1st December 2012 where I confidently stated that as excited as I was to be seeing the game, England would get battered by New Zealand. I couldn’t have been more wrong and England ran out 38-21 winners. My overall prediction is that New Zealand will win the tournament, and it would be a fitting sign off for Richie McCaw (assuming he does actually retire at the end of the tournament as has been suggested). If it is an England v New Zealand final, I will not be writing England off (I’ve made that mistake once before). I think England making the final would be a fantastic achievement for the team, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they go all the way.

So, that is how I see the tournament unfolding over the next 6-7 weeks. Regardless of what happens though, I know I am looking forward to what will hopefully be the best RWC in history thus far. Happy Rugby World Cup Day to all!