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.