Japan v South Africa
Weekend 1 over and the biggest talking point has to be the performance and result of Japan against South Africa. Under the stewardship of the experienced coach and tactician, Eddie Jones, the Japanese wowed the world. Japan hardly allowed the bigger SA player to carry on the front foot, felled them immediately, didn't compete and repeated.
SA made uncharacteristic mistakes as they tried to force passes and dropped the ball under pressure. Conversely, Japan played with speed and accuracy of pass. Ball carries won the collision, support was in early and physical, resulting in quick ball. It was also the variety of attack, scoring tries through; rolling maul, Ayumu Goromaru’s 1st phase score, as well as the decider.
Many questioned Scotland’s decision to go for a try to beat France 2 weeks ago, rather than easy penalty to draw. Japan’s captain, Leitch, followed suit but instead had the gall to call a scrum, a scrum against SA to find a win. Whilst it was never a dead cert, the Japanese fought to retain the ball at the base of he scrum and several phases later before Kesketh’s slid over in the corner, for one the games greatest shocks in rugby.
This is a bitter pill for SA, players and it’s nation to swallow. It is certainly not the end of their tournament and I would still expect them to progress to the quarter finals.
New Zealand v Argentina
The heavy weight battle of 1st matches didn’t disappoint. Argentina applied huge pressure in 1st half, leading to uncharacteristic lack of discipline with key NZ players to the bin. The 2nd half was a different matter though as they improved their ball retention and played in Argentina’s half. Sonny Bill Williams, coming off the bench, playing a pivotal role in this.
The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, whether singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ in the build up or the official ceremony produced by England 2015. The amusement of Prince Harry and Jonny Wilkinson gardening, to seeing Martin Johnson stand with ball aloft and rightly greeted with colossus noise and chants of "Johnno" by the masses. It sent the hairs on the back of my neck up. I suddenly realised this was the 1st World Cup match I had been to since the 2003 Final and added to my enhanced emotion of the night.
England v Fiji
We can paw over the merits of performance but the crucial objectives were achieved. A win with try bonus point, even if decided with Billy Vunipola's TMO approved score. All achieved without giving any tactics or special plays away, or injuries. Job done!
Mike Brown brought Twickenham to life at crucial times and was rewarded with 2 tries.
Fiji played their part and can be proud of their performance. Matawalu was a constant thorn in England's side. If he had held on to the ball for his try we would have been adding it straight to the highlights reel for the tournament. His speed away from the scrum, the footwork to round Jonny May, and then beat him on the outside (that is speed). Small margins play a massive part and the work rate of May to get back to be part of the tackle, rewarded as his pressure resulted in a dropped ball.
I bumped into John Eales, Australia's 1999 World Cup winning captain, as we got into a lift pre-match, only for John to decide there were too many people and he’d prefer to wait for the next one. Sadly for him that resulted being stuck in the next lift for 30 minutes as it malfunctioned! I believe he held an impromptu Q&A for surprised fans.
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