Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby World Cup: Standing together in solidarity before the shakeup begins

Japan's James Arlidge goes in for his team's first try against France. The Aucklander scored all his side's points, including two tries. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Japan's James Arlidge goes in for his team's first try against France. The Aucklander scored all his side's points, including two tries. Photo / Paul Estcourt

The All Blacks and Japan will stand together for a moment's silence before their match at Waikato Stadium on Friday night for the Rugby World Cup. But that is as close as they are likely to get despite the Brave Blossoms' impressive performance in their opening defeat to France.

Both teams, along with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and former Japan Prime Minister and Japan Rugby Football Union President Yoshiri Mori, will pay their respects to the victims of the earthquakes in both countries.

It will be a poignant moment for both teams following the disasters of the past 12 months. But the gulf in class should quickly show once the whistle blows, despite the All Blacks' sometimes scratchy opening victory over Tonga at Eden Park and Japan's rousing performance against France.

Japan played well above themselves in losing 47-21 to France at North Harbour Stadium on Saturday. The French looked to be cruising before Japan, ably assisted by halfback Fumiaki Tanaka and first five-eighth James Arlidge, launched a thrilling comeback.

Aucklander Arlidge scored all his side's points, including two tries, three penalties and a conversion.

One area of concern for the All Blacks will be their scrum, which until now has been known as a weapon but on Friday night came under severe pressure from the big Tonga pack.

Hooker Andrew Hore wasn't too concerned afterwards, but the selectors might not share the same laissez faire attitude. Ben Franks, on for Tony Woodcock at loosehead prop in the second half, struggled at times, particularly when Tonga launched a series of scrums on New Zealand's line.

And with Woodcock not entirely match fit due to his lack of game time in Super rugby because of a foot injury and recent hamstring twinge, both Franks and John Afoa, another lacking in match minutes, will have to share the load.

"They were really attacking us," Hore said. "It was pretty tough. We need to close the gaps up, which we can sort out during the week.

"It would be disappointing if we didn't have something to work on at training in the first week of the tournament."

All Blacks halfback Andy Ellis is likely to play some part against Japan on Friday night after not being required to strip for the World Cup opener.

"They always go pretty hard, we know that about the Japanese," Ellis said. "They look like they are really well coached and have the players to execute what they are trying to do. They've got great systems and we all know they go really hard.

No 8 Victor Vito believed teams played above themselves at World Cups because of what was at stake.

"If it was just another game, I think you will find the French would have the better of them but ... [the World Cup] is the minnow's time to shine," Vito said.

- APNZ

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