Seven talking points from the Rugby World Cup.
IF WORLD RUGBY WAS A DISNEY CHARACTER, IT'D BE GOOFY
At a time when rugby needed quick thinking, hard work, and a clever plan devised years ago about what to do if the typhoon season dragged on in Japan, it got a scheme that planned to move, for example, the France-England game just 22km away to Tokyo Stadium. It also got decisions that were logistically the easiest ones, to cancel, not move, games. World Rugby is superb at the looking after officials (they installed flat screen television sets above the urinals at Eden Park in 2011 so the pampered lords of the game didn't miss anything while they voided their free champagne during a match) but hopeless at cushioning the blow for players and the fans in Japan.
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SO WHO WERE THOSE GUYS WHO BEAT THE ALL BLACKS IN PERTH?
Yes, it was only nine weeks ago that the Wallabies won 47-26 in West Australia. That's the Wallabies, who now have to stretch and strain to beat Georgia 27-8. In hindsight the Perth victory was an almost classic example of everything going right for one side, Australia, and everything going wrong, including a red card with half the match to go, for the other, New Zealand. The 36-0 thrashing at Eden Park just a week after the Perth loss now feels like a much more accurate summation of where the two sides sit. At the heart of the Aussie meltdown is the fact they can't decide on a halfback/first-five combination. First-fives Bernard Foley and Christian Lealiifano can be fragile when the pressure's on. Halfback Nick White's stutter stepping and darting runs kept the All Blacks defence on edge in Perth. But it took just a week for them to work him out, and at Eden Park he was no threat. Without players in nine and 10 who are in synch and on song you can't be truly competitive at the highest levels.
TALKING OF HALFBACKS
If there's one man who played his way into the All Black squad from a fair way out, and is now burning the house down in Japan when he gets the chance, it's Brad Weber. Self-belief leads to playing without fear, and the flash of daring when Weber flicked a behind the back pass for TJ Perenara's stunning try against Namibia was a picture perfect example of what happens when a player's mind is clear, and his imagination unshackled. The test experience Aaron Smith and Perenara have means Weber may not get the nod for the knockout games, but if injuries found Weber on the field, you know he's one player who will not be intimidated by the occasion.
SHAME, SHAME, SHAME
President Donald Trump has often referred to a man he knows who used to go to Paris, but doesn't anymore, because the city has been ruined by immigration. You can put Trump's friend in the same fairytale group as the people who told former England player Brian Moore that the All Blacks had refused any changes to avoid cancellation, and to allow Italy to play the All Blacks. "This comes from the people I spoke to and not me," Moore tweeted. Sure, and like most commentators, we all know you can rely on a neighbour who had a friend who shopped at the same store as a cousin of a coach to get the story straight.
BAD THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO GOOD MEN
How good a guy is Bundee Aki, ordered off for a damaging high tackle on Samoa's Ulupano Seuteni, in Ireland's 47-5 win in Fukuoka? So likeable that Samoa's captain Jack Lam said he hoped Aki wouldn't be suspended, and the Samoan coach, Steve Jackson, said the Samoans would willingly make representations on Aki's behalf. "I've known Bundee for a long, long time," said Jackson, "and he's a great man with great character." The tackle was frightening, the red card was inevitable, but if ever there was a reminder that in a game based on high speed collisions like rugby the line between deliberate foul play and a pure minded accident is microscopically small, the Aki incident is it.
BIG CHALLENGERS, PART ONE
Eddie Jones, whose DNA and working life are deeply immersed in Japan, is apparently working his England players so hard they're losing kilos and gaining aerobic capacity, which they'll need when the rain hopefully goes, and the knockout games are played on firm fields with a dry ball. That's smart thinking, from a sharp man. But given that most of England's forwards tend to be weightlifters who play rugby, rather than athletes, the key will be how much they can change in a short space of time.
BIG CHALLENGERS, PART TWO
The Springboks still feel like the greatest threat to the All Blacks. They've got size in the pack, a deadly kicker in Handre Pollard, and Cheslin Kolbe is a wing who can produce tries out of what feels like thin air. Kolbe only came into the Boks last year, but he's living proof, at 80kg, that, like Sevu Reece (87kg) and Nehe Milner-Skudder (90kg) four years ago, if you're good enough, skilled enough, and brave enough, size really doesn't matter. If you're an All Black supporter, then let's hope that when we look back on Japan 2019 the convincing 23-13 win for the All Blacks over South Africa in the opening game will prove to have pointed the way for the sharp end of the tournament.