RWC 2015: Why we shouldn't be that surprised with Japan's win over the Springboks, expect England to build and the end for Ma'a Nonu

Seven things we learnt: France message goes under the radar, Wales decimated bu injuries, upsets do still happen and how it took 24 hours for rugby fever to sweep the nation

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The reports are wrong – World Cup upsets do still happen

The pool stages of the Rugby World Cup are more often than not a little bit predictable. The giants tend to book their quarter-final berth with ease, rotating players as they do so, while the smaller nations tend to battle it out for third and an automatic qualification spot for the next World Cup on offer.

That’s what made Japan’s success over South Africa even more extraordinary. Upsets of this magnitude don’t happen – they certainly haven’t in the past – but a combination of sheer bravery, determination and, it must be said, natural talent, Japan lit up the World Cup with victory in the first ever rugby match to be staged at the Brighton Community Stadium.

The result blows Pool B wide open, with all five sides now scrapping for a last-eight sport. Japan’s next victims could very well be Scotland – they meet on Wednesday with the Scots now below Japan in World Rugby’s rankings – and if the Asian nation adds another major scalp to their campaign, they suddenly throw themselves in the hat for pool stage progression.

 

England have work to do, but plenty to build on

It wasn’t the best performance seen by an England side under Stuart Lancaster’s tenure on Friday night, but the 35-11 victory over Fiji was probably just what the squad needed. Opening a home World Cup in scenes like those seen at Twickenham can’t be easy, and sadly some wilted under the pressure such as Ben Youngs and Ben Morgan.

However, once the opening ceremony and all the fireworks were done with, the result is all that mattered, and England emerged with a bonus point victory over a side that will cause both Wales and Australia serious problems. While they will know there’s plenty of work to do, at least England already have five points in the bag.

england fiji.jpg
Mike Brown scores for England in the win over Fiji

Are Ma’a Nonu’s days numbered?

Slow, lethargic, uninterested. A selection of words that could be used to describe Ma’a Nonu’s performance against Argentina on Sunday. When he got the ball the inside centre tried to impose himself over the opposition by using his sheer size and physicality, but off it he was caught out on more than one occasion.

His place in the side may not be under pressure had Sonny Bill Williams not come on and changed the game. The former rugby league man consistently broke the defensive line and managed to make more offloads in 34 minutes than anyone else has managed in the entire first round. Williams has to start their next game against Namibia, and should he perform anywhere close to his levels at Wembley, Nonu might have played his last match in the All Blacks’ No 12 jersey.

Ma-Nonu.jpg
Nonu looked off the pace for the All Blacks

France send out a message that goes under the radar

Late on Saturday night, south west London was transformed. A picture of white and red the night before, Twickenham was painted blue, La Marseillaise rang out repeatedly and you would be forgiven for believing the match was being played in Paris. France comfortably dispatched Italy 32-10, and despite not scoring a try until midway through the second half, they looked a much more together unit than the one that finished fourth in the Six Nations. Be warned: a together France is a dangerous France.

Rabor Slimani.jpg
France prop Raboh Slimani scores a try against iItaly

With a short journey across the Channel, it feels like a second ‘home’ World Cup for France with so many fans travelling over. They were in good attendance for the England game on Friday and again at Wembley on Sunday afternoon. With the fans firmly behind them, who knows how far France could go. Not even they will be able to tell you.

Wales victory take the brunt of the home nations’ injury woe

Wales looked to be in good shape to build on their semi-final appearance in 2011, but now they look favourites of the big three in Pool A to miss out on reaching the knockout stages. The squad had already been rocked by the losses of Leigh Halfpenny, Rhys Webb and Jonathan Davies before the tournament started, but their opening 54-9 win over Canada has seen that injury list more than double.

Cory Allen1.jpg
Cory Allen is helped off the field during Wales' win over Uruguay

Prop Samson Lee – who was only just returning from injury – departed at the break and was seen receiving treatment on the replacements’ bench. There he joined full-back Liam Williams, another injury returnee, as well as hat-trick hero Cory Allen and flanker Dan Lydiate. Allen has since been ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a hamstring injury, and with questions over the remaining three, Wales’s squad is beginning to look desperately thin in key areas.

We shouldn’t be that surprised by South Africa’s defeat

Yes, South Africa are considerably better than Japan and, at the time of kick-off, were 10 places above them in the world rankings. But was the win as big a shock as we all believed?

This Springbok side have already gone the entire Rugby Championship campaign without anything other than defeat, lost their first ever match to Argentina and have now slipped to sixth in the world – behind New Zealand, Australia, England, Wales and Ireland. They should still progress from the pool stages, but don’t expect too much else from Heyneke Meyer’s side.

Goromaru.jpg
Japan celebrate after beating South Africa

Two days is all it took for rugby fever to grip the nation

The World Cup is already exceeding expectations. Nearly 82,000 filled Twickenham on Friday, over 76,000 returned the following day – though from the press box it looked like a complete sell-out – while Wembley Stadium had prominent “Sold-out” signs on the digital boards outside, But the beautiful part of this is that the good feeling is not restricted to London as it has been in other tournaments held in the UK recently. Cardiff saw over 140,000 fans attend the Millennium Stadium to watch Ireland and Wales, while Brighton can boast two hugely successful sell-outs over the weekend.

rwcopeningceremony.jpg
The 2015 Rugby World Cup opening ceremony

With games now set to spread out across the nation – Newcastle, Milton Keynes, Leeds and Birmingham to name a few – and interest ramping up in what has already been an enthralling tournament, England 2015 might just be the most successful World Cup ever.

Comments