Hard News by Russell Brown

20

RWC 2015: This wasn't in the script!

The British bookies had South Africa 1-500 favourites to beat Japan in their opening Rugby World Cup pool match overnight. Instead, the Brave Blossoms pulled off one of the greatest upsets in international sport – after spurning an injury-time kick at goal that would have earned them a draw.

As one writer put it:

A few hours earlier, Georgia made a scarcely-credible 213 tackles and missed only 16 to achieve a more modest upset (but an upset nonetheless) in their match over Tonga. Superbly organised by their New Zealand coach, former Southland player Milton Haig, they thoroughly deserved their win. As in the Japan match, the crowd was vocal and throughly engaged.

"Now we just need Argentina to thump the All Blacks," quipped one of my Twitter correspondents this morning.

Ha ha, yeah. No! Don't even say that!

I find myself oddly grateful that the All Blacks launch their campaign tomorrow against a known quantity in Argentina. On paper, it's the New Zealanders' toughest pool match, but at least we have a recent template for beating them. On the other hand, this will be a stronger side than the one we faced in the Rugby Championship.

If the two upsets have provided a great opening weekend for Rugby World Cup 2015, the opening game in the "Pool of Death" was more of a mixed bag. England lacked dash, verve and security at the breakdown, but the impact of their bench in a securing a vital bonus-point try against Fiji, right on full time, was huge.

That opening match also demonstrated someof the ways in which the tournament could go wrong. Are we really going to see things that have taken place right in front of the referee constantly relitigated by the TMO?

And if this is to be a tournament of lineout drives and rolling mauls, the side in possession has to be refereed too. England's first try was a clear truck-and-trailer (where was the TMO review there?) and most of the drives in the cup so far have flirted with obstruction and offsides.

It will be something of a relief to see the All Blacks actually play tomorrow morning if it gives editors a chance to actually report a match. In yesterday's Weekend Herald, the front page and the front pages of the Sport and Business sections were all dominated by hero pictures of men in black jerseys. I completely understand how folk who aren't interested in the game might be a little annoyed by all this.

Anyone who saw the look in the Springbok players' eyes in the last quarter of their match will have recognised it – it was the look on the All Blacks' faces during that infamous quarter-final in 2007. The this wasn't in the script look. 

Steve Hansen seems to have been careful to dial down the stress as his team trains in London, wisely allowing them to have a pint if they want one and trusting their judgement on the limits of socialising.

At any rate, we'll finally get to see the way they'll play, whether they've been holding back and how those punts on selection shape up – especially from the bench. Hopefully, we'll see Charlie Faumuina get the run he needs and maybe we'll have a longer look at Kaino as reserve lock. It would be nice to confirm Dan Carter's regained sense of purpose wasn't a one-off and for Conrad Smith to shake off the cobwebs.

Oh, yeah. And it would be really good to win. 

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Highlights: Japan vs South Africa.

And Georgia vs Tonga:

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