What an opening weekend of Rugby World Cup 2015 that was! So good in fact that those two days rest were welcomed. With the second phase of matches underway, Red Rugby reflects on what we now know about RWC2015 following its much anticipated kick off.
From Friday’s vibrant opening ceremony (no matter how much we mocked it beforehand) to the shock in Brighton on Saturday to the atmosphere in Wembley on Sunday, this Rugby World Cup started with a bang. Have we ever seen anything like it before? France’s defeat to Argentina in 2007 must come close but purely for the abundance of noise, colour and quality from sides considered to be outside of rugby’s elite this has to be the best start to any World Cup. Long may it continue.
It could be better
That’s not to say we haven’t been riled by a few things during the opening salvos. The ‘Fanzones’ have proved to be a mixed bag. Cardiff’s offering (at the Arms Park) has gone down well thanks to its atmosphere and proximity to the city centre (two traits it shares with the Millennium next door). Wembley Park’s Fanzone is also located in the shadow of a main stadium but as it’s nowhere near central London it has less of an atmosphere and more of a feeling of a temporary holding pen for those lucky enough to have tickets to the big game. It’s also only open for two days of the tournament – the days Wembley Stadium hosts a match. In fact seven of the fifteen Fanzones (including London’s Trafalgar Square) are open for less than ten match days. Given the high average price of tickets to the games themselves, England 2015 may rightly face accusations of not doing enough to take the game to the masses. Poor show.
Japan have already won
No matter what happens over the remaining five weeks (and let’s remember Japan can still make the quarters despite their 45-10 loss to Scotland today) Eddie Jones’ men are already the main winners of Rugby World Cup 2015. The win against South Africa was remarkable for several reasons. It was only their second in World Cup history and they now stand with England, Australia and New Zealand in being the only nations to beat the Springboks at a Rugby World Cup. But their courage was the standout feature: the courage of captain Michael Leitch and his charges to refuse, not one, but two kickable penalties in the dying seconds which could’ve secured an historic draw. They went for the glory and they got it. In doing so, they secured one of the biggest upsets in sport, let alone rugby union. They’ll forever be remembered for it. Outstanding.
The TMO debate is dull and pointless
Were we the only ones on Friday night who watched, with incredulity, Sir Clive Woodward trying to convince ITV’s audience that referee Jaco Peyper was wrong to reverse his decision to award Niko Matawalu a try after Twickenham’s big screen replay clearly showed he had dropped the ball on the line? Yes, the TMOs are interfering too much with normal play and, yes, the increasing shouts of “Jaco, I’ve got some potential foul play for you to look at” are the modern equivalent of the touch-judge sticking out his flag because he’s bored, but the end result should always be this – to make the correct decision. Matawalu’s ‘try’ was not a try and we shouldn’t simply award it because, as Woodward seemed to suggest, he deserved it for the play beforehand. Such a comment is, at best, nonsense and, at worst, degrading to the opposition – a kind of ‘give the little nation a try for turning up’ vibe. Woodward’s supporters in the Daily Mail and Telegraph have been filling column inches ever since with guff about how ‘the TMO threatens to ruin our game’. Rugby fans would do well to ignore this non-story.
Tier Two nations deserve big games, more often
Japan beat South Africa in the first meeting between the two. Meanwhile, Fiji looked competitive against England (and could’ve made it interesting in the final twenty minutes had they bagged the eleven points they failed to kick). Fiji last played England in 2012 and, before that, not since 1999. This Rugby World Cup has shown that the gap between the traditional elite and the ‘up-and-comers’ is closing, but that gap is only going to get closer if so-called ‘Tier Two’ nations are allowed to play their tier one counterparts more often. No longer can the traditional nations keep the game closed among themselves. The Japans, Samoas, Fijis and Georgias of this world have to be let in, and World Rugby has to be the organisation to do that. Maybe that will be the legacy of Rugby World Cup 2015 – the tournament where rugby union turned into a truly global sport; not one limited to Western Europe and the traditional colonies of empire. Let’s hope so.
It’s been a great start to Rugby World Cup 2015. You get the feeling that this, the eighth edition, could be the best tournament of the lot. Fingers crossed.