AUCKLAND, NZ – After four years of enjoying the fact that we can call ourselves Rugby World Cup champions, the day has finally come when the cup gets put back on the line for the rest of the world to have a crack at. The tournament opened with a bit of a splutter at Twickenham, the host nation England getting what ended up being a comfortable enough win over a game Fiji side. Unfortunately it wasn’t the efforts of Billy Vunipola or Nemani Nadolo everyone was talking about after the final whistle, more the performance of the guy blowing it. To be more precise, the fact that play seemed to stop every five seconds so Jaco Peyper could check something on the big screen that had been pointed out to him by the TMO. Could the remaining matches rectify this tedium? One certainly did, unless you’ve been living under a rock you would’ve heard about the greatest shock in rugby history that came in Pool B. But first up was action from Pool C:
Georgia 17 (Mamuka Gorgodze, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili tries, Merab Kvirikashvili 2 con, pen) Tonga 10 (Fetu’u Vainikolo try, Kurt Morath pen, con)
Was this an upset? Certainly most in this part of the world would’ve been picking our friends from the Friendly Isles to take this one out, especially considering their heroics in the last World Cup when they knocked over eventual finalists France. However, a little bit of homework would’ve revealed that Georgia are actually pretty good and sit more or less in the same part of the world rankings as the Tongans. They got there through utilizing a physically direct game, which is exactly what they brought to Kingsholm. It’s unlikely the Georgian outside backs touched the ball through any sort of design, this was 10-man rugby at it’s most obvious. By contrast, the Tongans did try and run the ball, but were constantly let down by poor handling. Led by the impressive Mamuka Gorgodze, who scored the first try, Georgia simply pummeled away directly into the Tongan defense for basically the entire game. Flanker Giorgi Tkhiaishvili scored another similar close range try in the second half and the gap proved to be too wide for the Tongans to pull back. A fair result, Tonga will be bitterly disappointed though.
Ireland 50 (Sean O’Brien, Iain Henderson, Johnny Sexton, Dave Kearney, Sean Cronin, Rob Kearney, Jared Payne tries, Sexton 3 con, pen, Ian Madigan 3 con) Canada 7 (DTH Van der Merwe try, Nathan Hirayama con)
Well this one certainly went to form. Pre-tournament contenders (in a few people’s books, anyway) Ireland managed to get a decent opposed training run out of Canada, who looked pretty much the same as they did at the last few RWC’s: just happy to be there. They did get one try against the run of play, but that was in the middle of having seven put on them by a slick looking Irish outfit. Their pack opened proceeding when they sent Sean O’Brien over in a maul, he was followed by Iain Henderson. The Irish backs did the rest of the work, running in some lovely moves that might just fly under the radar give the rest of the weekend’s dramatics. Former NZer Jared Payne capped off a solid hit out for the men in green with a try under the bar to bring up the half century.
France 32 (Rabah Slimani, Nicolas Mas tries, Fréddy Michalak 5 pen, con, Scott Spedding con) Italy 10 (Giovanbattista Venditti try, Tommaso Allan pen, con)
A lot of people were picking the unpredictable French to drop this game against their continental rivals, so of course they completely confounded everyone by putting on a polished and composed display to pick up a regulation win. Freddy Michalak took control of the game from the first time he touched the ball and put les Bleus in front off the tee, before Noa Nakaitaci looked to have scored in the corner. The TMO got himself involved yet again, this time correctly ruling out the try. However, it didn’t matter as Michalak kept the scoreboard ticking over, pushing them out to a 15-3 lead at the break. In the second half the match was sealed by tries to two of the French big boys, prop Rabah Slimani showing good knowledge of the rules to put the ball up against the post padding, then veteran replacement front rower Nicolas Mas dotting down as well. However, they didn’t have it all their own way, winger Yoann Huget’s tournament is over after a knee injury.
All Blacks 26 (Aaron Smith, Sam Cane tries, Dan Carter 4 pen, 2 con) Los Pumas 16 (Guido Petti try, Nicolas Sanchez 3 pen, con)
The non-NZ rugby public finally got what they’ve been waiting a long time for in this game: a chance to boo Richie McCaw for getting caught cheating. And, to be honest, he richly deserved every last one of them, as well as the yellow card he picked up. For a guy who’s played as many test matches as he has (143), petulantly foot tripping a Pumas player trying to take a quick tap was incredibly foolhardy. At least he wasn’t alone in his stupidity, 89-test veteran Conrad Smith joined him in the sin bin for a blatant professional foul shortly after. This numerical advantage saw Los Pumas take a one point lead into halftime after Guido Petti took advantage of some lazy ruck defense to dive over and Nicolas Sanchez nailed a couple of penalties. Dan Carter had answered with four of his own, but things started to get a little nervous after the break when Sanchez pushed the gap out to a try. Aaron Smith shook off some recent indifferent form to snatch the lead back for the All Blacks, one they never gave up after replacement Sam Cane finished off some relentless pressure by crossing out wide.
The main talking point out of this one was the impact Sonny Bill Williams had when he replaced Ma’a Nonu, his contribution certainly helped turn the tide against a committed Argentine team. However, the score line doesn’t really reflect the fact that the All Blacks enjoyed an almost total possession and territory advantage in the second half. Had a couple of passes not been dropped, the score could’ve blown out and there’ll be a bit of work done on the handling for the next game against Namibia.
That’s it for now! Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Jake Frechette, Scheenagh Harrington, Jamie Loyd, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Audrey Youn, Akweley Okine, Rocky Brown and Declan Yeats, respectively.