Round 1 Games
The first round of games of the 2011 Rugby World Cup have been played. There were no real upsets, but it’s been made obvious that the gap between the traditional top tier sides and the others has narrowed. The minnows are not so small anymore.
The biggest margin was 31 points in the first game of the tournament, where New Zealand beat Tonga 41-10. That game started with the traditional challenges thrown down by both island nations. Anyone who suggests that this should not be part of the game is insane. I still believe the Haka and the other islands equivalents really add to the atmosphere and build up.
Game 2 saw Scotland really pushed by Romania. Romania have players who play in the major European leagues, but Scotland‘s form was not good and in a group that includes England and Argentina it was always going to be difficult for them to qualify for the knockout rounds. On this evidence it looks even less likely.
Talking of England and Argentina they met up on Saturday too. England took to the pitch in their new all black strip, which looked good, but was very unpopular with the New Zealand locals. Despite it being a sharp look, I would much rather see England in all white too.
This was always going to be a tough game and proved to be exactly that. With 13 minutes remaining no tries had been scored and Argentina led 9-3. But both sides had problems with converting penalties. Jonny Wilkinson missed 5 and the Argentine kickers Felipe Contepomi and Martin Rodriguez missed 6 between them.
Ben Youngs replaced Richard Wigglesworth at scrum half in the 50th minute and proved to be the spark that lit up the England game. He scored from a 5 metre lineout and Wilkinson converted from in front of the posts. He also converted his final penalty with 6 minutes remaining. England had the best of the last 20 minutes of the game despite some late surges from the Pumas. It was not a classic performance by England, finishing 13-9 in front, but Argentina should never be underestimated, they beat France in the opening game of the last World Cup and would do well in either the 6 nations or Tri-Nations competition, which they are scheduled to join next year. Regular games with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa could be the making of Argentina as a force in world Rugby.
The other games on Saturday saw a high scoring contest between Fiji and Namibia. Fiji scored six tries, but did not have it all their own way, with Namibia scoring two tries of their own, plus a couple of penalties and a drop goal to finish 49-25 to Fiji.
France had it tough against Japan too, leading only 25-21 halfway through the second half. But, as is the pattern with these matches between the established Rugby nations and the minnows, Japan tired in the last 20 minutes and France finished with a winning score of 47-21. It does not get any easier for Japan they face New Zealand in their next game and with former All Black star John Kirwan coaching Japan, it should be a clash worth watching.
Sunday started with Australia’s introduction to the tournament, against 6 Nations side Italy. Italy lived up to their hard scrumaging reputation and managed to finish the first half on even par with Australia at 6-6. But the introduction of James O’Connor in the second half saw the Australian performance rise. O’Connor scored a try himself which he converted, along with two of the three others scored by Ben Alexander, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Digby Ioane. Ioane had a great second half, making numerous breaks, creating Alexander’s try and culminating with his own.
Following the pattern of the tournament so far, Ireland struggled to their 22-10 win over the USA. And captain Brian O’Driscoll was damning of their performance in his post match interview. Ireland face Australia in their next game and it would hard to imagine a win for the Northern Hemisphere side on this form.
The final game played on Sunday was the closest and probably the best match of the tournament so far. Wales had only defeated South Africa once in all of their previous meetings. But they were in the ascendance in the second half when they took the lead with a try from Tongan-born number eight Faletau. But the Boks never lay down and came back with a try from Hougaard as the result of a penalty and a close line out. They held onto their narrow one point lead until the final whistle with Priestland missing a drop goal attempt and a penalty. Final score South Africa 17 Wales 16.
But there was some controversy in this game, with a first half penalty that the Welsh and everyone watching on TV believed had gone through the posts not being awarded by the on field referee.
The next games take place on Wednesday with Samoa starting their tournament against Namibia at 14:30 Tonga take on Canada at 17:00 and Scotland face Georgia at 19:30 all times are New Zealand local time.
By Max Power