For domestic reasons which need not concern the average Ruster I have yet to witness more than a pair of BBC New bulletin brief reports’ worth of coverage of the matches played so far but – as yet – the 2019 Rugby World Cup experience seems to have been progressing much as World Rugby and the Japanese organisers of the tournament must have been hoped.
First up, the host nation love sport and make a fetish of organising anything that is going to present their country on the world stage with military precision and enthusiasm. The word I have from those fans I know who have travelled halfway around the world to experience a RWC is that the welcome of everyone involved, not the least the local fans, has been exemplary.
Were Japan to make it out of the pool stages, of course, then one could expect a sport-changing explosion of interest around the Far East.
Going only from the reports I have read, thus far every aspect of the tournament is going to plan, including on the field of play.
The development of Tier 2 nations has hardly reached the point where any of them could be expected to beat any the comfy cabal of the “Old Nations” – now that really would be a watershed moment for the sport – but the Pacific Island nations can always make themselves an awkward handful with their love and exuberance for the game and (to my mind) it won’t be long before, with their natural player size-and-power and potential resources and perhaps some further top-notch coaching, the USA and Canada make their mark.
My only other comment at this stage, based upon listening to the Radio Five Live radio commentary of the New Zealand v South Africa clash yesterday, is tip of the hat to the pundits who deployed by the BBC yesterday – former national captains Bobby of South Africa and Tana Umaga of New Zealand.
Some – including my husband – claim to find Southern Hemisphere journalists and pundits irritatingly smug about the excellence of their home grown players and their supposed superiority over anything that can be produced by those north of the equator.
Not so yesterday. As representatives of the two nations who can historically boast the most heavyweight and passionate rivalry in rugby union, Skinstad and Umaga were astute, incisive and respectfully blunt in calling that was happening on the field of play and why.
Even after South Africa has exploded out of the blocks and put the All Blacks under tremendous pressure in the first 25 minutes of yesterday’s clash, Skinstad kept any personal expectations under tight control. He’d been around the block too many times not to expect a backlash from the reigning champions before the Fat Lady was to get anywhere near clearing her throat.
Meanwhile, whilst Umaga praised the verve of the Springboks’ early taking of the game to their opponents, he was calling it ‘in the moment’: he mentioned some of the injury and other issues that had influenced the selection of the All Blacks’ match-day squad and said that it was going to take them a while to bed in and then adjust their tactics to what was going on in front of them – “And right now, they’ve got some work to do”…
By half-time it seemed that the Kiwis had done just that – they had scored two tries and take the lead. Reviewing the first stanza, Skinstad pointed a finger at the Springboks’ problem – they’d made two or three basic errors in execution “… and when you do that the All Blacks will always punish you”. What would his advice be now, in the halftime changing room talk?
Inevitably – “Cut out the mistakes!”
In my view yes, if someone can play a near-perfect game on the day.
In advance of this morning’s England opener against Tonga, the latest and biggest concern seems to be the weather forecast. Apparently a weather system (Typhoon Tapah) is about to hit Hokkaido, the island on which the venue for the game is situated and an ‘extreme weather warning’ has been issued.
England can no doubt expect another form of extreme buffeting today from the Tongans, a proud nation of (it says on Wikipedia) just 108,000 souls, but should come through the ordeal by a margin of 20 points.
After all the tribulations of making the squad, being in camp, the travelling and getting used to their surroundings, the team will just be relieved to get out on the park and playing rugby in earnest again.
Fingers crossed there are no serious injuries picked up in this first outing, which will hopefully give us some indication of how things stand within the touring party.
Although Scotland are always capable of springing a surprise, few of their countrymen (or women, including me) are expecting miracles in Japan!