There was plenty of action in the first three games of the Rugby World Cup, but here is a selection of the things we were talking about this weekend
By Stuart Clarke
Underdogs can prosper
There’s usually a certain inevitability when it comes to Rugby World Cup matches. The underdogs may sometimes run the favourites close, but in the end the big dogs always win.
But Japan upset the formula and the form guide to record the biggest upset in World Cup history, possibly in the history of all rugby. Their win over South Africa was no fluke, though, but carefully masterminded and perfectly executed.
Even when the Brave Blossoms were still in contention with 15 minutes to play there was always the sense – as there always is when a supposedly weaker team plays a supposedly stronger team – that they’d tire and fade towards the end.
It didn’t happen, though, and the final minutes of the game are probably the best you’ll see in this World Cup. We may as well end it now.
Wayne Barnes isn’t afraid to annoy the Kiwis
Fast forward to 2015 and the Englishman would have had to go into hiding had the Kiwis lost to Argentina on Sunday.
As always, the 36-year-old was spot on with the vast majority of his decisions, but he must have flashed back to the abuse he received eight years ago when he was left with no choice but to sin bin Richie McCaw for a trip. The man is pretty much the biggest name in the competition and the face of a nation, but Barnesy isn’t one to be let his decisions be influenced by a reputation.
Barnes is made of tough stuff, though, as shown when he carded Conrad Smith just eight minutes later.
The All Blacks won, though, and Barnes came out of the match with almost the highest accolade – no-one was talking about his performance, which means he must have had a good game.
There was a lot of time wasted talking to the TMO
Fans at the opening game between England and Fiji on Friday got to see their heros on the Twickenham pitch for at least 11 minutes longer than normal in the first half. Unfortunately all they were doing was standing around.
Referee Jaco Peyper and TMO Shaun Veldsman were savaged on social media for the way they handled the game, with the on-field official going upstairs to review almost every play.
No-one would have begrudged Niko Matawala the try that Peyper and Veldsman eventually ruled out, but when it did go upstairs it was very clear that the scrum-half had bobbled the ball and therefore the time spent looking at replays was unnecessary.
Then Craig Joubert received criticism on Saturday night for awarding France’s Noa Nakaitaci a try and just as Frederik Michalak was about to take the conversion he was interrupted by the need to look at replays.
With the constant referrals upstairs, the flow of the game is completely lost and fans are left twiddling their thumbs as officials debate the intricacies of the game. Once a decision is made, the referee should have to stick with it. If it’s wrong, so be it. If he’s in any doubt as to what he’s seen, then that’s the time to go upstairs.
Barnes handled the TMO well on Sunday, talking to the official while the game was going to see if he needed to take action. When he didn’t need to, he let the game continue.
It’s good to get decisions right, but when it comes at the cost of the quality of the match something’s got to change.
Always be yourself, unless you can be Mamuka Gorgodze. Always be Mamuka Gorgodze
He’s a beast and we knew that well before this tournament, but Mamuka Gorgodze put in the kind of performance against Tonga that showed everyone just how destructive he can be.
Standing at 6ft 5in, the back rower is a formidable opponent at the best of times, but when he’s captaining his country in a game they’re expected to lose he puts in some of his best performances.
Unfortunately, more often than not in the big games, his performances go under the radar as Georgia fall to defeat, but Tonga will be glad to see the back of ‘Gorgodzilla’ after his dominant display at Kingsholm.
A bundling try under the posts was just one of his highlights, but his defence was what set him apart. Gorgodze put in an incredible 27 tackles on the huge Tongans – a huge reason why Georgia upset their opponents.
His team face Argentina on Friday and after this performance the Pumas will undoubtedly be taking the challenge a little more seriously.
USA could pose a threat if they become more disciplined
On paper the USA team is pretty strong. They’ve got players with Aviva Premiership experience in Chris Wyles (Saracens), Samu Manoa (formerly Northampton), Eric Fry (Newcastle), as well as a blistering winger in Takudzwa Ngwenya.
On the field, however, a lack of discipline proved costly against Samoa, giving away 14 penalties – double that given away by the Pacific Islanders. Their opponents kicked five of those penalties through the posts, which was ultimately what cost them the game.
It wasn’t just the penalties where the Eagles lacked discipline, but also in defence, where the team missed 29 tackles over the course of the 80 minutes.
Should they sort out their problems, the USA could genuinely challenge Scotland when they meet next Sunday, but without improvement they’ll struggle to keep teams at bay.
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