From back-row battles to morale-boosting victories, Paul Williams looks at key talking points from the past month
Why aren’t players wearing gloves at the World Cup?
Japan is humid. On average 79% humidity in September. Add another 21% to that and you’re living like Nemo. But despite all of the handling problems that we have seen so far in the competition, few players are wearing gloves. It is a strange situation.
Rugby has made massive strides over the past decade with strength and conditioning, in-game technology and GPS etc, yet the kit they wear remains the same. Even stranger, the kit remains the same regardless of the conditions.
Golfers, tennis players and NFL athletes all adapt their kit to the conditions, yet rugby does not. It is understandable that the half-backs and centres may not want to wear gloves, as you do lose some touch and feel, but it seems like a no brainer for those players whose primary role is carrying.
The Wales back row beat the best
If you’re Welsh, you’ve long held a suspicion that somewhere in Australia there is a giant voodoo dragon. And when the match clock strikes 75 minutes, a load of Wallaby supporters begin kicking the dragon in the nuts.
For once, and at the most important time in this four-year cycle, that didn’t happen – Wales saw the game out at the World Cup in Tokyo. It was a fantastic match between the two most evenly balanced teams of the past decade and was arguably the game of the tournament so far.
Match report: Australia 25-29 Wales
Over the past ten years there has been little difference between the squads. If there has been an advantage, it has usually been in the back row, where both teams have, on occasion, delivered an extra 5% to tip the balance.
In Japan, that was once again the case. Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Aaron Wainwright were more than the equal of the always impressive Michael Hooper and David Pocock. Tipuric was immaculate on the ground and in the air, where he has become Wales’ go-to jumper at the front of the lineout – not just for quick back-ball.
Navidi once again morphed into flesh scaffolding, managing to hold up and then drop some big Australian structures. Whilst Wainwright looked like he’s been playing Test rugby for 15 years and doesn’t quite understand what all the fuss is about.
To compete with Pocock and Hooper is to have a feather in your cap, to beat them is to have a golden eagle perched on your head.
Related: The rapid rise of Aaron Wainwright
Japan win pretty
Japan are no longer giant killers; they have become serial killers. Their win over Ireland was the second in their series of rugby murders, and the most exquisitely executed yet.
The victory alone was remarkable, but the manner of the victory will live long on YouTube. When Tier Two teams haul down a genuine Tier One nation, it is usually ugly. There’s always a dodgy try thrown in there, a lucky bounce, a red card or some weird rugby quirk. But that isn’t how Japan beat South Africa in 2015, nor Ireland in 2019.
Match report: Japan 19-12 Ireland
Japan play a fusion of Super Rugby and Test rugby. Solid yet rapid set-piece mixed with short sharp passes in midfield. Against Ireland, Japan used ‘channel one’ ball on virtually every scrum. It went in and out quicker than a prorogued Member of Parliament.
Other than the All Blacks, their back-line passes the ball smoother than any other team in the World Cup – especially in midfield. Their outside-centre and back three stay well connected, meaning that they rarely pass the ball further than ten feet. The result is few big loopy passes in midfield and a greater chance of successfully moving around the defensive ‘edge’.
Japan were worth every minute of their victory, and it may not be their last. They’re top of their pool and have Scotland to come.
Incorrect decisions, using playback, are inexcusable
The officials at the World Cup have so far taken more hits than any of the openside flankers at the tournament. In fact, the officials have had it worse than any of the players. At least the players don’t have to worry about taking kicks to the head or the body, whereas the officials took a boot to the windpipe from their own organisation.
It seems unfair to criticise referees, as their job is actually impossible. It’s like being a single parent with 30 kids: you simply can’t keep an eye on everyone. But when an incorrect decision is made with the use of TV playback, it is inexcusable, and we must be allowed to criticise it.
That Tomas Lavanini’s corner-flag tackle on David Halaifonua was judged legal, was wrong, just wrong. You can tell me a thousand times that he used his arm but I will not concede, because I have eyes.
Rugby has a certain ethos when it comes to criticising officials and in real time we must have utmost sympathy for them. But when they get wrong using replays, it is fair game.
Uruguay made us smile
It’s very easy to become overly negative as a rugby supporter. Complicated laws and interpretations, the game becoming overly dependent of money, and residency rules are just a few of the reasons that the sport seems a bit fraught at the moment.
Then you see Uruguay beat Fiji and everything changes. To see a squad containing semi-pros rolling over big household names is magical. It makes you remember why you fell in love with the game in the first place.
Match report: Fiji 27-30 Uruguay
Uruguay’s tackling was old school. Not old school like taking a player’s head off, old school by going low and going face-cheek to bum-cheek. Whilst the rest of the world was debating what a high tackle was, Uruguay ignored the whole issue and just went low. Then they got up and went low again. It was amazing. It was like watching 15 Dan Lydiates.
So, the next time you get fed up with your club not being able to afford another £1m winger or your team’s new shirt costing £100, just flick on Uruguay v Fiji and enjoy rugby again.
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