RWC15 is a mass of contradictions so far – we passed a law allowing the nation to chop piss in front of the rugby, then everyone went to the pub to drink flat whites. Man Of Few Words Steve Hansen is suddenly lighting up a press conferences with more one-liners than a night out with Stevie Nicks in the ’70s. The hosts have rolled out the welcome mat, then rolled over.
The early weeks of a world cup are like a Monkees album. There’s some classics all right, but plenty of filler too. Before it gets better, here’s what’s happened in the first fortnight:
Best game I
Wales v England. This was a six nations epic that had blood, guts, seventeen half backs on the field, and it will actually affect the outcome of the tournament. The hosts are as tentative as an Englishman trying to get a French waiters’ attention and have been about as successful. Wales had Gaelic fire and brimstone up their backsides and got the lollies – they will do well to repeat the trick with all their injuries, but having taken down their nemesis, they probably won’t care.
Best game II
Japan v South Africa, obviously. Eddie Jones is as popular in South Africa as Braai made of toejam, and his team’s late winner is one of the world cup’s greatest moments ever, obviously. The cherry blossoms performed a pretty credible Brumbies-circa-2004 impression to get home while South Africa, who looked as organised as Alan Donald running a quick single. They need to de-shambles themselves and fast.
Japan are proof that the top tier isn’t impregnable, and any country with massive corporations willing to chuck shedloads of wonga at a coach, foreign player dominated professional league and a world cup hosting gig coming up can play with the big boys. Those Pacific islands should get into that.
Pool of Death update
England have a distinct whiff of dead meat about them, but I would keep an eye on Australia. They come into their big games looking as competent as Kevin Rudd, but have the chance to knock England out this weekend, promoting all those entertaining ‘who do you least like’ debates up and down NZ. Here’s a quick guide:
England – would be pretty funny if the hosts went out, their fans are unbearable, they’re tough at home so could hurt the All Blacks chances later in the tournament
Australia – they’re Australian
Wales are top, but Warren Gatland’s squad is so bare he’s is sizing up getting out the ear tape and running on himself, if he ever gets over his voice back after his post-England karaoke bender. With all the Big Clashes to come, there’s more late drama than an Earthquake Recovery minister trying to make a flight and a bigger fall out to come, team.
All Black panic level
Ooooooookay. So far. Beating Argentina comfortably in a tight-ish, physical world cup opener was a great result, but measured against our propensity to PANIC whenever we don’t WASTE TEAMS BY FIFTY POINTS, it was an utter failure.
When you play against minnows Namibia with a team with 13 changes in it, you shouldn’t read too much into it. So of course we all read too much into it. With talk of injuries in the camp, the nation is lovingly running their finger all around the panic button, but hasn’t *quite* pushed it. Yet.
There’s some bright points – Sonny Bill is all of a sudden our form back, and Waisake Naholo is down to play Georgia, and could provide some much-needed X factor, among a back three that’s worryingly quiet. Even that’s OK, as long as they can start catching high balls at knockout time.
Richie and Dan, who we’ve put a lot of chips on, look the goods so far and our strength in depth looks, erm, deeper than most as long as everyone gets and stays fit. Playing this weird group with Argentina and not a lot else makes it harder to gauge where we’re at than plugging in a phone charger in the dark.
Can we win it, though? Shit yes. Even if NZ isn’t relaxed, the All Blacks seem to be. We should learn from those guys.