WRC Day 3 – Reflections and Predictions

So, we’re at day 3 of this year’s RWC. What a first 2 (and a half) days we’ve had… So far, there have been no major upsets, with wins for New Zealand, France, Scotland, England, Australia, and Fiji. I reckon we’ll have Ireland and South Africa joining those names today meaning all the favourites have won their opening round of fixtures (assuming that Ireland and Australia do the business today).

It’s hard so far to pick out a star performer in terms of the teams. Although England won yesterday, I was actually more impressed with Argentina, and had they not thrown away 21 odd points from missed penalties they would have won that game. New Zealand had a big win, but Tonga weren’t exactly tough opposition on the night, and the All Blacks really should have taken more advantage and put in a bigger score. Australia really thumped Italy, and I’ve not watched the highlights yet, but Quade Cooper can really turn on the magic at 10, and I’d imagine he had a big hand in that. I’ve actually been most impressed by Fiji of all the match winners so far. They had a great game against Namibia and put up a good score with some great running rugby, as you’d expect from any Fijian side.

In some ways, I’ve been more impressed with the defeated sides. Argentina, as I said, looked good against England, and similarly impressive in defeat were Japan against a slightly nervous looking France. I remember Japan being New Zealand’s whipping boys in 1995 (going down 145-17). It’s still the biggest rugby scoreline I’ve ever seen, and it’s a real testament to how much they’ve come on that it was only late in the game that France really put them under and wrapped up the result. Romania also put in a big shift against Scotland. They’ve got some big fatties in their pack, and they are possibly one of the dirtiest sides I’ve ever seen. I was certainly glad I wasn’t at the bottom of  a lot of those rucks yesterday, and that’s only from watching the highlights. To run Scotland to within 10 points was a great result for them, and I think that, in all honesty, Scotland will struggle to qualify from that group with games against England and Argentina still to come, along with a game against Georgia, who are unbeaten in their last 8 games and could be a bit of a surprise package.

In terms of teams who haven’t played yet, Georgia and Samoa are the 2 I’m looking forward to seeing most over the next few days. It’ll be interesting to see how those teams get on, and I’m expecting them to put in some great performances in the group stage at the very least. The next round of fixtures will tell us a lot about who we should expect to see in the 1/4 finals, but for what it’s worth, here are my predictions:

Pool A: Tonga beat Canada by 15-20 points, New Zealand come out strong and put 50+ points on Japan.

Pool B: Scotland beat Georgia in a close game by just a few points, Argentina beat Romania by 10-20 points.

Pool C: USA squeeze past Russia by 5 or 10 points, Australia squeeze out Ireland in a close run match decided by a couple of points.

Pool D: South Africa beat Wales in a close run match this morning, Samoa beat Namibia by 20+ points, and South Africa defeat Fiji by 20 odd points.

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We’re off…

So, we’re off… today saw the first day of the Rugby World Cup 2011, as the mighty All Blacks, hosts and perennial favourites for the Webb Ellis trophy, took on a surprisingly sheepish Tonga side full of big guys who, at times, looked so overawed with the occasion that I’m surprised they all made it through the game without swooning and faintingat the sheer majesty of the All Blacks. On top of that, the “choke-ometer” made its international TV debut (Dan Carter looked like he was feeling the pinch already), and the noose might be feeling slightly tighter around Graham Henry’s neck, who apparently was voted at #6 in an “Enemies of New Zealand” poll in a national paper. What a bizarre statistic for a coach who’s won 89% of his games in charge. The All Blacks coaching job might be the only one in world sport with higher pressure and expectations than the England football team. At least the All Blacks have the talent to back up the expectations…

Not only did the 2011 World Cup kick off today, but The High Tackle blog also swung into action for the first time ever. We’re going to be blogging throughout the World Cup, and afterwards, looking at the latest news from across the tournament, and the rest of the rugby world.

Over the next few days we’ll be kicking things off (hohoho!) by having a look at some of the players who could be a bit of a surprise package and wow the watching world over the course of the tournament. Some of them you might expect and some you might not, but as always we’ll welcome your views and constructive criticism on the choices we’ve made. We’ll also be keeping up with the games by predicting the results, putting up some post match feedback, and even live tweeting during matches. Let’s hope we can keep up with it all! We might even convince some lovely friends to guest blog for us over the next few weeks to help us out.

So bring it on… early morning starts, late night rugby, red bull, pro plus, a few beers here and there, and clicking keyboards galore as we try to keep up with the action.

Kia waimarie to one and all, and may the best team win. (Or failing that, Ireland)