Three upsets in the first week. The Japan-Ireland game was absolutely sensational. I had to remind a few of my Irish friends that Ireland didn’t lose that game, Japan won it. You have to respect the hosts, who played with total commitment and knew what they were doing all over the field after the first few wobbles. Brian O’Driscoll was lost for words in the studio.
Japan, of course, did it too at the last World Cup, beating South Africa in that huge shock. Ireland was No 1 in the world rankings prior to the tournament, so this is another big scalp. I’m delighted for Jamie Joseph and for the game of rugby to see this happen. When I played them in ’95, we put 140 points on them. We don’t want two or three nations dominating. We want tier two nations to have that self-belief.
The results so far show that the tier two nations have been competitive in most of the games with higher-ranked opponents. England beat USA 45-7 but I was very impressed with the Americans. They will put their hat in the ring for the 2027 World Cup. Potentially, they will make further real progress and some of their work against England was compelling.
We haven’t even mentioned Wales-Australia and that was a belter of a game too.
Overall, I’m loving all these World Cup games. They’ve been brilliant, even some of the minor games. I must admit I was disappointed in Samoa after the 34-0 loss to Scotland. They seem to have lost that little bit of edge. The Pacific Island nations have always blown out a candle on one of the top nations at each World Cup, but we haven’t seen it in Japan.
To tonight’s All Blacks’ clash against Canada, there will be some interesting areas to look at. But first and foremost, I am delighted I was proven wrong on my forecast for the Springboks match. I couldn’t work out why South Africa was just kicking the ball away so much. They would do 2-3 rucks and then put boot to ball.
I do have a concern that we had to wait 11 days between games, but I’m sure the All Blacks management will rally them and ensure they are up for it in Oita.
Rieko Ioane, I’m sure, will still have a big part to play in this World Cup, and he has a prime chance in the No 11 jersey to show us his wares after playing just once in the last seven weeks. You have to admit that Sevu Reece and George Bridge have been phenomenal and have laid down the gauntlet for Rieko. He must deliver and I’m sure he will tonight.
The Canadians are not quite as strong now as they were when we laboured to beat them 29-13 in the 1991 World Cup quarter-final in Lille. I remember that was a wet day and I scored a try off that old ‘Varsity’ scrum move with Graeme Bachop and Bernie McCahill. Maybe the All Blacks should hold that move back for the playoffs! Ardie Savea would be a lot quicker than me off the scrum, but it’s all about the timing to create the hole.
Canada hasn’t done much of late in its rugby, and Italy won 48-7 last week, but I note that Sir Graham Henry was helping out, so who knows if some of Ted’s magic dust can rub off on the Maple Leafs.
It’s tough to pick a margin for tonight. There is a whole lot of talk of the heat and humidity in Oita. Potentially, if the All Blacks start, control and execute with their ball retention, this could be a point a minute, so I’ll say anything between 60 and 90 points. They must keep their composure and structure, especially two weeks out from a World Cup quarter-final against Ireland, Japan or Scotland. I don’t want them to start playing Barbarians style rugby and throwing loose passes.