Rugby World Cup 2011: Minnows’ week one
Rugby World Cup 2011 has finally gotten underway, and until the tight, pulsating match-up between super-powers South Africa and Wales last night, the talk of the tournament had been the so-called ‘minnows’.
Let’s start proceedings this week with a review of their performances.
Saturday, Scotland versus Romania
If you crashed early enough on Friday night (or maybe you stayed up ‘late’ enough), it is likely you would have caught this engaging opening performance by Romania on Saturday morning, Australian time.
Anyone with serious European rugby knowledge will tell you that Romania have a proud history and have, at various times, defeated France, Wales, Scotland and drawn with Ireland.
However, tragically, the sport has long since declined. Despite this, the team still boasts of a proud World Cup record and the team continued this record on Saturday.
Scotland held a modest lead at half-time (18–6), but a spirited fightback by Romania saw the Eastern Europeans lead 24–21 with approximately ten minutes remaining.
Only a late brace from Scottish winger Simon Danielli, helped the Scots pull ahead and secure maximum points from the encounter.
Man-of-the-Match: Marius Tincu.
Tincu demonstrated why he may be remembered as the last world class player Romania ever produces. Plenty of metres, solid scrummaging and fine defence, it was a sign of how well the minnows played that Tincu would not be the last player from a losing team to be awarded man-of-the-match honours this day.
Saturday, Fiji versus Namibia
The Namibians, again, will serve as the whipping boys of the most difficult pool at the Rugby World Cup (see Pool D from France 2007).
Despite this, and being aware that this game probably presented their best opportunity for a win, the Namibians came out firing and sent through three successful drop-goals and a penalty in the first 15 minutes of the encounter to race out to surprising lead.
However, the lead was not to last as Fiji ran in four tries to nil in the first half, effectively shutting the Africans out of the game.
Whilst definitely the weakest performance so far in the tournament, the game was by no means a bloodbath, however Namibia will have to lift on Wednesday as they face a fresh Samoa, who will be keen to stamp their mark on the tournament.
Minnow Man-of-the-Match: Theuns Kotze.
A personal tally of fifteen (15) points, the most of any Namibian in a World Cup match, deserves a mention.
Additionally, whilst many Australians are adverse to the tactic, Namibia deserved their early lead and Kotze’s calm slotting of two successive drop goals was a joy to watch.
Saturday, France versus Japan
One word – the atmosphere. Admittedly I was several (at least) beers down by this point in the day, but you couldn’t help but feel the atmosphere blaring out through the television.
Much in the mould of the Scotland–Romania game, the eventual score-line flattered the French and deceives the history books.
As late as the 70th minute, the Japanese were still within ten points of the French and the greatest upset in the history of rugby union looked set to take place.
An up-tempo match, John Kirwin’s men did the Japanese nation and their contingent of travelling fans proud, with their greatest Rugby World Cup performance to date.
Ably led by captain Takashi Kikutani, the Japanese forwards moved at pace and attacked the breakdown viciously to provide fly-half James Arlidge with the platform to score a personal tally of 21 points and keep Japan right in the game for over an hour.
While we are yet to see Canada and Tonga’s opening game against New Zealand is a difficult barometer through which to assess them, if Japan is able to reproduce this form, it is quite likely they will finish a national best of third within the group.
Man-of-the-Match: James Arlidge.
The second Man-of-the-Match to come from a losing side, Arlidge demonstrated to the world why teams like Japan need more fixtures against the top sides. No doubt the personal highlight of his career, any player that scores two tries against France deserves high praise.
Sunday, Ireland versus United States
The United States took to the field on an emotional high, due to the ten-year anniversary of September 11. It showed.
Ireland again demonstrated why they have such an abysmal record at World Cups, barely leading the US 3–0 for the first forty minutes.
US captain Todd Clever led admirably from the front, as the US brought the match to the Irish, but played surprisingly tight considering the talent they possess out wide.
While the US worked hard at the breakdown and their fullback, Blaine Scully looked dangerous on the few occasions he touched the ball and the Irish packs’ dominance at scrum-time revealed a true weakness in the US team’s make-up.
A strong performance for the first 40 minutes, considering that the Americans recorded a similar score-line against the English four years ago, it’s difficult to submit that they have progressed substantially since that time.
Suggestion that Italy could be challenged by the US are unlikely after the meagre scrimmaging performance put in by the US against a pack that is usually considered one of the less dominant at scrum time.
Minnow Man-of-the-Match: Mike Petri.
Petri provided excellent service from the back of the ruck, with a few probing runs as well. It was a shame that the US wasn’t able to make the most of his excellent pill and spread it all the way to their talent outside backs.
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