Wallabies coach Eddie Jones believes the rise of Pacific nations poses a “considerable threat” to tier 1 nations and that New Zealand stands to suffer more than most.
Fiji’s storming win over England last weekend, along with Samoa’s close loss to Ireland has seen both emerge as World Cup wildcards. The Samoans are in England’s pool at the tournament and given a chance of tipping the 2003 winners out of the knockout stages.
Fiji will be aiming to break the expectations of Australia and Wales being the two teams to advance to the quarterfinals from pool C.
“You think back to Fiji in 2007, they had a spectacular World Cup. In the quarter-final against South Africa I think at one stage they were ahead with 20 to go and playing unbelievable rugby,” Jones told reporters in St Etienne, suggesting this edition was set up for them.
“Because a lot of the Fijians play in France they enjoy being here. There is a good Fijian population and they are going to play well. The Tongans are the same.
“They enjoy playing in France. Samoa is being well coached by [Seilala] Mapusua. He’s brought back some older players like [Lima] Sopoaga and [Steven] Luatua. It’s good for world rugby.
“World Rugby gets criticised a lot. If the water is not hot enough in the showers they get criticised, if the referee has the wrong pants on they get criticised, but they’ve done a great job and bringing those countries through. Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. It’s healthy for world rugby.
“We need those countries that play a little bit different to be strong and be competitive and bring something different to the table.”
Jones added, somewhat cheekily: “It’s not good for New Zealand is it? Because they’re losing their three biggest academies.”
The Wallabies coach said his thinking hadn’t changed after Fiji embarrassed England at Twickenham.
Asked if there was concern Fiji could upset the Aussies in their second pool game, on September 18, Jones replied: “There always has been. We’re not underestimating anyone. The only one we have to worry about at the moment is Georgia. Once we get to Fiji we’ll have a game plan for Fiji.
“We’ll need to be at our best to beat them. That’s the great thing of the tournament. We had Japan in 2015 and 2019 do a similar thing. The tournament is just going to be absolute magic. The Fijians bring a bit of magic – as long as they don’t bring too much magic against us.”
Former New Zealand Rugby CEO David Moffett – who had an ill-fated stint heading the NRL – says he won’t be watching the Rugby World Cup.
The All Blacks kick off the tournament on September 9 against hosts France but while the rest of his rugby mad nation will be up early for the kickoff, Moffett will give it a miss because of disdain for how the game has evolved.
“I’m not watching the Rugby World Cup this year because I refuse to watch a sport where the match officials have such an effect on the result of the game,” Moffett told NZ radio.
“I don’t think they do it deliberately; I just think that it is the way in which the game is currently being played and the fact that a very important law is completely ignored, which is law 15. If anybody’s interested, you can go and have a look at what it says and essentially it says players at the ruck have to be on their feet and of course, no players are ever on their feet.
“If you made that one simple choice to get the players to stay on their feet at what’s called a ruck and it’s no longer, it’s no ruck really, then you wouldn’t have all of [these penalties]. For every single breakdown, you can find a penalty and nobody knows what they’re for. The referees are not consistent amongst themselves and sometimes they’re not consistent within themselves.”
Moffett suggested the final straw was the All Blacks loss to South Africa, where thanks to the TMO the game stretched for almost two hours.
“What did the game go the other day, 120 minutes or something and the ball was in play 35? Why would anybody turn up to watch that?” he said.
World Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio fears England are set for their second-ever exit before the knockout stages following their spectacular fall from grace over the past two years.
England exited at the pool stage once before – in 2015 when they finished third behind Australia and Wales.
“I didn’t think that England were going to win the World Cup before the warm-up games. I’m even more confident about that now,” Dallaglio told The Good, The Bad & The Rugby podcast.
“The key question is, is this the all-time low or have we got a little bit further to go?
“We are on the right side of the draw in terms of everyone thinking that if we could pull out a few performances we could end up in a quarter-final or could easily be in a semi-final.
“My concern now is beating Argentina and about beating Japan because those two teams are pretty well organised, Argentina particularly.
“My expectations have gone right the way down. Never mind the knockout stages, let’s just worry about getting out of the group because it’s been horrendous.
“I didn’t watch the Fiji game thankfully, and obviously half the stadium decided not to watch which tells you everything you need to know about the England team.”
England players, including prop Ellis Genge, have voiced displeasure at fans, ex-players and media writing them off before the tournament starts but Dallaglio said the players had to face facts.
“We’ve lost three of our four warm-up games – this is not a media assassination on the squad,” Dallaglio said.
“As a player – we’ve all been there – you need to own your own performances. We were quite fortunate to win the game against Wales at Twickenham.
“I can’t remember any England side going into a World Cup with such little expectation. Maybe that will be a good thing because people will write us off and opponents will underestimate us.
“There is some amazingly talented players in that group, but for whatever reason they are not producing at the moment.”
Springbok World Cup winning winger superstar Cheslin Kolbe has outlined the incredible run of injuries he’s had to overcome to make the tournament in France.
“People out there don’t understand what players go through on a regular basis facing an injury,” the 29-year-old told the Springboks’ YouTube channel.
“Last year has been the most challenging for me because I would come back from one injury, play two or three games, get another niggle.
“I’ve had a broken thumb, a torn hamstring, a twist in my left ankle and a broken jaw, which was probably the most challenging one.
“I couldn’t eat for six or seven weeks. You lose about 15 kgs within two weeks.”
Kolbe wasn’t done there. In March he thought an ankle injury had finally ended his chances of getting to France.
“I scored a try, tried getting up on my feet and twisted my ankle completely,” Kolbe said.
“I just lay down and was like, ‘is this the end of my season? Is this the end of my chances of being selected for the Rugby World Cup?’
“Those are a lot of things you process through your head when something like this happens, but I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
“I look at it more in a positive way, it gives me time to spend with my family and kids, which I didn’t have during that time of playing continuously for six years.
“For me, you learn more of the bad than the good. Character speaks more out of the difficult times you faced in life.
“At the time we don’t understand why everything is happening but just having that faith and that belief in the man above is what has kept me humbled.”