It was an explosive opening to the world’s greatest tournament this weekend. However, it has clarified absolutely nothing and it remains equally as tricky to pick a winner as it was before the tournament started.
The team that really set out their stall, though, was Ireland. They arrived in Japan with the tag of being the top ranked team, but due to a dip in form in 2019, very few people would have been brave enough to call them tournament winners.
I believe Sunday’s game against a lethargic Scotland side showcased their credentials. It could be argued that Scotland were never at the races, but that is to do the men in green a disservice. The Scots looked lively for the first few minutes and Ireland took the sting out of their tails with a brutal power game that resulted in quick fire tries to obliterate their opponents. From there, they controlled the pace of the game and played a tactically perfect 80 minutes. Their kick chase and defensive work were particularly excellent. In all likelihood, they will need to find more variety in attack to really challenge in the knockout stages as a more belligerent defence may stand up to their picks and drives.
In the other massive game of the weekend, New Zealand also showed exactly why they are favourites. Personally, I felt South Africa controlled vast swathes of that fixture, but the kiwis shifted through the gears with alarming swiftness as soon as they smelt blood. It is that killer instinct that makes them such a danger and impossible to keep up with when they really get going. If South Africa can find a bit of that ruthlessness themselves, it would be unsurprising to see those two sides contest the final at the same stadium in November.
Of the other contenders, England’s attack stuttered in a game which was difficult to gauge exactly where they stand in the grand scheme of things. Australia only really started to come to life towards the end of their fixture and Wales looked sharp in the first half but off the pace in the second. Meanwhile in the match of the weekend, Argentina and France showed exactly why they could, but probably won’t, be there as the tournament concludes.
Has the opening round of fixtures changed the way you view the tournament panning out?
What surprises, if any, can you see the tournament throwing up?
By Joe Large