The World Cup wouldn’t be the same without an upset. They give everybody a chance to find a new second team. Think Japan against South Africa in 2015, Tonga downing France in 2011 and Argentina surprising the hosts in the very first game in 2007.
I confess that, prior to the tournament, I couldn’t see where one was going to come from this year. It always seemed the most wide-open showpiece event for years at the top, with any team capable of beating any other. The same could be said for the teams in the middle and down at the bottom. However, to my eye, it appeared that the gap between the elite, the second tier and those ‘making up the numbers’ was perhaps as wide as ever. With the tournament now just over a week old, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Firstly, Uruguay came to the party against Fiji in Kamaishi. The Fijians (themselves not a million miles away from an opening weekend shock against the Wallabies) would have had aspirations of making the quarter finals, but they now lie in tatters after an inspired performance from the South Americans. With one of the lowest ranked teams in the tournament able to do that, it then made anything possible in the tournament.
It was. As the hosts, Japan really needed to make a mark on the tournament after a relatively tepid opening against Russia. I would’ve thought a number of people may have given them a chance against Scotland, but putting one over Ireland would’ve been beyond hopeful. They were electric. The scoreboard made the game look close, but in reality the Japanese were all over the visitors.
I think most teams would have struggled to live with the blossoms playing with pace like that. Their game plan is very unusual to the teams from the Six Nations and Rugby Championship and Ireland just didn’t react to it. It is by no means job done for Japan, but they can now be genuinely hopeful of a quarter final spot.
As the World Cup is taking place outside of the traditional strongholds for the first time, there is no better time for these underdogs to step up. It is the perfect chance to grow the game and these results are exactly the sort of thing that can inspire a nation. I hope that there are more to come and that the nations that already have sprung one can back it up and push on, riding the crest of a wave. Still, I’m not sure I can see it happening though.
Where do you think the next upset will come from? Can Samoa sting the Scots? Can the Italians build on their good opening wins by shocking the Boks? Are France susceptible to America? Would it be typical of Fiji to now go and beat Wales?
By Joe Large