What a week for Champions in two of our major sports – and a prelude for an unprecedented summer of sport after two years of Pandemic-driven abstinence.
It may not have been a World Cup but Ian Foster, the All Blacks coach, emphasised that they want to win every match. If other teams, including most notably England, needed to understand the levels they need to attain, look no further than Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
So, not too many surprises this weekend other than a courageous Tongan effort against a French team with quarterfinals on their mind. The real fun starts with the host nation coming together for an improbable shot at the knock out stages at the expense of Scotland, for whom this is also a watershed moment. A team that should have made the semifinals in 2015 will really find out about themselves this coming weekend.
I am clearly adding the stunning Japanese win over Ireland on Saturday to the list of major World Cup surprises I featured last week! In fact this would be to diminish a pacey and eye-catching performance which the Irish were quick to acknowledge.
It was said that England lost the Rugby World Cup Final of 1991 against Australia through inflexibility. Our narrative was that we felt our strategy was going to work, and then it didn’t! The Campese deliberate knock down hardly helped but we didn’t mix up our game enough to keep the Aussies guessing when the game was there for the taking.
As if the drama of England’s near miss over the All Blacks two weekends ago wasn’t enough, the Springbok’s two tries (one disallowed) in overtime eventually killed off a valiant French challenge in Paris. But more was to come as Ireland finally lived up to a favourite’s billing by downing the men in Black last Saturday evening and installed themselves as the team to beat next year in Japan.
What kind of vintage was the Rugby Year of 2017 in the context of Japan, land of the Rugby World Cup 2019?