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.
Meantime, matches are being decided on red cards which was inevitable I suppose.
A feisty Italian team saw its hopes disintegrate with a mindless double tackle which could have resulted in two reds instead of just one – in 1991 I played for Harlequins when Micky Skinner and the late Richard Langhorn were sent off in the same rucking incident and I cannot remember a repeat possibility until Friday. The following morning, England’s redshirted warriors needed all their self control while Argentina put up their physical challenge and then relaxed somewhat as a swinging tackle to Farrell’s head reduced Argentina to 14 and brought an early end to the contest. Until defence coaches take off their blindfolds and start coaching better tackle techniques this will continue to happen and so be it. Farrell himself was the originator of the more draconian laws being brought in after his Twickenham efforts but he went back to school to learn and ironically now he is the victim ( remember the USA match).
More worrying for England is that Farrell looked pedestrian which may have been the head tackle he suffered – if Ford’s great form continues then Jones will think it is a sacrifice worth paying to continue Farrell at 12 . Not sure myself as when the pressure comes on Ford can get lost. Conversely the outside backs look so dangerous that it may not matter. More generally , England is playing only as well as they need to and my pre tournament prediction holds firm.
There is in some corners a suggestion that runner up in their pool is a preferable route and the French may feel that way given their relative vulnerability and inexperience. Let us hope that they don’t pick a team for that outcome because it would be a shame but noone will remember if it serves them well for the KO stages…..
So, Japan v Scotland will get this World Cup to come alive in a big way, fingers crossed that red cards are not the determining factor of a stunning contest in prospect.