Off The Top Of The Dome
Right off the bat, we need to pose this question - is David Pocock better than Richie McCaw right now?
That was one of the biggest yarns to come out of the Wallabies' win over England on Sunday morning. Pocock, along with his comrade Michael Hooper were lethal at the breakdown area to the point where every time England carried the ball forward, there was a high chance that it would be turned over by a gold jersey.
There's not much point in discussing the English because, well they hold no interest as they won't take part in the quarter-finals. I won't take this opportunity to continue the widespread England-bashing - there's more important matters than a bunch of rugby plebs. One of those more important matters are the Wallabies and where they sit in this World Cup beast.
I have been excited about the Wallabies since I started reporting on the Rugby Championship. This led me to constantly point out - while the kiwi media were having a laugh at the expense of the Wallabies - that coach Michael Cheika was clearly taking the piss with the team he named for the Eden Park test. Cheika was and is only focused on winning the World Cup and this team can certainly do that.
Part of Cheika's dilemma for the Eden Park was that he was still nutting out his best team, but now thanks to an impressive display from Bernard Foley, there aren't too many more questions. Foley enjoyed a career-best night and the Wallabies' backline now looks about as strong as any backline and we didn't even see the best of them with Tevita Kurindrani and Israel Folau both having quieter nights while Matt Giteau continues to look world class. I'd also like to point out the slow-cooking form of Will Genia (who didn't play at Eden Park or in Sydney against the All Blacks).
The Wallabies are good, very good but World Cup favourites? Well the All Blacks and South Africa simply haven't had to play at their best just yet, so it's impossible to judge that.
That is a perfect segue into this rather laughable panic that kiwis find themselves in regarding the All Blacks. The Wallabies look good because they have to play at a high level to win these games, while the All Blacks can mumble and fumble their way to victories. It's pretty arrogant to expect the All Blacks to be near-perfect in games where their opponent is trying to disrupt everything, without really attacking that intently.
The All Blacks will look better against teams who are trying to score points against them and provide stiffer opposition, chill out.
Before the World Cup began, I was pretty excited about the prospects of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga. This was largely based on the number of players in each of the respective squads that are playing at a high level, mainly in Europe. I thought that this, along with a players playing in Super Rugby would help provide a strong professional touch and would enable the Pacific Islands to approach their games with a more well-rounded style as opposed to a stereotypical playing style.
Right now, it looks as though Fiji, Tonga and Samoa will all fail to qualify for the quarter-finals which is nothing less than an epic failure. Fiji are in the most competitive pool, but part of the 'Pool Of Death' concept was thanks to Fiji's presence in this pool while Samoa have been nothing less than underwhelming. Tonga were the least likely to make it to the next stage and they'll need to beat the All Blacks to do so.
There's a vast amount of factors at play here, enough for me to want to right something dedicated to the topic but I just wanted to say how much of a bummer it is. It sucks, especially when you consider that Samoa did better in 2011 when there was far more drama surrounding their squad.
One positive from the decline of the Pacific Islands has been the rise of Japan and Georgia especially but even the likes of Namibia, Canada and the USA amongst others. While the Pacific Islands have slid a bit, these other nations have shown that world rugby is currently sitting in a nice spot. While I love the Pacific Islands, if we have to see results like Georgia beating Tonga or Japan beating Samoa to show that world rugby is going strong, then so be it.
I'd have to put Japan's win over Samoa in as my favourite game from the weekend. While it was nice to see the Wallabies beat England, I never envisioned England posing much of a threat but to see Japan take down Samoa with speed and agility was awesome. Samoa were borderline embarrassing with three yellow cards and way too many penalties, but Japan's speed of play definitely had something to do with that.
Because everyone wants to get into that 'favourites' discussion, here's my rankings at the moment..
- All Blacks - No reason not to still have them numero uno.
- South Africa - Simmering nicely, got past Scotland which was a good sign for them.
- Wallabies - Have risen thanks to impressive showings.
- France - Still waiting on France vs Ireland, that'll be the game of all pool games.
- Ireland - See above.
Oh, here's my five favourite teams
- Georgia - Purely thanks to Mamuka Gorgodze.
- Japan - All about the vibes and Japan ooze good vibes.
- Italy - They're coming back nicely
- Ireland - All about Jonathan Sexton, not sure why but he's the man.
- Argentina - Like Italy they're ageing nicely and could pose a quarter-final threat.