Off The Top Of The Dome
What a start to the 2015 Rugby World Cup, like actually, what a bloody start! Wait, the actual start wasn't that great as we got some sort of idea what this RWC might be known for as the whistle dominated England's win over Fiji with the sin bin and TMO being used eagerly. But even the opening night offered us an example as to why the RWC is so damn cool as simple rugby games were played at a far higher intensity than what we're used to in the four years between World Cups.
We had upsets and just all round fun rugby ... yeah, I think that is the best word to describe the opening weekend - fun. Everything so far has been fun whether it be the crowds or the attacking rugby, even the defensive intensity has been fun and it's been great to welcome back those multi-phase battles after the 80th minute.
England vs Fiji
Business as usual for the English, let's be honest here. Fiji did pose a threat but they missed twice as many tackles as the English did and that's never going to end well when you're hunting for an upset. The odd thing about this game was England's weakness at set-piece time as the Fijians put England's scrum under immense pressure and managed a win against the throw.
Mike Brown looks like he's going to be England's man to watch at fullback while I also liked the look of Jonathan Joseph in England's midfield. The win has England second in Pool A as Wales have the better points differential but a first up win was the only goal in this tricky encounter for the English.
If Fiji are going to be a factor in Pool A, they will need to show the ability to hold on to the ball for longer periods of time.
Tonga vs Georgia
My favourite game from the weekend, yeah fuck Japan's win - I was all about Georgia! The loss puts Tonga on the back foot straight away as they would have been eyeing up wins against Georgia and Namibia, but the Georgians had other ideas.
Georgia are a big, physical and determined group who could ask a few questions of Argentina and if they've beaten Tonga then you'd back them to get up over Namibia. It was a weird game in the sense that Georgia ground their way to victory showing some serious kahunas on defence as well as the boot of Merab Kvirikashvili.
Ireland vs Canada
Very solid performance from the Irish here as they were far too good for Canada and got their campaign off to a great start. You would expect Ireland to win the battle up front and this is where many of their World Cup hopes will lay but they also showed some potency in their backline as well. Jonathan Sexton is his own sort of potent; Sexton kicked 7/8 and guided Ireland around the park expertly.
The Kearney brothers and Jarryd Payne offer strong running and will be crucial if Ireland want to add a different dimension to their typically gritty style.
South Africa vs Japan
The upset of all upsets thanks to a spirited Japanese team ... who missed more tackles and made more tackles than the Springboks as well as squeezing out less offloads and making less breaks. Japan have a low key very good midfield with Craig Wing and Male Sa'u combining well together, while their forward pack is industrious plus there's Ayumu Gorumaru who looks like a sharp-shooter and the door is open for Japan to qualify for the quarters if they can also upset Samoa ... and Scotland.
Why Zane Kirchner was selected over Willie le Roux was puzzling and the Springboks aren't exactly in a position to serve up puzzling selection decisions. JP Pietersen was also overlooked while they must still be waiting on a few others to be 100 percent fit, so despite this embarrassing loss, I wouldn't be counting the 'Boks out just yet.
France vs Italy
Where do I begin with Italy? After a stinker of a game against France, there's a very real danger that a team like Canada could push the Italians all the way and possibly upset them. Italy's scrum was horrible - they lost five scrums, so to was their discipline as they gave away eight penalties that gave France the chance to kick for points.
Italy were bad, while France were pretty good. Michalak was funky at first-five and he's got that little bit of flair to make you worry and with fullback Scott Spedding owning a massive boot, France will be able to attempt to turn penalties into points. Spedding kicked a penalty from the halfway mark, so they can literally score from almost anywhere.
I really liked what I saw from France with Louis Picamoles a standout at the back of the scrum along with Thierry Dusautoir who is consistently solid. There's some nice strike power in the backs as well with winger Noa Nakaitaci looking dangerous. France will however be without Yoann Huget for the rest of the tournament with the exciting winger doing his knee #bummer.
Samoa vs USA
You would expect Samoa to handle their business against the USA and they did, but USA showed that they won't be easy beats. There's plenty to enjoy about USA but this game was kind of like men playing against boys as USA struggled to hang with Samoa as they gave away too many penalties, turned over too much ball and struggled at line-out time. Samoa have been there and done that, they've got the t-shirt and know what it takes whereas USA are still learning that.
If Samoa are going to take on the big dogs then they'll need Tusi Pisi at his best as he offers control and accuracy to compliment the typically physical and free flowing nature of Samoa. Samoa didn't lose a scrum and won all but one of their 20 lineouts which is encouraging and they'll be hoping for the best with Ray Lee Lo because their backline looked low key impressive with Pisi, Khan Fotu'alii, Tim Nanai-Williams and threats on either flank in Alesana Tuilagi and Ken Pisi.
Japan's result has thrown Pool D into a panic, so I'm going to be keeping a close eye on Samoa to see how they respond to this unexpected challenge for second spot - yes, I think South Africa will still qualify in first.
Wales vs Uruguay
The only points of note from this game is the Welsh injury toll as they put a reasonably average Uruguay team to the sword. Welsh centre Cory Allen scored a first-half hatty before tearing his hamstring, props Samson Lee and Paul James both left the field early due to injury and replacement prop Aaron Jarvis battled through a rib injury.
Wales were however perfect at set-piece time and showed an eagerness to run the footy which will go down nicely. I don't see them tipping up Australia or England though and could offer Fiji the chance for an upset.
New Zealand vs Argentina
Argentina hung in their with the All Blacks, but just as fatigue began to set in for the South Americans, a fresh wave of kiwis entered the arena. This was the biggest takeway from this game as the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Charlie Faumuina, Wyatt Crockett and Beauden Barrett all added to the All Blacks when they came on.
Up to that point it was a mixed bag from the All Blacks as Argentina defended admirably, but they were their own worst enemy at times. Whether it was pushing the wrong pass or just poor decisions, Argentina seemed to lack patience and control which saw them consistently defending their own territory or trying to get out of their own half.
There's plenty to like about Argentina though with hooker Agustin Creevy, flanker Juan Fernandez Lobbe and back-rower Leonardo Senatore ensuring that Argentina maintained some parity with the All Blacks in the forwards. In that regard it was an underwhelming effort from the All Blacks as their supreme physical dominance wasn't there this morning and we've seen many teams already show a willingness to ramp up the physicality.