Minnows as exciting to watch as the heavyweights
Attention in World Cups usually settles on the fortunes of the big nations.
This time the discussion has been about the prospects for the All Blacks, Wallabies, Springboks, England and France and how far they will go in the tournament. But I was struck by the way the lesser-fancied sides stood up in their opening matches – there were no score blowouts like there have been in other tournaments.
Romania had an impressive set of forwards, Japan were relentless against France, Namibia never let up and of course Tonga gave the All Blacks plenty to think about in the second half of the first match.
I liked the way referees insisted on the offside line at the breakdowns. Great stuff. Too often defenders crib half a metre and it shuts down games. If the referees continue to be vigilant, I think we might see teams altering their tactics, using the pick’n go much more and that could be a real factor in team patterns.
I’m sure Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith are still the prime midfield partnership for the All Blacks, but I liked what I saw when the coaches picked Sonny Bill Williams to start the tournament.
He and Nonu worked well, switching inside and out, and I think it was invaluable for the selectors to give SBW a run to get him up to speed again. He did what he had to do and produced exciting touches, to show he was ready if needed. It helped both to be under the pump a bit and to work their way through those situations.
Victor Vito would also have got a lot of confidence out of his game and so too Richard Kahui.
I know how hard it is to change, going from wing to centre, while Kahui has gone the other way. He is a fit man who has had a horror run with injury and has not had a lot of rugby. But he has mental toughness and that comes from his outlook on life.
He is like an Energiser bunny around the place and that has helped him deal with a career which has been blighted by injury.
I’m not too sure what plans the selectors will have for Japan on Friday. They will make changes, but which ones?
Maybe Richie McCaw will get a rest but he might have to go again because we are down on our loose forward choices.
Mils Muliaina should get a run and they may tinker with the wings again, just so they have looked at a few ideas before the big pool game against France. Then they will want to keep most of that team going against Canada and into the quarter-finals.
Watching that boisterous crowd and all the festivities on opening night at Eden Park gave me a real buzz. It reminded me of all the detail that went into the bid to host the tournament and the delegation that travelled to Dublin hoping to see our vision come true.
We spoke about how important it would be for the Pacific Islands if New Zealand held this event and we saw that impact in megabytes. Tonga’s arrival at the airport drew the crowds and seeing the sea of red among the wash of black at Eden Park on Friday reinforced the tone of New Zealand’s winning host bid. It made me feel warm inside, and there have been similar reactions for Fiji and Samoa around the country.
The buzz was there big time throughout Auckland, at the park and downtown though some of the transport and crowd control issues need to be sorted before the next game against France. It was chaos. We could not have envisioned the spectator traffic throughout Auckland, it seemed half the city was out watching, but we have to cater for it.
People’s safety should be paramount and we have to make sure all our people, kids to grandparents, are looked after.
On the opening day of Rugby World Cup 2011, former New Zealand captain and rugby legend, Tana Umaga, will today (Friday 9 September) join DHL staff to help members of the Red Beach Surf Life Saving Club prepare for the up-coming summer season.