10 Rugby World Cup Thoughts At The Halfway Point
As we approach the halfway point of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, we want to take a moment to give you 10 thoughts about the tournament thus far. At the time of this article, 22 out of the 40 pool matches have been played (48 total matches including knockout).
A lot has happened. This has definitely been a World Cup to remember. Upsets, drop goals, and a competitive tournament from top to bottom has made it quite the treat for all of us. Below are 10 thoughts we'd like to highlight.
1. The Competition
This has been the most competitive and even World Cup in the history of the tournament. From top to bottom, we have not seen the blowouts of previous tournaments. It took 15 matches before a team made it over 50 points. This, of course, was the South African victory over Namibia 57 - 3. Canada currently has the other two worst defeats with a 7 - 48 loss to Italy and 0 - 63 pummeling by New Zealand. The combined score of the tournament is 800 - 235 (winners vs losers) with an average of 36.36 - 10.68. Only 3 matches have seen a team held scoreless (Russia, Canada, & Samoa).
The top 6 highest scoring matches in Rugby World Cup history are:
- New Zealand 145 - 17 Japan (1995)
- Australia 142 - 0 Namibia (2003)
- England 111 - 13 Uruguay (2003)
- New Zealand 108 - 13 Portugal (2007)
- New Zealand 101 - 3 Italy (1999)
- England 101 - 10 Tonga (1999)
There have not been any matches even close to having a scoreline like this and for the good of competitive rugby, we hope we do not see any the rest of the tournament.
2. The Hosts
Japan has put on a phenomenal World Cup. How great are these stadiums? They are beautiful and have everything you'd want or expect in a Rugby World Cup stadium. The fans are fantastic. Japan has totally embraced rugby and it is amazing to see the locals coming out to support all of the teams. They have particularly shown a liking to the underdogs, which is not something you'd always see when the cup is hosted in a Tier One country. Japan can hold their heads high about this tournament and wouldn't it be even better if they make the quarters?
We couldn't talk about the 2019 Rugby World Cup without mentioning the refereeing. If you have been following the tournament at all, you've seen or heard the uproar. In an unprecedented move, World Rugby admitted to three blown calls during the Ireland V Japan upset. Typically an organization leaking their mistakes during a tournament does no good for anyone involved. To further the situation, the referee in question, Angus Gardner, is being switched out of the England V Argentina match.
While we are on the subject of refereeing, let's talk about TMO. TMO is not new to the World Cup in 2019, but it has played a major role. While it has its benefits in determining if a try was scored or not, it also slows down the match. The TMO is also allowed to ping the referee about a foul play which may have been missed or if the referee wants to determine if a card or the level of card should be given. We aren't going to get into too much about our opinion on TMO, but it does get frustrating. Imagine how the players feel? Australian Coach Michael Cheika has not been quiet about his thoughts on the refereeing this tournament.
5. High Tackles
World Rugby is cracking down on high tackles. Big Time. It is understandable to protect the players and deliberate hits to the head without any mitigating circumstances warrant a red card, but the inconsistency in what is called as well as the severity seems unreasonable. Many have talked about how the physicality of rugby is being hampered and how difficult it is to always avoid the head in the thick of battle with split-second decisions. Multiple 3-match bans have been given for hits to the head which basically end their World Cup campaign unless their squad makes the knockout rounds. Also, the number of cards for what seems unintentional and not violent ends up playing a role in determining the outcome of the matches.
Everyone loves a good upset in any sport and any tournament. The 2019 Rugby World Cup has had a couple of its own so far. The first was a real tearjerker watching the (pre-World Cup) # 19 Uruguayans upset the #9 Fijians 30 - 27. The emotions and pride of Uruguay and their fans were amazing to watch. The second upset was the hosts, #10 Japan, beating #1 ranked Ireland 19 - 12. This was not Japan's first upset as we all know they beat South Africa in the 2015 World Cup, but since they are hosting the tournament and have a real shot at the quarterfinals, this was huge for them.
Ireland is a team we are singling out because they entered the tournament as the #1 World Rugby ranked team. They started the tournament with a convincing victory over a bad Scotland team. Following their first win, they landed the second aforementioned upset with a loss to the host Japan. Their third match had them up against the surprising minnows, Russia. Weather conditions helped dictate the match, but Ireland secured an unimpressive bonus point victory over Russia 35 - 0. What's up with Ireland? They were in the conversation as tournament champions, but right now, they'd need a miracle to make it past whoever they must face from Pool B. Ireland better show something against a beaten-down Samoa.
While Japan have been amazing hosts, the weather has left more to be desired. Unfortunately for the Rugby World Cup, it lands right in the midst of Japan's typhoon season. There have been multiple threats of canceling pool matches (which would result in a 0 - 0 draw and 2 points to each team), but fortunately, that has not happened yet. A draw of these sorts could have major implications on who advances (a top team battling for pool points gets a draw against a bottom team).
The other side of the weather is actually playing the matches in it. There has been major humidity and large amounts of wind and rain. When the humidity reaches too high of a level, mandatory water breaks at the 20-minute mark of each half are enforced. The high humidity and rain also cause ball handling and footing issues. While both teams face these issues, it can change the style of play from taking the ball wide to a more forward dominant strategy.
Russia has been one of the surprising teams of the tournament. They are by no means a great team or a contender, but they technically were not even qualified to be in the tournament. Spain and Romania were both qualified above Russia but were disqualified for fielding ineligible players. Then, in the pre-World Cup warm-up matches, Russia played against Italy and lost 85 - 15. They looked like they were about to be obliterated by everyone at the tournament, but that has not been the case.
Russia kicked off the tournament against Japan and held their own in a 10 - 30 loss. Just 4 days later they played against the physical Samoa and fell 9 - 34. They blew a few opportunities, including a 15 - 13 man advantage, but showed a lot of promise. The third match saw Russia play a very physical match against the Irish and even though the weather was awful, the 0 - 35 loss was inspiring. Russia proved they belong here and make a case for why the Rugby World Cup should expand to 24 teams (Spain, Romania, etc...).
Finally, Italy. The Italians have looked very good thus far. Although they have played the bottom two teams of their pool, they did what they were supposed to do and dominated the matches. Throw in the 85 - 15 win over Russia just before the World Cup, and it looks much more impressive now. In just a few hours Italy will take on South Africa in a must-win match if they want to advance to the quarters. While South Africa definitely looks like the team expected to win this matchup, you cannot count out Italy based on what they've done. This will be a very good match and one not to miss.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup is only about halfway done, but it is already one of the best tournaments in memory. The hosts have been excellent, the spirit and pride of rugby are flowing through the atmosphere, and nearly every match has been competitive in one way or another. We can't wait to see what is left to come.
What To Expect
- Will Ireland & Scotland advance in Pool A or can Japan work their way into the quarters?
- New Zealand appears to be a lock to make the quarters, but can Italy upset South Africa and end their tournament?
- England, France, and Argentina are all still viable to advance. Argentina is feeling the heat though. At this point, England and France are likely to see the quarters.
- Australia and Wales are all but locked since Georgia, Fiji, and Uruguay all decided to beat each other. Two to watch though are Georgia V Australia and Fiji V Wales. Both should be well fought.