That was just another wonderful weekend of rugby. The Rugby World Cup is creating an amazing atmosphere. I was at Villa Park in Birmingham on Saturday and it was electric when South Africa played Samoa.
I think we are seeing people who perhaps didn’t watch rugby who are coming to the matches and deciding to support a team – I’m sure Japan have won countless new followers after that win over South Africa.
On the pitch the investment in coaches is really paying dividends for some of the smaller nations. Romania, Namibia, USA and of course Japan. You’re not seeing the blowouts of 145-17 that New Zealand ran up against Japan in 1995 or Australia beating Namibia by 142-0 in 2003. The refereeing has got better and the occasions are better.
The weekend has changed our perceptions in many ways. South Africa a few days ago were in disarray, now they are back on track after a resounding win against Samoa and ready for the crucial match this weekend against Scotland.
Japan are good, but I think we can see now that the first match was more about South Africa not taking Japan seriously. I think South Africa are back on track now and in the long run it may be that a result like that has shaken them up and could be just what they needed.
Obviously the loss of Jean de Villiers is a major blow and very sad for him personally to be out of the World Cup. I was very impressed with Eben Etzebeth, Fourie du Preez was outstanding at 9 and Lood De Jager, when he came on as substitute.
England v Wales has been thoroughly analysed. I probably wouldn’t have gone for the line-out as there was still three minutes left and if we’d missed the penalty at least we would have got the ball back and had one more chance. In saying that, if I’d taken the lineout I wouldn’t have thrown it to No.2. That is the easiest position in the lineout to defend.
But it’s easy with the advantage of hindsight and being an expert sitting in the stands. Unless you’re on the field and you get the feel of what’s happening, it’s difficult to criticise, but unfortunately on this occasion you have to say England captain Chris Robshaw got it wrong.
For me the story of the game was that once again Wales showed the benefit of good coaching. I think the experience of Warren Gatland and his team, both during the game and also the substitutions that they were forced to make, made the difference. And they were right in some of the tactical aspects of the game, where England got it wrong.
I think it’s looking difficult for England now. They have to beat Australia in the next match and they won’t be in a good state of mind. With the injuries that have been sustained by England, you would have to say that Australia would be the fresher of the two teams and have had a couple of relatively easy games.
Though, ironically, I think Australia may be thinking it would have been easier to play England if they had beaten Wales, now they are going to be desperate.
My team New Zealand are nicely under the radar at the moment. They beat Namibia and were a little disappointed, but for them it’s about what they do off the pitch on the training field. They have known for the last three years what their matches were going to be and hopefully they have prepared accordingly.
The TV viewing figures have been phenomenal so far – ten million for the England v Wales game. I love the way that England have bought into this as a country.
At Villa Park, which of course is a football ground, I was talking to a steward at the game and he said he had never been to a rugby game before and he said he was absolutely loving it. He said it was great seeing the spectators drinking beer and behaving themselves. “And,” he said. “The rival fans have got their arms around each other!”
Next weekend promises to be explosive. I look forward to sharing my views with you again next week.
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