- By Kevin McCarthy
Never open the biggest present first at Christmas. Good rule that but they broke it in the Rugby World Cup. Or at least as far as the All Blacks are concerned.
So, with the first business in hand comfortably dealt with, and the Boks defeated, the All Blacks had 10 days to wait for – drum roll – Canada. Canada who had to play just five days earlier.
When again we see minnow teams having to turn around and play within four or five days, with a sliver of the resources on and off the field, you still puzzle over why it must be so. The tier one sides surely could be the ones with the schedule congestion.
As to the first match, Boks v NZ, it was nowhere near the epic and great tags that it got labelled with. Nowhere near the sick in the stomach nature of say the 2015 semi-final. That may come later.
Seriously, when the Boks came back to within four, did you start sweating? It was a weird second half anyway. I almost felt like the All Blacks changed gears again, having proved to themselves and others that they can if they need to, out-think the rush defence.
Not that they or you should be fooled into thinking that the performance was anywhere near what they’ll need in a few weeks’ time. The helter skelter was with a reason, but a better side would have punished the resulting sloppiness.
In a way, the big win was not tactical but psychological. The Boks clearly expected to be able to match or dictate in the game and found they could not. Their supporters have gone looking for conspiracies, but that won’t help. So round one to New Zealand, and the gauntlet down to Rassie Erasmus to find either better execution of Plan A, or something different.
The message was also to the other big bruisers – England and Ireland – that this is how New Zealand intend to beat you – speed, and skill, to unpick the defences.
Of the other big guns, you’d have to think Ireland would be happiest. They clearly have rebooted their attitude and gone back to their precision attrition. Not a team anyone would particularly relish facing, albeit they were despatching a desperately poor Scotland.
Wales and Australia of course play the match of upcoming weekend. Its just a shame we can’t have more matchups like that. Boil overs like Uruguay – Fiji are all very heart-warming, but they aren’t the norm, and don’t move the dial on who are going to be contenders.
As for that rev-up for the referees from World Rugby, which is a bit staggering this early on, it should leave every side a bit terrified.
After opening matches which saw a seeming reluctance to get their hands in the pockets in the face of wrongdoing, the refs you would think are now on a hair trigger to be tougher.
We’ve just seen the first red, for a US player against England. When are we going to see that happening in the first 40 minutes, rather than the final four.
I mentioned before the interminable 10-day wait for game two for the All Blacks. Its why we’re stuck with endless media reports of really, sod all happening, and it all gets a bit wearing.
Spare a thought for the journalists though. It may look like a holiday with rugby tacked on, but they’ll be going a bit stir crazy waiting for the next game. After all, it is the Rugby World Cup, not the sightseeing world cup.