Japan – The Team of the Tournament
I know it may be early days to call out the team of the tournament but Japan have provided the most entertaining performances in this competition so far. Japan’s shock win over South Africa does not look so surprising after today’s emphatic performance over the hotly fancied Samoa outfit. Their easy on the eye rugby – free running, decision to go for tries instead of regulation penalty kicks (which come off), near perfect technique in all facets of play (scrums, tackling) have being a breathe of fresh air. Japan may require Samoa to do them a massive favor in the last round of pool games but rest assured that Japan as a rugby nation has being reborn. I personally cannot wait for Japan to now host the Rugby World, time to book my flights, hotel, sushi and sake in that order.
Arise Michael Leitch
Michael Leitch is the find of the tournament. Yes, he is playing with the Chiefs but he has finally being introduced to the general rugby world public. Japan can be proud of how they have developed Leitch into a world star. Leitch’s performances have being aided by several other standout performers including Thompson, Broadhurst and the industrious Horie and Goromaru. A breathe of fresh air. Japan’s scrum today was utterly dominant, led to the first try (penalty try). Samoa’s lack of focus then allowed Yamada to nip in the corner to give the half-time score a more accurate feel. The 20-0 score at the break was merited and to be honest the game was over as a contest. Thank you Japan for the memories. A team that could conceivably win three out of four games in their pool and still go home after the pool phrase. No pressure Scotland or South Africa.
Samoa – A rugby nation in chaos
Japan’s victory is great for world rugby but for the vanquished opponent today, it is a sad tale of how a rugby nation has gone in the other direction. Samoa is a proud rugby nation but question marks over the country rugby structures, player commitment to the cause when playing with foreign clubs and the lurking intent of New Zealand and Australia to poach promising players loom large. Samoa’s sheer lack of indiscipline was shocking. It was the worse indiscipline in the tournament so far. Joubert could not have warned Samoa anymore than he did in that first ten minutes of this contest but the Pacific Islanders did not heed those warnings. Two sin bins in two minutes in the first half were merited and then to compound matter a late sin bin at the end, numerous offside calls, numerous knock on mistakes particularly from the Samoa front row meant that Japan were always in charge. Seventeen penalties is a shocking statistic considering the caliber of player in the Samoa squad including several marquee names such as the Tuilagi, Johnston, Pisi brothers, Fotuali’i, Leota, Perez, Williams brothers. It is simply not acceptable for Samoa to yet again under perform in a Rugby World Cup tournament with the squad assembled. IRB needs to tackle the poaching player issue. It is unfair for New Zealand and Australia to go and poach players at will from the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga but there are also other underlying issues at play. The lack of structures in Samoa to support their player pool in the youth ranks is quite damning. This has resulted in increased influence asserted by professional rugby clubs in Europe, Super 15 in the way that Samoa rugby affairs are dealt with; it appears to have swayed Samoa player loyalty away from the nation team jersey. It is a situation which will not be resolved overnight but the IRB needs to help the Pacific nations to improve their competitive levels. They are miles away from entering the Rugby Championship. Where does the Pacific Islanders stand in the context of world rugby?