From boys to men as fringe teams arrive

Monday, September 30th, 2019 00:00 |
Japan players celebrate their win over Ireland on Saturday. Photo/PD/AFP

Tokyo, Sunday

Japan’s jaw-dropping win over Ireland, the world’s top-ranked team just weeks ago, as well as several plucky performances by minnows, suggests the gap between the haves and have-nots of world rugby continues to narrow.

It is still early days at Japan 2019 but so far there have been fewer mis-matches than at previous tournaments - continuing a long-term trend. The Rugby World Cup has seen its fair share of ‘cricket scores’, including Japan’s 145-17 loss to the All Blacks in 1995, and Australia’s 142-0 thrashing of Namibia in 2003.

But for the first time at a World Cup, there was no score over 50 points in the first week, while Japan’s 19-12 upset of Ireland and Uruguay’s 30-27 win over Fiji defied all expectations.

Even Namibia, the lowest-ranked team, asked Italy some questions in their 47-22 opening defeat, before losing 57-3 to South Africa - a heavy defeat, but still an improvement on their 87-0 scoreline in 2011.

“We kept them to under 60 points, which is pleasing in some ways,” said Namibia coach Phil Davies.

Opposing coach Rassie Erasmus said: “You don’t get 100 points, 80 points and 70 points anymore - it’s been shown in the first week (of the tournament).”

World Rugby’s top national teams are classified as Tier One, the established sides of the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, or Tier Two, which includes Japan and the Pacific countries amongst others.

The governing body aims to close the gap and according to England coach Eddie Jones, whose team did not have it all their own way against USA and Tonga, the strategy is bearing fruit.

“This World Cup is unique because of the conditions and you are seeing the Tier Two countries physically better prepared,” said Jones, who coached Japan to a famous victory over South Africa in 2015. -AFP

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