What a great weekend it was to open up the 2011 Rugby World Cup with. Who could have predicted that the so-called minnows of the tournament would have pushed the larger teams so hard? But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look back to Friday night and the opening game of the 2011 Rugby World Cup between New Zealand, our hosts, and their local Pacific Island rivals in Tonga.
After the smoke from the amazing opening ceremony fireworks had cleared we were treated to the unusual sight of double haka, with the Tongans performing their own version of the New Zealand haka. And then the games began!
New Zealand 41 Tonga 10
The Openside predictor had this down as a 45 to 10 All Black victory and oh how so close it came to being on the money. The brave Tongans were unfortunately no match for the New Zealanders, who raced out to the 29 to nothing lead and never really looked back. The backs played very well, with fullback Israel Dagg and wing Richard Kahui scoring a couple of tries each in the first half to secure a bonus point. Kaino and Nonu rounded off their try tally with front row sub Sona Taumaloloscoring the lone try for Tonga.
Scotland 34 Romania 24
The predictor had this game down as an easy 27 to 12 win for Scotland but despite the final scoreline showing a 10 point victory, there was no way this could be described as an easy victory. With 13 minutes left in the game a try from Romanian number 8 Daniel Carpo, converted by Dimofte gave the Romanians a well deserved 24 to 21 lead and the rugby world teetered on the verge of an unbelievable upset. However the rugby gods smiled on brave Scotland and winger Simon Danielli scored two tries in the last ten minutes to dash Romania’s hopes of an incredible upset. Scotland will need to up their game considering they have both England and Argentina to play.
Fiji 49 Namibia 25
A plucky Namibian team had this one as close as 12 points after an early second half try from lock Heinz Koll set the score 32 to 20. But four tries from winger Vereniki Goneva secured an easy win by 49 points to 25 for the Fijians. Openside had this game a bit closer at 32 to 23 but since we didn’t know much about the Namibians ….
France 47 Japan 21
We quite often see how a final score doesn’t truly reflect the relative ability of the playing teams. A quick glance at this score line and one would immediately assume the French had dominated allowing the Japanese to score late in the game after bringing on some subs to rest the main players. Nothing could be further from the truth, as with 22 minutes to go Japan’s number 10, James Arlidge kicked his third penalty of the match to close the scores to 25 to 21. Again possibly not that remarkable may be, but it was more the fact that at that point in the game, France were being outplayed by the Japanese team. Yes, certainly the Japanese scrum only had one gear, reverse, but they still managed to retain possession and most importantly score points. It was most definitely game on. However a mark of truly great teams is to pluck victory from the jaws of defeat and France executed a Houdini-like final 20 minutes of rugby with tries to locks Lionel Nallet and Pascal Pape with Morgan Parra rounding off the scoring in injury time to give France a 47 point to 21 victory.
Argentina 9 England 13
For this game even the Openside predictor had forecast a low-scoring giving the game 19 – 11 to England and the match even exceeded expectations with dire kicking performances from both Jonny Wilkinson and Argentinian captain Felipe Contepomi. A single try from England’s scrumhalf sub Ben Youngs really was the difference between the teams with the game being aptly described as a war of attrition towards the end.
Australia 32 Italy 6
A Jekyll and Hyde performance from the Wallabies kept this game close at halftime with a 6 all scoreline after Quade Cooper and winger Mirco Bergamasco exchanged penalty kicks. However the Australians woke up in the second half with prop Ben Alexander, Adam Ashley-Cooper, sub James O’Connor and Digby Ioane all dotting down securing the four try bonus point. The Australian second half performance was dominant with James O’Connor making a big difference when he entered the game.
Ireland 22 USA 10
Ireland made a meal of a confident USA team in New Plymouth. The predictor had Ireland winning by 20 yet the USA, ably led by openside Todd Clever, kept it as close as 7 with under 30 minutes to go. Two tries by Tommy Bowe and hooker Rory Best gave the game to the Irish though with USA centre Paul Emerick scoring a consolation try in the 80th minute. Ireland will have to up their game to compete with Italy let alone Australia.
South Africa 17 Wales 16
We tipped this as the game to watch for the weekend and whilst it wasn’t exactly a classic free-flowing game of rugby, it certainly had everything else, lead exchange, vocal fans, and controversy. Wales have only ever beaten the Springboks once in their rugby history and this was possibly their best chance to add to that lowly total. It was also an opportunity to knock the reigning world champions off their Web Ellis pedestal. Unfortunately it was not to be, even when Toby Faletau scored the only Welsh try, converted by James Hook, to give them a 16 to 10 lead, you always had the feeling the World Champions would find a way back into the game. And of course they did, through winger Francois Houugaard’s 65th minute try. The conversion by Morne Steyn gave the Springboks a solitary point lead which they never relinquished despite continued Welsh pressure. Of course the main talking point of the match was the ‘missed’ penalty kick by James Hook. We believe that as it occurred so early in the match that it probably would not have made much difference to the result, however if it had been the final play of the game … What ever we think about its effect on the match’s outcome, I think we all agree that Wayne Barnes should have referred the kick upstairs.