Day Four saw two keenly anticipated matches as both Scotland and Australia got their World Cup Campaigns underway. Scotland took on the heroes of the tournament so far Japan, but the big question is could the Japanese after only four days repeat the miracle of their victory over South Africa? Meanwhile, Australia would take on Fiji who were smarting from a brave performance against England which meant that they were now fighting to stay in the tournament. Lastly France did battle with Romania after their important but unimpressive win over Italy.
Scotland vs Japan
Final Score – Scotland 45/Japan 10
Scotland – 8/10
Yes that’s correct Scotland get the highest score of Day Four, which may seem slightly unfair as they were up against a clearly fatigued Japanese team who never really looked like repeating their Day Two heroics against South Africa. However, what I did see in Scotland was a clear purpose and for the most part, especially once they warmed to the task, some really solid execution from a well-drilled and clinical side. This was very much a side with a game plan and the ability to execute it. I have always said that Coach Vern Cotter is likely to make big strides with this team over the coming years and this World Cup is likely to showcase a Scotland on the rise again.
The Scottish backs really stood out in this match and fullback Stuart Hogg was really starting to get into his stride. Fast, elusive and exceptionally dangerous whenever he is allowed space with the ability to spot gaps that others may have missed, Hogg is likely to be one of the tournament’s real stars for Scotland. I also thought winger Tommy Seymour put in a big performance as did Mark Bennett in the centres. Finn Russell at flyhalf is going to be someone we all enjoy watching and he just gets better and better as he continues to mature into the role. Scrum half and Captain Greg Laidlaw is proving to be one of the game’s most reliable players and for the most part provided Scotland with really solid decision-making all afternoon, coupled to a goal kicking boot that rarely misses.
In the forwards flanker David Denton and flanker John Hardie both put in a massive performance all afternoon along with lock Johnny Gray who is rapidly showing that he is even better than his all-star brother Richie Gray. The Scottish scrum took no prisoners all afternoon and clearly had the better of an obviously fatigued Japanese outfit.
In short, despite the fact that they were playing against a tired Japanese team, Scotland looked good value for money on Wednesday, and you know they are only going to get better as the tournament wears on. How far they can ultimately go, really remains to be seen, but they look sharp and well-drilled enough that getting out of the Pool stages should be a given with first place honors a distinct possibility!
Japan – 6/10
Japan were obviously tired and it showed. They still put up a brave fight but as the game wore on the lack of depth in the team was there for all to see. Fortunately for them they now have a considerable break before their next match and we all hope this will give them sufficient time to recover and once more challenge to exit the Pool and reach the knockout stages. The loss of number eight Amanaki Mafi to injury in the second half of this match was very worrying as he really is one of Japan’s key players. He was a constant threat to Scottish defences when he was on the field and it is hoped that he will be fighting fit again for Japan’s next encounter with the Samoans on October 3rd.
Japan were a constant threat to Scotland despite the Scots pulling away comfortably in the second half as fatigue clearly started to set in amongst the Japanese. It was telling that at half-time Japan were only trailing Scotland 12-7, and showed that tired as they were Japan are likely to regroup with style for their next encounter. However, Mafi was key to much of what Japan did well on Wednesday, and Japan will really be sweating over whether or not he will be fit for their next match. Once Mafi left the field a lot of the sting went out of the Japanese attack and Scotland soon started to pull away. We increasingly saw a breakdown in discipline and multiple errors. With Scotland’s Greg Laidlaw rarely missing with the boot, it was now becoming an uphill battle for a weary Japanese side to stay in touch with the scoreline. The last twenty-five minutes of the match saw Japan sadly unravel completely. Given their schedule of having to play the Pool’s two top teams in the space of a mere four days, it is hardly surprising. However, the fact that they got blown off the park so comprehensively in the last quarter must surely be a concern for Coach Eddie Jones, as they still have two tough games ahead of them, especially in the shape of Samoa.
Down but definitely not out is the verdict on the Japanese after their second outing. Still exceptionally brave and a force to be reckoned with, Japan still have plenty to offer this tournament in terms of excitement. The next week will give Japan a chance to rest some exhausted bodies and hopefully find once more the fitness and concentration that served them so well against South Africa.
Australia vs Fiji
Final Score – Australia 28/Fiji 13
Australia – 7/10
Australia got the win they needed, but a lot like England’s opening effort, looked good but not so good that you felt you could see them with their hands on the Webb Ellis trophy on October 31st. They had to struggle at times to withstand a late Fijian comeback, and apart from the wonder weapon of their rolling maul and David Pocock in particular, their back line didn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of the Fijians. While they clearly got the better of Fiji in the forward battles, their backs were not as impressive and had a relatively quiet shift, in marked contrast to England’s efforts against the Fijians in this department the week before.
Australia got the job done against Fiji, and in their forward pack they showed that they are a real force to be reckoned with, but their much vaunted back line although solid in defence very rarely looked like they were going to get much further than the Fijian 22. As a result the Wallabies backs never really looked like scoring, if anything preferring to let the forwards do all the hard work in this area. Nevertheless, from an attacking perspective Australia will take great comfort in the devastating power of their rolling maul and the ability of their number 8, David Pocock to use it to maximum effect. Pocock had an absolutely outstanding evening in the number eight shirt, a role he has really grown into over the last six months. His work at the breakdown was also equally impressive and he was constantly disrupting Fijian forward momentum as well getting Australia turnover after turnover.
In the backs, world-class fullback Israel Folau as always dominated play under the high ball and really is a master tactician in this department. He and Adam Ashley-Cooper were the spearhead of most of Australia’s attacking play against Fiji when the Wallabies were’nt relying on David Pocock and company. Furthermore alongside Matt Giteau in the centres, Folau and Ashley-Cooper were made to work exceptionally hard in defence, especially in the second half when Fiji came back at them with a vengeance after finding their second wind. The defensive work of these three players was one of the cornerstones of Australia’s victory on Wednesday and must surely stand Australia in good stead for their clashes with Wales and England, with Giteau’s boot constantly getting Australia out of jail.
In short, it was a solid workmanlike performance from Australia with their wrecking ball rolling maul being their key offensive weapon. While Australia may have lacked some of the razzle dazzle shown by England against Fiji, it was well organised display that showed plenty of composure under pressure and as a first outing for the Wallabies can be considered a job well done in developing a solid foundation for the two pressure fixtures against Wales and England in the final stages of Pool A.
Fiji – 7/10
They may have lost the match and for all intents and purposes their World Cup journey will end with the Pool stages, but I am giving Fiji a deserved 7/10 simply for the fact that they continue to entertain and inspire us with their never say die attitude. As Australia ended the first half with a commanding lead, you felt that it essentially was all over for Fiji. However once referee Glen Jackson blew his whistle for the start of the second half, and Fiji found their groove again we were all forced to rethink. Fiji ended up putting Australia under enormous pressure and it was a courageous and noble fight to the end.
Sadly for Fiji their heroics caused them to lose two key players, winger Waisea Nayacalevu and scrum half Nikola Matawalu to injury. It is hoped for Fiji’s grandstand finale with Wales that these two players are recovered fully to be put back in the mix. Despite the loss and barring any potential long-term injuries to the players mentioned above, Fiji can still take great pride from their performance on Wednesday. Fly half Ben Volavola’s try was another piece of Fijian attacking flair that we have all come to expect from this group of individuals and the flyhalf was a real standout player for the Pacific Islanders on Wednesday. One thing that I felt Australia did more effectively than England was neutralise the threat posed by winger Nemani Nadolo, he was ever-present but got a lot less opportunity than he did against the English.
In short, it was a brave performance from a Fijian side still slightly weary from their epic opening clash with England and having to play two exceptionally high-octane matches in the space of a few days. It was a courageous stand by Fiji against Australia but one that clearly showed how fatigue and injuries were starting to take their toll. The positive for Fiji is they now have a decent rest before they have to take on Wales and this should see them fighting fit again. Wales will be aware of this and watching their backs accordingly. A Fijian upset is still very much on the cards this tournament and you know their focus is now fully on a Welsh side that is battling an injury list from hell.
France vs Romania
Final Score – France 38/Romania 11
France – 6/10
I hear what you may be thinking. A six – but they won the match? Correct but for the second time in a row, a side that should be delivering so much more really failed to impress. They often looked disorganised and sloppy and their forward pack which oozes potential got a lesson in breakdown technique from the Romanians. France came out on top but they appeared to have to work far too hard for it. Sure they may be saving themselves for their big clash with Ireland at the end of the Pool stages but on present form they seem to be placing far too much faith in the opinion that the French are at their most dangerous once we’ve all written them off. Furthermore, I doubt this questionable display of form from the French at the moment is likely to lull the Irish into any kind of false sense of complacency.
France’s impressive forward pack struggled to make an impression on Romania, with the exception of their rolling maul which did seem to be effective. Romania once they found their groove were causing France serious problems at the breakdown and the frustration was clearly causing France to lose their nerve resulting in a series of penalties that began to swing the momentum in favor of the Romanians. Had it not been for some stellar last-ditch defence by some of the French backs the scoreline might have actually hinted at another upset of one of rugby’s superpowers by a minnow.
To be honest it was only the last twenty minutes of the game where France started to look vaguely polished and this was less to do with their own efforts and more to do with the fact that after putting up an impressive fight the Romanians were starting to tire and with it their focus. However, even in this period of the game where France had the clear ascendancy a Romanian side on its last legs would still manage to crack the French defence and score a try. Worrying signs indeed.
For me, from a French perspective there was little if anything to get excited about in this match. They got the win but nobody really stood up and counted. The only real bright spark was that after the loss of Yoann Huget to injury in the game against Italy, France can take some heart in their backs through the work of winger Sofiane Guitome. Guitome was a real revelation for France in both defence and attack and his two tries were highlights of an otherwise turgid display from France. After this display, the question still remains as to when this sleeping giant will turn up, but for now France are not so much dozing as deafening us with their snoring!
Romania – 7/10
Yes you read it correctly, they lost the match but I am still giving them a higher score than France. Unlike the French the Romanians really turned up for this match and gave the spectators something to get excited about. They were committed and made a disjointed French side distinctly uncomfortable on numerous occasions and certainly in the first half were the more structured team. If Romanian goal kicker Florin Vlaicu had been a bit more accurate with the boot in the first half the scoreline might have been radically different. It was only unfortunate that the sheer effort put in by Romania left them without sufficient gas in the tank to make more of a statement than they did by the final quarter of the game. However, I am still giving them a higher score than France based on the committment they put into this match compared to France’s often half-hearted offerings.
You just have to take your hat off to a massive performance from Romania’s forwards. While their back line never really looked like it would do any serious damage to the French, Romania’s forward pack took the game to France for long periods of time and it completely took the French by surprise. Considering that France’s forwards had been the bright star of an otherwise lacklustre buildup to the World Cup and the central feature of their win over Italy at the weekend, it was impressive that Romania were able to dictate so much of the play in this area, and in the first half in particular their work at the breakdown was exemplary. However such a physical onslaught took its cost as fitness levels came into question towards the end of the match with the French starting to get the upper hand in this department.
Nevertheless, Romania deserve full credit for putting up such a determined resistance even if it was against a French side that struggled to fire. The Romanian forwards deserve full credit for an epic performance, but none more so than lock Valentin Ursache. Tireless and always with an eye to French weak spots, his try was just reward for getting Romania some well-earned recognition on Wednesday. Romania still has an exceptionally tough road ahead of them at this World Cup, but their efforts on Wednesday night showed that this country with such a proud history in the sport is down but definitely not out. Canada and Italy will need to pay Romania the highest respect lest they end up with some very unpleasant surprises.