042. Matches 13, 14 and 15

RWC2019 Match 13: Argentina 28 Tonga

Argentina are shaping to be one of the disappointments of the tournament.

Yes they shot out to a 28-nil lead after 27 minutes, locking in a bonus point.

But then they stopped.

After losing their first match to France when they shoulda coulda woulda won it, they’re now going to have to pull something special against England.

Tonga, on the other hand, are growing into the tournament. Once again showing how much improvement can come quickly for teams with talent when they can spend time together and get better opposition.

 

RWC2019 Match 14: Japan 19 Ireland 12

Mayhem and I had made our way from Osaka to Mikawa-Anjo by Shinkansen in the morning. Dropped our bags at a doss house, and back on local trains heading for Toyota Stadium for the South Africa-Namibia match.

The first clue something was happening was that the local trains were packed with locals heading for the stadium four hours before kick-off. They were getting to the Fanzone to watch this match first.

The Fanzone was an indoor stadium, used for basketball and badminton and such. Today there were rugby kicking and passing set-ups for the kids, dance and music entertainment (Japanese kids doing Irish dancing was just the right thing), and, regrettably, more of the sponsor’s product.

(It’s a bloody disgrace that the green stuff is the only beer at the official sites, when the Japanese stuff is so much better.)

We managed to squeeze ourselves into a couple of spots in the bleachers, surrounded by maybe 5,000  keyed up Japan fans.

And the match delivered.

This was not a ‘miracle’. It was not a ‘surprise’.

This was Japan’s debutante ball. This was the game they announced they have arrived in Tier One.

They played with passion, discipline and smarts. Their set-piece, especially their scrum, was magnificent. Their work on defence was precise and forceful.

And Ireland were … what? Complacent, perhaps, although the after-match comments by Joe Schmidt say no. Their set-piece – especially the lineout- was a disgraceful catastrophe.

After the first quarter – when they scored two tries by way of a cross-kick and a chip-kick – they became increasingly tentative and hesitant and clueless. Which culminated in that shockingly awful decision after the full-time gong to kick it out to take the one match point, rather than chance their arm for a length of the field match-drawing try. Where’s the pride in that?

Japan, on the other hand, grew in confidence through the match, especially when Michael Lietch came on for Mafi at 30 minutes.  The Fanzone erupted in cheers of ‘Leitchy’ – or maybe the local transliteration is Li-chi – when he came on and whenever he touched the ball.  They love the guy up here, he’s their talisman. So from any idea that Leitch and Luke Thompson and others are mere foreign guns for hire: they are embraced and taken to hearts.

When the final whistle blew the Fanzone blew up in celebration.  We yelled and cheered and hugged and high-fives and grinned and gripped, and did it all again.

Beautiful.

RWC2019 Match 15: South Africa 57 Namibia 3

Forget the scoreline. This was South Africa doing something important that other Tier 1 teams have not yet done against the smallest teams: they imposed complete control, and ran the match to get what they wanted and needed out of it.

Clinical. Efficient. Contained.

That bodes well for Rassie Erasmus’s campaign management. He’s using his time, not wasting it.

And one thing he will have learned is that Elton Jantjies is not making a challenge to be the first-choice first-five. He’s a good enough player and all, but he’s two floors below Handre Pollard. Lock it in.

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