Rugby World Cup
Brilliant Rugby World Cup might be passing us by
Canon Rugby in Focus: It's all happening in Japan. But it's hard to shake the feeling Kiwis are missing out on RWC2019.
Perhaps the memory is rose-tinted, but it’s hard to remember a Rugby World Cup with this much peripheral ‘noise’ and the focus so removed from the action on the field.
Inconsistent refereeing has gripped the tournament and, with it, the media - both social and traditional - with debate raging over what is and isn’t a penalty or card-able offence.
Wales were superb in beating Australia, and the Wallabies almost as good in a thrilling comeback, but the debate is whether Samu Kerevi should have been penalised for a forearm to Rhys Patchell’s throat.
Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper, himself lucky to escape with just a penalty for a dangerous tackle, spoke for many fans when he said Patchell’s technique was at fault, not Kerevi. But others have hit back saying the Aussie back has a penchant for leading with his arm.
Michael Cheika reckons he’s embarrassed, that the referees are spooked and that everybody seems worried.
Kerevi says he’d be better off playing league and Newshub’s Ross Karl puts it all down to racism.
Twitter almost exploded.
If that’s not enough, the Aussie media claim a Wales try was scored thanks to some offside play, the Welsh media say that’s rubbish and Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones gave startled teammate George North a kiss on the lips after the match.
All this from one test! William Shakespeare would be proud of the plot.
It was one heck of a match, if you got to watch it, and with only 115,000 Spark Sport streams it seems most Kiwis didn’t, which is a pity.
There is a superb World Cup happening in Japan, but it all seems a bit flat here in New Zealand.
Perhaps that’s because the All Blacks haven’t played for so long. Their match against Canada will be 11 days after the win against South Africa.
Tournaments are all about building momentum and that’s for the teams and fans, and with the All Blacks sidelined for so long, some of the fizz has left the bottle.
Steve Hansen has shaken things up from the team’s perspective with 11 changes to the starting XV, and with 16 of the 23 set to make their World Cup debuts.
Within the mass changes, Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett remain at 10 and 15 respectively, in a side Kieran Read will again captain.
This is a chance to give the ‘B’ team (a very inadequate description I must admit) a run; an opportunity for those involved to try and lever their way into the team that will be used for the rest of the tournament.
It’s a tough task because they are expected to win in a canter against Canada.
Anything less will be, for many, disappointing, if not a failure. And it's often hard to impress in a one-sided contest.
Hansen will be hoping the All Blacks get through unscathed - on the injury and refereeing front.
There are no guarantees. There’s another typhoon heading toward Japan, but it’s a maelstrom of the refereeing kind that is threatening the integrity of the tournament.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was furious at Aussie Angus Gardiner’s performance with the whistle in his side’s loss to Japan. And to provide some balance, Japan's assistant coach Tony Brown said some of the officiating had been “pretty poor so far”.
"You just want them to make the right decisions and referee well and to be consistent around the head-high tackle,” Brown told Newstalk ZB.
"Now, because they've got it so wrong in the first couple of weeks, you worry that they're going to go the other way."
The worry is that the referees are as confused about what they should be doing as everyone else is about what they are doing.
There is either too much interference by the TMO, or not enough. High tackles are being ignored or over-refereed. The offside line is too loose or too tight.
You get the picture (though it maybe buffering or slightly out of focus).
This is rugby’s showcase event, yet the shop window is a splintered, dirty mess.
It’s such a pity because it seems, from afar, that this tournament is being superbly supported, with the Japanese, in particular, loving it as spectators.
Seeing their team beat Ireland (No.1 in the world not long ago, let’s not forget) has obviously helped. But even before that the Japanese were passionate and well-informed fans.
That win has blown Pool A open and it may be that we don’t know who the All Blacks will play in their quarterfinal till Scotland and Japan play each other in the very last game of pool play.
The All Blacks should meander their way to the quarterfinals from here, with the game against Canada followed by Namibia and then Italy, the perennial losers in Six Nations.
At least with that Namibia game just four days after the Canada match, the All Blacks will stay in the forefront of our minds.
That is, until the next refereeing blunder/superb decision occurs and we all focus on that again, rather than the rugby, which has been rather good.