Imagine Rugby Blogs

Game One RWC 2011

My comments on Game One of the RWC

Posted Sep 11, 2011 by Sean Fitzpatrick

A 41-10 win for the All Blacks against Tonga was a good start. I had felt before the game a victory by around 30 points would be just about right in an opening match.
The All Blacks have really been building up to this for four long years since they lost to France in Cardiff in the last World Cup - and you could sense just what it meant to the country to be off and running at last.
The atmosphere in the stadium was amazing and outside it as well. It was ‘blackout day’ in New Zealand with everyone wearing black.  In Auckland they staged ‘party central’ down on the waterfront for people who couldn’t get into the match. They expected around 12,000 and over 50,000 turned up.
The country has really become a stadium of four million people all desperate for the All Blacks to do well.
I was a bit surprised that Tonga were not more physical. I certainly expected them to be, but perhaps they were a bit overawed by the occasion and the opposition. The All Blacks are also a big side and they can mix it if necessary.  The rival haka’s were performed in a gentlemanly way and that tone seemed to continue through the match.
I guess critics may say the All Blacks were not so dominant for periods of the second half which led up to the Tonga try, but overall I don’t think they have too many concerns. By then the match had been won and the All Blacks went on to score again themselves later.
The big plus for me was the form of three guys who weren’t even certain to play. I thought coach Graham Henry was very shrewd in playing Israel Dagg, Richard Kahui and Sonny Bill Williams. They are not automatic first-choicers, but they had the chance in this match to show what they could do.
I think their performances showed that they all need to be on the field somewhere in the matches to come. If not in the starting 15, then certainly in the 22. Sonny Bill Williams particularly can be a match-changer, coming on to make an explosive impact.
It may give Graham Henry difficult selection choices, but it’s a nice problem to have. Dagg especially looked good at full-back, but if you were playing the World Cup final tomorrow, I would still go with Mils Miliaina in the starting line-up. But Mils will know better than anyone that he must perform when given the opportunity.
I think Graham and captain Richie McCaw will be pleased with this start and also pleased to be leaving Auckland and going to Hamilton, out of the spotlight, for the next match against Japan - and then, of course, to prepare for the big match against France on September 24 which they must win to top their pool.
Looking ahead there are some crucial games this weekend. Tomorrow England, whose form has been unpredictable, need to start well against Argentina, who can always produced a surprise. And on Sunday the defending champions South Africa play Wales.
South Africa have started looking more like their old selves after beating the All Blacks in the Tri-Nations. They need to keep that going, but I rather fancy Wales to have a good World Cup. We will find out a lot more about both teams on Sunday!

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