JOHN GOLIATH considers where the top nations rank after the first week of the Rugby World Cup.
Key pool matches came thick and fast on the opening weekend of the 2019 World Cup, which gave us a good indication where some of the favourites currently find themselves in terms of form.
Ireland and the All Blacks came out the biggest winners in their respective ‘pool deciders’ against Scotland and the Springboks, while France and Australia also managed to get the job done against tricky opposition.
England have had a comfortable start to their World Cup with two bonus-point wins in the ‘pool of death’, while Uruguay have caused the biggest upset with a 30-27 win over Fiji, who in turn almost downed Australia.
Ireland were mightily impressive in their 27-3 win over Scotland. It was the sort of statement that should make the Boks nervous ahead of their likely meeting in the quarter-finals.
It was a professional performance, with their powerful and unrelenting pack of forwards setting the platform for their halfbacks to run the show with fantastic tactical kicking and top counter attacking by their outside backs.
But at this point they are slightly behind the All Blacks in my estimation, purely because of the injury cloud hanging over ace flyhalf Johnny Sexton, who was replaced in the second half against Scotland with a thigh injury.
Sexton is Ireland’s chief playmaker and they need him to be ready for the playoffs. His presence makes a huge difference in terms of his tactical nous, and his ability to keep the team going forward with his accurate kicking and marvellous distribution.
The All Blacks are top of the world rankings again, but second in my power rankings, following their win over the Boks.
They came into the tournament having lost their cloak of invincibility, while seemingly also trying to get their balance right by accommodating both Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett in the same starting team.
They initially struggled in the face of the Boks’ physicality, line speed in defence and accurate kicking, but composed themselves and showed their lethal ability to turn half chances into points.
It didn’t help the Boks made a plethora of costly unforced errors on the day, but New Zealand looked they have found a remedy for their struggles against Boks’ aggressive style of defending.
But, despite the performance, I still fancy the Boks to make it all the way to final. They still have all the tools to beat the best the world, but they need to use it better, especially their outside backs.
It’s also hard to win a game when the spine of your team doesn’t properly fire on the day. The Boks just need to take this one on the chin and take heed of some of the valuable lessons dished out by the All Blacks.
England haven’t got out of second gear yet, but they sit comfortably on 10 points following their two wins over Georgia and the United States.
They are a dangerous team who has had two comfortable hit-outs in the tournament to try and iron out some problems. Eddie Jones’ men will only get better as over the next couple of weeks and will definitely peak when the business end of the tournament comes around.
My Power Rankings are (with the World Rugby rankings in brackets):
1 Ireland (WR: 2)
2 All Blacks (WR: 1)
3 England (WR: 3)
4 South Africa (WR: 5)
5 Wales (WR: 4)
6 Australia (WR: 6)
7 France (WR: 7)
8 Scotland (WR: 8)
9 Argentina (WR: 10)
10 Japan (WR: 9)
Photo: Stu Forster/Getty