Former Ulster and Ireland out-half David Humphreys assesses the opening round of the Rugby World Cup and challenges facing Andy Farrell’s hopeful Ireland side as they face Tonga.
- At last, a fast start for Ireland
The first weekend of matches made for an interesting start to Rugby World Cup.
France confirming their status as favourites with a comfortable win over the All Blacks, Wales very lucky in a breathless match with Fiji and 14-man England with a dour but dominant display in beating one of the tournament’s outside bets, Argentina.
In Ireland’s Pool B, South Africa had an easier ride against Scotland than many expected, whereas Ireland’s performance was almost everything we could have hoped for to kick off the competition.
Twelve tries, some very good individual performances from Bundee Aki, Joe McCarthy and Peter O’Mahony, and Johnny Sexton slotting back into the team as if he hadn’t been out of the game for a week, let alone six months.
Going into the match there were some concerns raised about the heat in the Bordeaux Stadium. It was incredibly hot at kick-off but watching the game live, Ireland looked fit and strong, epitomised by a length-of-the-field try in the last minute of game and a huge amount of credit must go to the coaching and performance team for the way they have prepared the players for France.
It was such a contrast to previous World Cups where we have looked tired and jaded from the first game.
- No let-up as Andy Farrell makes show of strength
Selection will always be a cause of great debate in sport.
There’s no question that Andy Farrell and his coaching team will have discussed at length their selection strategy for the pool stages and it looks like a very good decision to go full strength this week against Tonga.
Anyone who watched the France v Uruguay match last night will have seen the strides that some of less established teams have already made at this World Cup, and Ireland would underestimate the challenge of Tonga at their peril.
Munster and Ulster fans will have seen the magic that players like Malakai Fekitoa (above) and Charles Piutau are capable of producing and so many of the Tongan squad have played top-level club rugby throughout Europe.
While Tonga’s warm-up performances and results haven’t been particularly impressive, there’s no doubt they are capable of a big, physical one-off performances, which will pose Ireland a similar challenge, and good preparation, to what they’ll face next week against South Africa. Ireland to win by 20 points.
- Progress made but more work required for smaller nations
World Rugby are tasked with growing the game and they have been investing significant amounts of money into supporting some of the emerging rugby nations preparing for the RWC in France.
Among many other things, they help with training facilities, coaching and specialist sports science and medical support and we have already seen the difference that has made in those countries’ competitiveness and quality of their performances.
There’s still a long way to go to hold a RWC that is competitive beyond six countries, but players getting exposure outside their domestic leagues and experiencing high-quality coaching is definitely a move in the right direction.
After my experience with Georgia a couple of years ago, I know how much potential they have, and they will get better, but they’ll be bitterly disappointed with their performance against Australia.
They created so many chances to score and it was just individual errors that let them down at key times in the match, but they’ve still got Fiji and Wales to show how much progress they’ve made as a team.
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Watch live coverage of Ireland v Tonga (8pm) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player, listen to live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1, and follow live updates on RTÉ Sport Online and the RTÉ News app.