Canon Rugby in Focus: Jim Kayes’ coffee machine could hardly have packed up on a worse day.
It was one heck of a day.
The All Blacks team to play South Africa was named – this their first match of the World Cup and this the team that, with the hopeful addition of injured lock Brodie Retallick, should run out against South Africa again in the final.
Steve Tew marked the magnitude of the day by openly attacking the Six Nations power bloc and suggesting former All Blacks should be free to play for Samoa, Tonga or Fiji.
He has said this before, and New Zealand pushed a few years ago for a change in World Rugby’s rules to make it official but, yes, you guessed it, the Six Nations blocked it.
Still this was momentous because seldom has Tew been as forthright as he was in Tokyo with his condemnation of the Six Nations, describing the political side of the game as “the Six Nations versus everyone else”.
“We all have a responsibility to keep talking about how we better structure international rugby,” Tew said. “I have been involved for a very long time so I am not holding my breath.”
He’s exhaling as he heads out the door as New Zealand Rugby CEO.
Perhaps feeling the freedom of his impending departure, and knowing he will soon not have to deal with the short-sighted northern nitwits, has allowed Tew to at last open up, publicly at least.
To cap the day off, my aged espresso machine died. It’s not quite as seismic as Tew expressing an opinion on the state of the game, or Steve Hansen putting the ‘not-heading-home-Hamish’ Sonny Bill Williams on the bench.
But in dealing with these matters coffee is crucial. And it did happen in the morning so…
Sadly, Tew’s comments will have little impact in the rarified rooms of World Rugby, though they might be forced to reconsider after the World Cup.
The battle for the playoffs is going to be, in some pools, tight, tense and thrilling. But what we could see, what I fear we will see, is the Pacific nations sliding further back.
Fiji are my biggest hope that one of the tiny tots on the international scene can strike another blow and declare loudly and proudly on the field that they still matter.
They get a chance to do that against Australia before Argentina tackle France and then the All Blacks play South Africa.
That is day two of the tournament. The opening match sees hosts Japan take on Russia on Friday night.
Yes folks, that is the showcase game at rugby’s glamour event.
At least Hansen has bestowed a measure of calm on a crazy day by picking a 23 that was largely predictable with a small mix of mild surprise.
Jack Goodhue misses out with Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown in the midfield and Williams on the bench. He will have Ben Smith beside him as Beauden Barrett is again at fullback and Sevu Reece and George Bridge are on the wings.
These selections will please and annoy All Blacks fans in equal measure, but the reality is we have the luxury of quibbling over which world-class players Hansen should start.
It was similar to when I rushed out to buy a new coffee machine and another chap in the store was trying to pick a new TV that was Spark Sport compatible (this, remember, on the eve of the glamorous start to the tournament).
There was a wide range of tellies but they were all remarkably similar, which made it tough to choose, and then things things took a turn for the worse when the shop assistant declared: “Of course, none of them can guarantee the whole Spark thing won’t collapse.”
The bloke swore in frustration – which is what the Six Nations head honchos will be doing at Tew’s sensible suggestion Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua should have been allowed to play in Japan for Tonga and Samoa.
Tew also took a shot at England for picking New Zealand’s Brad Shields before he’d played a game in Blighty and doubled down on his support for Tonga, Samoa and Fiji.
“If you genuinely want tier-two countries to be competitive in World Cups, then having international players who have that genuine link and are finished with the countries they first represented would make a difference. We have supported that but we have not got it across the line.”
That last line was another crack at the Six Nations who are terrified at the prospect of the Pacific Nations being consistently good as well as talented.
But the day belonged to Hansen, who proclaimed that “each time we play South Africa it’s a tight battle and a real arm wrestle” forgetting in the process the 57-0 thrashing in Albany two years ago and the 57-15 win in Durban a year earlier.
To be fair to Hansen, it’s been much closer since then with the draw earlier this year and two-point wins both ways last year.
This will be the 99th time these two sides have played each other and, amazingly, this is the first encounter in a World Cup pool game.
It should be a cracker – so let’s hope the Spark Sport feed doesn’t go the same way as my coffee machine.
The views of the author are not necessarily endorsed by Canon.