Ja­pan were in­spi­ra­tional but it is now time for the world’s top four teams to fight it out

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Rugby -

very best to do so. That said, they have the va­ri­ety of at­tack­ing op­tions and enough ball car­ri­ers who can break the gain and tackle lines to un­set­tle a hugely dis­ci­plined All Black de­fence.

The way in which Eng­land re­cov­ered from fast starts by Aus­tralia, at the be­gin­ning of both halves on Satur­day, showed com­po­sure and some in­di­ca­tion that they have ab­sorbed, at least in part, the lessons of Wales and Scot­land in the most re­cent Six Na­tions. As writ­ten here sev­eral times, we had not seen any­where near Ed­die Jones’s first-choice out­fit, and when we did, you can see how just two or three ex­tra at­tack­ing threats can un­lock the best de­fen­sive sys­tems.

Start­ing Kyle Sinck­ler and Mako Vu­nipola gave Eng­land that cru­cial ad­van­tage. On the edge of two for­ward pods, they can take the ball into con­tact, slip it in­side or out to sup­port run­ners or pivot and de­liver the deep ball to lat­eral run­ners and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties out wide. How­ever, against New Zealand, it is their kick­ing game that must be near per­fect. They can­not af­ford to get this wrong against a Kiwi back­field who have shown how deadly they are with in­ac­cu­rate kicks and indis­ci­pline chas­ing.

For the Ki­wis, you can but mar­vel at the way they are pre­pared to play nascent tal­ent, such as Jack Good­hue, and aug­ment it with ex­pe­ri­ence. The de­ci­sion-mak­ing of vet­eran Aaron Smith was equalled by his sub­lime ser­vice and was the ful­crum around which New Zealand blew away a dis­ap­point­ing Irish chal­lenge. While giv­ing the Ki­wis full credit for a su­perb all-round dis­play, you should ask why Ire­land, yet again in a World Cup, limped out of the tour­na­ment. If the Irish rugby fans are sat­is­fied with ex­pla­na­tions such as “we’re a small na­tion”, “it’s not our No1 sport” and “we punch above our weight any­way”, then fine, but that will not get to the root of why this keeps hap­pen­ing.

As for War­ren Gat­land, you can say that France, again, im­ploded and made in­ex­pli­ca­ble de­ci­sions at cru­cial points dur­ing their clash, but you can­not ques­tion his side’s ob­du­racy. Had the French possessed a mod­icum of rugby nous, they would have put this game away by 15 points, but they do not.

Get­ting a man sent off and not pack­ing down with eight men at a crit­i­cal at­tack­ing scrum were more to blame than any mar­ginal de­ci­sion about a ball go­ing for­ward. And, for the record, as a dis­in­ter­ested spec­ta­tor, I could not cer­tainly say it did go for­ward.

It must be open to ques­tion whether Wales will be given this lat­i­tude by a pow­er­ful Spring­bok side and one who have in­di­vid­u­als ca­pa­ble of mak­ing game-win­ning plays. But, would you put your house on them not scrap­ping their way to their first World Cup fi­nal? I would not.

Be­fore they take this his­toric step, they will have to deal with the Boks’ rush de­fence and the in­di­vid­ual power that the South Africans bring to each col­li­sion. This is not a new co­nun­drum, but to solve it they will have to make sure their most po­tent at­tack­ers, es­pe­cially their back three, get in­volved in the game on more than an oc­ca­sional ba­sis. They can­not rely on counter-at­tack­ing chances given by poor South African kick­ing, of which I am sure there will be a lim­ited amount.

For the Spring­boks, they might blud­geon Wales into sub­mis­sion, but could they do that to Eng­land or New Zealand? I doubt that. It is time for them to en­hance their bosh­ing and add to it a bit more am­bi­tion.

All over: Ja­pan play­ers thank their fans af­ter bow­ing out of the World Cup

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