<
>

Japan's win shows World Rugby how to grow game beyond Tier One: Craig Dowd

What a great start to the Rugby World Cup. It would be fair to say that even in their wildest dreams organisers could not have hoped for much better, and Japan's upset win was the icing on the cake.

The South Africans are embarrassed and all the rest of it, but I think this is really all about Japan. Just seeing their faces at the final whistle was outstanding. It was like a middleweight fighting a heavyweight. It was duck and weave and move around, don't make mistakes and get caught into South Africa's game. They did well.

At that final whistle, the reaction of some of their fans said it all. In fact, seeing some of their fans when the score was 19-19 was fantastic; they were already starting to cry at that stage. And then at the final whistle no-one could believe it.

That's what makes the World Cup. That is everything about what we want to see. For rugby, that result is just huge. Rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes, and the bully boys of South Africa were up against the quick and high-tempo way the Japanese play; you couldn't dream of a better result knowing the 2019 Rugby World Cup is going to be played in Japan.

The Rugby World Cup organisers for 2019 will see it as a dream outcome in their bid to get the people of Japan behind the event.

The result also demonstrates to other minnow nations what they need to be doing to get into position to create their own upsets at the top level. Japan is emerging. It has the World Cup in 2019, it has a team in Super Rugby next year, and that is possible because of good governance.

There are good structures behind their world-class coach in Eddie Jones, and it shows they are heading in the right direction. Some of the other lesser nations at the World Cup could probably take a leaf out of Japan's book and see where they are going in their own games and the mistakes they are making and why they are not improving.

It is always interesting to look at the Pacific Islands, with the resources they have and how they compete at the highest level, and just what they might be able to achieve if they have the resources Japan, America, or even Canada, enjoy by comparison.

It would be huge if World Rugby could make a demand that every top-tier nation had to play one country regarded as tier two, or a tier three nation, each year. Yes, that's what happens at a World Cup, but it needs to be more than that. New Zealand and Wales both recently played matches in Japan, and that must have helped Eddie Jones' plans for the side.

The more crossover games the lesser sides can play the better. That would help develop players. Having Japan come into the Super Rugby competition is only going to help Japanese rugby.

We've already seen what has happened with Argentina, who have had greater exposure to the rugby world since the late-1970s - and more recently since their inclusion in the Rugby Championship from 2012. They too, will benefit from having a team in the Super Rugby competition next year. That's what spreads the game around the world.

Who knows, in 2023 there may be a levelling out of all the teams.

Japan's victory also demonstrated what a great coach Eddie Jones is. He had shown that by taking Australia to the 2003 final, and then assisting South Africa as a technical advisor in 2007 and it is a great coup for the Stormers to have him for next year's Super Rugby competition. It will be interesting to see who Japan appoint as Jones' replacement, possibly his forward coach Steve Borthwick, while there is also a Super Rugby coach to be appointed as well.

And while all the attention has focused on what Japan achieved, let's not forget what Georgia did in beating Tonga. Georgia are a team who have got the cattle - up front, especially - and with Kiwi coach Milton Haig working with them they have got the structure in place behind the side.

Looking at New Zealand, you would have to say Argentina played an outstanding Test match. If we look at where the All Blacks didn't perform, we really need to look at what Argentina did. They are seriously big men who got up for the game, and you will never run through them. They are big, strong men, and they matched the All Blacks in all the contact, or collision, areas.

What the All Blacks' eventual win showed was that their bench was outstanding. I felt Argentina went into that game with the mindset they were not going to back down to the All Blacks, they were going to take them on wherever they could. They were going to push the boundaries - which they did - and it led to a hell of a lot of penalties in the first half-hour, but it worked for them and it goes to show that is how teams will take the All Blacks on. The Pumas should be fine through the next couple of games but come the play-offs we are going to have some street fights.

I do feel the All Blacks' forwards will have a hard day at the office when they play Georgia. The backs may be able to run around their Georgia counterparts, but the forwards will be a different story. Like Argentina, they are big men who will take New Zealand on in that contact area. That will be a good hit out for the All Blacks, possibly better than many people imagined beforehand.

And even Tonga, they will ensure the All Blacks do get some good preparation out of pool play.

The Argentina game showed there is certainly competition for places, and the final XV is wide open. I think the bench made a statement - and that's what you want, guys under pressure for their jersey. The winning of the Test match was in the bench coming on.

Sonny Bill Williams was absolutely outstanding. He loves the stage, that's the class of the man. He knows when it is time to deliver, and he stepped up and showed everyone he has the confidence and the temperament to play at the highest level on the biggest stage; his confidence in the way he plays, he gets his offloads out and he always finds his target.

Nehe Milner-Skudder will be going over the video review quite a few times because he blew two try-scoring opportunities. Now he will have pressure on him. I think he came out and said to the media that in rugby you were lucky because you always get an opportunity next week. Well, not at this level you don't.

He needs to ask Jeff Wilson about scoring tries on the big stage. Those moments will live with you forever, and the opportunity may not be in the black jersey, it may for the Hurricanes. If you are an All Black winger, it is your job to nail those moments. Your job is to score those tries and if you get two chances in a Test match you want to get at least one of them. But he'll learn from that and be a better player for it.