5 takeaways from round two of the Rugby World Cup
Referees remain under pressure while one team are nailed-on for the semi-finals after the second round of Rugby World Cup fixtures, writes Guy Giles.
Japan are the real deal
Japan’s win over Ireland was no fluke. This is a seriously good team that have pulled off the biggest shock at two consecutive World Cups.
The hosts dominated Ireland in every area to make it two wins from two and put themselves in a brilliant position to qualify for a first ever quarter-final.
This is a victory that goes far deeper than that, though.
In beating the No.1 side in the world heading into the tournament, this side will have inspired the next generation of Japanese rugby players.
This World Cup was always going to be a pivotal moment for rugby in Japan, and their victory on Saturday ensured their rapid improvement will continue.
England ready for tougher tests
England prepared for their final two pool games in perfect fashion by running out 45-7 winners over the USA in Kobe.
A much-changed side demonstrated their incredible depth with a performance that was both powerful and slick.
Their two toughest tests against Argentina and France are still to come, but they will be feeling extremely confident after two tune-up wins.
England have won nine consecutive matches against Argentina, dating back to 2009, and have lost just four times to them overall.
Their record against France is less emphatic, but seven wins in their last 10, including a 44-8 hiding in the Six Nations this year, means they have nothing to fear.
Wales dreaming big
As things stand, Wales look guaranteed to reach the World Cup semi-finals.
After 13 straight losses against Australia they have now won two in a row, withstanding a second-half comeback to take control of Pool D.
With games against Fiji and Uruguay to come, Warren Gatland’s side should comfortably qualify in top spot and secure a favourable quarter-final draw, likely against France or Argentina.
They have won seven of their last eight against the French and each of the last four against the Pumas, meaning a spot in the semis for just the third time ever is now very much within reach.
Given one of those came at the inaugural tournament all the way back in 1987 and they had a man sent off just 19 minutes into the second in 2011, they could well break new ground yet.
Scotland aren’t done yet
Scotland were the disappointment of the opening round but bounced back beautifully to shut down Samoa in Kobe on Monday.
Gregor Townsend’s side were in full control from the first whistle and romped to a 34-0 bonus-point victory – the first win to nil of the tournament.
Although the Pacific Islanders offered little in opposition, this win will have restored Scotland’s confidence ahead of crucial matches against Russia and Japan.
Pool A is shaping up to be the tightest of the lot, and they will need two wins and at least one further bonus point to progress.
That is likely to come against Russia, meaning their match against Japan in Yokohama on 13 October could easily decide who makes it through.
Referees still under pressure
Referees were the centre of attention after the opening round and, unfortunately, questions still remain after another week of fixtures.
Australia coach Michael Cheika claimed officials have been ‘spooked’ by the intense focus and labelled some decisions during their loss to Wales as ‘embarrassing.’
Comments like that will not help to ease the pressure on the referees who do seem to have been affected by the criticism.
Lots of calls will always be subjective, but the officiating teams must make sure they find some consistency over the next week to bring an end to this debate.
If they fail to do so, then things could get ugly when the knockout rounds begin and the stakes become even higher.
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