Rugby World Cup 2019: Another Wales-Fiji classic, Hastings' family connection and Russian disappointment
USA need to do a lot more if they wish to host the 2027 edition
Wales survived an onslaught from Fiji to guarantee they will top Pool D at the Rugby World Cup – and thus enter the side of the knockout draw that avoids New Zealand.
Scotland now face a must-win final group game against Japan to reach the quarterfinals themselves, after George Horne scored three tries as part of their nine-try thrashing of Russia.
Wales and Fiji can lay a fair claim to having played the greatest ever World Cup match, 12 years back in France.
Back then, the Wales coach Gareth Jenkins was sacked in the fallout to a defeat that cost them a place in the knockout stage.
Warren Gatland has been Wales coach ever since. And he managed to avoid defeat to Fiji this time around, too. Somehow.
This meeting in Oita did not quite hit the heights of Nantes in 2007, but it was not far behind, as Wales made it through to a 29-17 win following an extraordinary Fiji performance.
Gatland himself looked stunned by what he had seen, with Wales clawing their way back from an early two-try deficit thanks a hat-trick by winger Josh Adams.
“It was a tough, physical, great game of rugby,” said Gatland, who will end his 12-year spell in charge of Wales at the end of this World Cup.
“We just kept trying to play three phases,” Gatland said. “If we played three phases, we created opportunities."
Battles of Hastings
While passing through Dubai on the eve of the World Cup, former Scotland centre Scott Hastings said how chuffed he was to see his nephew Adam Hastings heading to Japan.
Scott played at three World Cups, brother Gavin at three as well, while this is Adam’s first.
“We are delighted that the Hastings name remains synonymous with Scottish sport,” Scott, who is in Japan as a commentator, said. “It is great he is there playing.”
Young Adam had to wait his turn at this tournament. When his opportunity did arise he was clearly keen to make up for lost time.
He scored two tries within the first 20 minutes against Russia, to get Scotland’s pursuit of an all-important four-try bonus point off to a fast start.
By the end of the 61-0 win, he had 26 points, a shot at a starting place against Japan on Sunday, and an endorsement from coach Gregor Townsend.
“Adam Hastings brought real balance to his game, excellent kicking in the first half, and his running game was excellent,” Townsend said.
Russia exited the World Cup with their heaviest beating of the tournament, but it was the only time in any of their four pool matches they had felt like easy beats.
The nine-try thrashing was nothing like the account their had given of themselves previously in matches against Ireland, Samoa and Japan.
Before the tournament, Lyn Jones, their coach, had been fearful of what was ahead.
There was a huge gap to bridge for a side who only made it to the World Cup by default, when three other European teams were found to have fielded ineligible players in their qualifying campaigns.
“Pushing four years of work into 12 months comes with a lot of stress,” said Jones, the former director of rugby at British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi.
“It is challenging. I just hope we can be respected for our performance.”
After their efforts in Japan, Jones can consider that mission accomplished.
The state of America
Accepted wisdom has it that the United States will need to be a competitive force on the field if they are to make good on any prospective bid to stage the 2027 Rugby World Cup.
Can they be considered to be so already? With just one match left to play, which will decide last place against Tonga, they are at the foot of Pool C.
They have yet to earn a bonus point in the competition, and have a negative points difference of 92.
Against Argentina on Wednesday they were blown away by a side that was fielding a number of players who had not been considered for their big matches.
And yet the South American side were comprehensive 47-17 winners. The USA have much to do if they are to be like Japan in eight years’ time.
Updated: October 9, 2019 08:39 PM