It has been another incident-packed week at the Rugby World Cup, where the hosts continue to impress and red cards reached record levels.
England yet to be challenged
Three games, three bonus-point wins for England. But is there a danger of them heading into a World Cup quarter-final undercooked?
After beating Tonga and the United States, England would have expected their first serious test when they took on Argentina, only for the Pumas to implode as Tomas Lavanini’s reckless tackle on Owen Farrell left them down to 14 men with over an hour to play.
1:50 England’s players react to their quarter-final-clinching victory over Argentina
England took full advantage as they coasted to a 39-10 victory, securing a place in the last-eight with a game to spare, but Eddie Jones would have liked a stiffer challenge as he builds towards the knockout stages.
France have done little so far to suggest they could test England in the final game of Pool C, while their likely opponents Australia head into the quarters primed after tough outings against Fiji and Wales.
After three landslide wins, Jones might settle for a close victory over Les Bleus.
Hosts continue to dazzle
No such issues for Japan, who are one win away from reaching the quarter-finals for the first time.
The first Rugby World Cup to be held outside the traditional heartlands needed a strong performance from the host nation, and the Brave Blossoms are certainly playing their part.
Japan backed up their deserved win over Ireland by beating Samoa, with Kotaro Matsushima scoring what could prove to be a crucial bonus point with the clock gone red.
With Scotland expected to take maximum points against Russia, it sets up a crunch meeting between Gregor Townsend’s men and Japan on October 13.
Pool A is going down to the wire.
Ireland fail to impress – again
Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign looks to be plotting a familiar route – progress to the quarter-finals, quickly followed by a flight home.
Rory Best admitted their confidence has been dented by the shock loss to Japan and a patchy 35-0 victory over Russia did little to lift spirits.
Ireland laboured their way to a bonus-point victory against a side full of amateurs who played with 14 men for 20 minutes.
Joe Schmidt was fooling nobody when he declared himself “really happy” with the win. He said taking Johnny Sexton off at half-time was always the plan, but that doesn’t sound as convincing when the fly-half spends the second half with an ice pack on his troublesome thigh.
0:28 Johnny Sexton says Ireland can’t look beyond their final pool match against Samoa as a possible World Cup quarter-final against either New Zealand or South Africa awaits
Ireland’s injury problems are mounting. Back-up fly-half Joey Carbery has played only 20 minutes because of an ankle injury that required surgery pre-tournament, Jack Conan is already gone home, Jordi Murphy’s World Cup could be over after just 26 minutes, and Robbie Henshaw has yet to feature at all.
A nine-day break between games will be welcomed by Schmidt and his medical team but a final pool match against a physical, indisciplined Samoa side could stretch the squad even further.
Ireland have enjoyed unheralded success under Schmidt but they are a shadow of the Grand Slam-winning, All Blacks-conquering side of 2018.
Given their current form, leading them to the promised land of a World Cup semi-final would rank as Schmidt’s greatest achievement as Ireland coach.
Springboks at their brutal best
Ireland may have struggled to flex their muscles against weaker opposition but the Springboks did exactly what they needed to do in order to sweep aside Italy in Shizuoka and all-but guarantee their place in the quarter-finals.
A shock loss to Canada is now the only way Rassie Erasmus’ side would fail to make it out of their group for the first time in a World Cup.
The victory over the Azzurri was created by the forwards, but the magnitude was largely dictated by a red card shown to Andrea Lovotti for what can only be described as a moment of madness in which Duane Vermeulen was dumped on his head early in the second half.
Nonetheless, it was a case of job done for the Boks, who will face the top team from Pool A – which is currently Japan.
The Bok forwards shone in the set-piece but were particularly brutal at the breakdown, where their typically-physical presence gave the Italians no way into the game.
The only concern for Erasmus was the manner in which Cheslin Kolbe hobbled around the pitch at the end of the game, but the Bok boss allayed fears his star winger – who scored twice against Italy in a man-of-the-match performance – will be out for any length of time.
“Cheslin’s ankle is a little stiff, but he could probably play on Tuesday at a push,” Erasmus said.
Even if he is fit to face Canada, it’s unlikely Kolbe will be risked ahead of the quarter-finals in two weeks’ time as the Springboks go in search of their third World Cup title.
Record red card haul
We are only into the third week of the tournament and there has already been a World Cup-record five red cards dished out – and it’s highly likely that figure will be improved upon.
Andrea Lovotti and Tomas Lavanini can both have no complaints with their dismissals, both players guilty of reckless challenges, and the reality is we could already be in double figures for red cards.
Even Italy coach Conor O’Shea expected Nicola Quaglio to be sent off along with Lovotti after the pair combined to spear tackle Duane Vermeulen head-first into the turf. Both have now been banned for three weeks and miss Italy’s remaining pool match against New Zealand on October 12.
Having been on the receiving end of stinging criticism from World Rugby, referees are now cracking down on any challenges to the head.