With the Rugby World Cup set to kick off in a matter of weeks, we take a look at what we’ve learnt from the warm up games so far including the Rugby Championship…
1.No team is invincible
Most of the build up to the World Cup saw the All Blacks touted as firm favourites for the title such has been their form over the past couple of years. The Wallabies went some way to dismissing this myth after an impressive victory in the final round of the Rugby Championship, proving that Steve Hansen’s men are in fact beatable. Elsewhere we’ve seen Los Pumas topple the Springboks in South Africa, and the French claim victory over England suggesting that any team can be beaten, and hinting at the possibility of a few upsets along the way.
2.The breakdown will be key
Throughout the warm up games we’ve seen the breakdown proving to be the difference between sides. When the Wallabies beat the All Blacks, it was at least in part down to playing to opensides in Hooper and Pocock, whilst recently England were taught a lesson at the breakdown by a powerful France pack. It also seems referees are focussing more at infringements at the ruck and will quickly penalise any sides deemed to be competing unfairly.
3.Fitness is going to be vital
It was one of the key talking points for several coaches in the build up to the World Cup, but it has become abundantly clear that having an incredibly fit squad is vital to any sides hopes at the tournament. It seems fitness will no longer be a differentiator for most teams, but will ensure that those not up to scratch will be unable to compete during the dying minutes where a key game can easily be won or lost.
4.Teams have to look beyond the first XV
There have already been a number of high profile injuries that has seen various key players ruled out of the opening of the World Cup, or in some cases the entire tournament. This has meant most sides have had to rely on backup options to fill voids left by injuries which some teams have adapted to better than others. The Springboks poor form during the Rugby Championship for example can be partly put down to injuries, whilst Wales’ second string side got hammered by an impressive Irish second XV.
5.You can’t write any teams off
Six months ago, many pundits were completely writing France off, whilst the Wallabies were deemed a team in crisis. The last few weeks have gone some way to proving that you write any team off at your own peril after France comprehensively outplayed hosts England over the last two games, whilst the Wallabies look a completely different side to this time last year with a reinvigorated scrum providing their dangerous backs with a solid platform to play off of.
6.Home advantage will play a part
Although not all of the warm up games have been won by the home sides, the majority of the key ones have been. The Wallabies beat the All Blacks in Australia, whilst the return fixture in New Zealand was won by Steve Hansen’s men. England beat France at Twickenham whilst Phillip St Andre’s men won the return leg at the Stade de France. There have been exceptions to this such as Los Pumas victory over the Springboks, however the results so far point to a definite advantage for Stuart Lancaster’s side.
7.The World Cup will be the launchpad for some huge careers
Almost every single squad at the World Cup looks set to include one or two breakthrough talents who will be using the tournament to launch their international careers. In the warm up games alone we have already seen the likes of Nehe Milner-Skudder, Damian de Allende and Henry Slade stake serious claims for a place in their teams final squads. Have no doubt that a handful of these players will have a huge impact on the World Cup.
8.You have to adapt to survive
Despite their incredible run of results over the past couple of seasons, even the All Blacks felt the need to test a variety of combinations to see which players could perform in what environment. Elsewhere the Wallabies have tested playing two opensides to great success, whilst other teams are still tinkering with their matchday squads. It has become apparent that an ability to adapt and vary up play and combinations will be vital.