Anyone who follows rugby will find it hard to say that the opening round of fixtures of the 2011 Rugby World Cup haven't lived up to expectations.
The so called lesser teams have provided more than the odd scare for the higher ranked teams and have got people asking if the gap between the two tiers is closing. I think that certainly, the previously weaker teams all contain players plying their trade in the top leagues around the world. These players have returned to their country with knowledge and coaches who are helping to take the national teams to the next level. Astounding levels of physicality and fitness have helped sustain challenges against the top opposition.
So far, the superior skills of the higher ranking teams have seen them over the line and I suspect that with the surprise factor of the opening round gone, that is as close as we will come to an upset in this World Cup. It has made for great viewing and I hope I am proved wrong and the games all stay competitive.
There has also been enough controversy to last the whole tournament. Once again, in New Zealand, it is referee Wayne Barnes who has come under intense scrutiny following his decision not to refer James Hook's penalty attempt to the TMO after what looked like a perfectly good kick was deemed not good by the game officials.
The way the league is set up, if we lose just one game before we play against the top two seeded teams, our chances of making the playoffs are seriously reduced. Every game is treated as knockout rugby and results become everything regardless of performance.
Quotes of the week
A few years ago, when I had been in a similar situation, I was asked if I thought there was a need to introduce cross bar technology into rugby. I laughed and said that unlike in football, situations didn't arise often enough for it to be a problem. I certainly didn't expect those amongst the supposedly top officials in the world to force me to eat my words. Whether or not Wayne Barnes was right to follow protocol and not send it upstairs on the advice of his touch judges, questions should be asked and solutions come up with to stop the same thing happening again.
It is bad enough for the Welsh team and supporters for it to happen in a group game but imagine if it had been the final. As a kicker, the best place to stand to see if a ball has gone through the posts is behind the kick, in a direct line with the ball and the posts. Most referees stand to the side of the kicker and rely solely on the touch judges who have to make a split decision as the ball passes directly above them. It is easy if the ball is in the middle of the posts (where all kickers love to see it go) but in instances such as this, a third set of eyes from behind the kick could have at least thrown enough doubt on it to pass it over to the video officials.
A narrow win
I missed the best game of the World Cup so far (Wales v SA) as our competitive season finally got under way after a five month pre-season. On a hot, humid afternoon, we played against the Kurita Watergush and, much as England had the day before, failed to live up to our pre-game billing of favourites but made it over the winning line with a little to spare.
The way the league is set up, if we lose just one game before we play against the top two seeded teams, our chances of making the playoffs are seriously reduced. Every game is treated as knockout rugby and results become everything regardless of performance. With plenty to work on, I'm expecting a tough week ahead and will be relying on the excitement and controversy of events in New Zealand to help me through it!