In Rugby World Cups gone by we have witnessed centuries of points shipped in matches during the group stages when Tier 2 nations have struggled to cope with the intensity and the power of the Tier 1s. When the competition progresses through to its denouement it is likely to include the 'big names' that were expected to be there however the road to that point will have been more colourful than ever before.
Prior to the tournament would anyone have predicted that the next hosts, Japan, would be so many people's favourite 'second team' behind their home nation? The manner in which Japan defeated South Africa on the first weekend will remain in all of our memories forever; their courage of conviction and their ability to play exactly the right sort of rugby to nullify one of the game's giants. The fact is that the Brave Blossoms have continued to deliver and they have captured their nation's attention with 25 million TV viewers in Japan tuning in for their match against Samoa. To put that viewing into context that is nearly 20% of the entire Japanese population and around 64% of all people watching TV there. With a Super Rugby franchise on the way and the 2019 tournament being hosted on home soil Japanese rugby will profit hugely from their side's output over the past few weeks.
Needless to say Japan are not alone in flying the 'Tier 2 flag' as other performances and tournament statistics highlight. Namibia's performance over the All Blacks in Cardiff showed their guts and pride and a new high in terms of their proficiency of output. All of these words I write with respect, it is fact that this tournament has been the most positive of all for the side led by Saracens' Jacques Burger. Namibia, and like others, have stabilised their set piece and when they've pressed in attack have had the ability to find gaps in defences and as a result have taken well worked tries.
The USA showed their colours back in May at the HSBC World Sevens Series in London when they blew everyone off the park however I expect that they'll be slightly disappointed with their showing so far in Rugby World Cup 2015. The fact remains that with such a large pool of individuals to work from and a sports crazy nation, their title as the sleeping giant of a World Rugby remains true.
Both Canada and Romania made France think, a lot during their respective showdowns and only tired in the final 10 to 15 minutes meaning that the final scores belied their competitiveness. The Canadian attack has been spearheaded by DTH Van Der Merwe who has scored three tries in three matches and has made a staggering 328 metres made. An eye opening statistic from the 2015 tournament, with one final pool game to play, is that Romania's own scrum success percentage is 82% and England's currently sits at 76%. Romania's industrious defence has been inspiring for all and I believe has surprised a number of their opponents. Uruguay have delivered performances to take much from in Cardiff and at Villa Park however at the time of writing their first try of the tournament still alludes them.
Of all of the Pacific Island's Fiji's presence in Pool A has shone the greatest spotlight on the calibre of side that is produced there and although Tonga and Samoa haven't quite found the highs that they'd want all three house phenomenally talented players. The elephant in the room regarding these three is their loss of players to other nations and for Samoa in particular reports regarding friction at the top. That said, if further steps can be made to address these issues then there is no question that all three have the potential to compete with the best in the world when it comes to future Rugby World Cups.
Finally as a rugby nation Georgia have always been known for their no holes barred physical scrummaging however in the 2015 competition we have seen many more facets to their game. Mamuka Gorgodze provided my personal moment of the tournament when he was awarded Man of the Match against the All Blacks, his emotional reaction was heartwarming and the award was nothing less than he deserved.
There is no question that the funding World Rugby has put into the Tier 2 nations has showed its worth in the performances that have been delivered and once the dust has settled on 2015 Rugby World Cup I believe that this support will continue in the same manner. Back to the tournament at hand, the final fixtures of the pool stages are vital for so many of these sides as third place in the pool provides automatic qualification for Japan 2019. It is my great hope that the pressure to win these fixtures will not cause any of the teams in question to tighten up for their output to date has been prodigious and as stated, it has made the 2015 Rugby World Cup the most competitive ever.