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Well, the first round of matches in the 2011 Rugby World Cup are over. The eight matches brought plenty of points, some memorable moments and one or two talking points. Here's seven things we learned:
- South Africa made a massive mistake by naming John Smit as their captain two months in advance of the tournament. Since then, Smit has been injured, lost form and is now bedblocking the far superior Bismarck du Plessis. All the while the Springboks are effectively playing with 14 men, there is no chance of them regaining the Webb Ellis Trophy.
- Goal kicking is going to be a lottery. In an error which is going to come back to haunt them, rugby's powers that be have insisted that a more wind-sensitive ball be used for this tournament. Although the players have had a year to get used to it, the evidence from this weekend is that in the swirling winds of early-spring, New Zealand are making this a lottery, even for some of the best kickers in the game. I wonder what will happen when Dan Carter misses a few easy ones?
- Kelly Brown might be the most underrated blindside in the game. In a stuttering Scottish performance against Romania he was immense, head and shoulders about everyone else on the park. But the very essence of a good blindside is that you are inconspicuous, which meant that a lot of his good work went unnoticed. Opensides always get the plaudits, but a good blindside is invaluable and Brown might be the best at this tournament.
- There are no minnows any more. Only the USA and Namibia struggled against higher ranked opponents and even then the USA defense was immense. The money that the IRB have invested in the smaller rugby nations appears to have been well spent, and the days of teams losing 145-0 and 146-17 seem long gone.
- Ben Youngs is so vital to England that they have no chance of winning the cup if they cannot play him. The difference between his forthright running and decisive passing and that of Richard Wrigglesworth on Saturday was the difference which meant that England beat Argentina.
- New Zealand have a real problem at scrum half. They have three of them—Jimmy Cowan, Piri Weepu and Andy Ellis—and none of them look anything like good enough. Cowan on Friday was slow to the breakdown, indecisive and too lateral in his running and passing. Weepu was more incisive, but takes too many unnecessary risks. Ellis is third string for a reason—he isn't even as good as these two.
- The USA might have their best World Cup yet. Despite struggling against Ireland today, the strength of their defense will stand them in good stead against Italy and Russia, neither of whom possess the same attacking threat from midfield. Moreover, their runners—probably as a result of their exposure to football—take unusual lines which may cause a problem for less accomplished defenses than the Irish