Nick Powell, Online Sport Editor, reviews the first 10 days of the ongoing Rugby World Cup.
It’s been a superb and unpredictable start to the Rugby World Cup and after 18 of the 48 games, we find ourselves with more questions than answers.
At first, things seemed to be following a similar pattern to previous tournaments. New Zealand bursting out of the blocks, a tier two side blowing in the second half to save a tier one side’s blushes, and England starting slowly.
But beyond that opening weekend, which had seen a dramatic victory for France against Argentina, a titanic battle between the aforementioned Kiwis and South Africa, and bonus point wins for Ireland, Italy, England, Australia and before all of them, Japan opened the tournament with flair and passion, both in their performance and the opening ceremony.
How surprising then, that with all the heavyweights having already featured, it was in front of the smallest crowd so far, with two sides with an average population of just over 2 million, that truly brought the tournament to life.
When tier two nations steal rare wins over tier one nations, the world sits up. But what about when tier two nations are beaten by even smaller nations?
It’s a possibility that has rarely been considered. Particularly when Fiji, who just missed out on a famous win against Australia after the Wallabies roared back on the first Saturday, were considered the best they’d ever been at 15-a-side rugby, and had dismantled their midweek opponents 68-7 just 10 months ago.
But a rested, motivated Uruguay would stun Fiji in one of the most extraordinary upsets the tournament had ever seen. Though it was a potentially lethal setback to Fiji’s knockout hopes, it perhaps sowed the seeds of hope for nations of a similar standard to go after one of the even bigger boys in future matches.
Italy will be one of those nations clinging to that hope, they did the job in their opening games against Namibia and Canada, but have the small task of beating one of the Southern Hemisphere’s finest to reach the quarter finals. Judging by the way South Africa and New Zealand have started, that looks a desperately difficult task.
But the hosts Japan, who needed to claim at least one victory over their two tier one opponents in Pool A to have any hope, dismantled World Number One side Ireland in a game that will be remembered for many years to come. A near faultless second half enough for the Brave Blossoms to claim their second shock win in as many World Cups.
In Pool D, the drama had settled after Uruguay’s hopes were effectively ended by Georgia. What was clear, was that Wales and Australia were heading through. What wasn’t clear, was the order they would be in.
It was a game where a team needed to take it by the scruff of the neck, Wales did just that, and an intense, electric performance opened the gap to an 18 point lead five minutes into the second half.
But 26-8 soon became 26-25, Wales taking their foot off the gas as they did against Georgia, Australia fighting back as they did against Fiji. The Welsh, however, would hold on, and put themselves within touching distance of topping the pool. Something they haven’t done since 1999 when they were the hosts.
For England, it was a case of the calm before the storm, easy wins in their first two games with improving performances, but tier one sides Argentina and France lie in wait. Lose to both of those and they crash out, in a nightmare that would be an uncanny resemblance of their desperate 2015 campaign.
The men in white are in good shape though. 11 tries scored, players across the board in form, USA and Tonga despatched. With selection settled and plenty of depth, it would be another extraordinary twist if the nation from which this article is being written were to fall this early again.
Argentina will have something to say about that, after they showed their class in a dominant win over Tonga, but their dramatic defeat to France, could be telling. The latter will be hoping to cause an upset to try and avoid a quarter final clash with Wales, who they have managed just one win against in their last eight attempts since the 2011 tournament.
Which leaves Scotland. A team that looked lost once again after a humiliating defeat to Ireland, who themselves have now lost convincingly to Japan. Such was the control and dominance of their 34-0 win on Monday morning, that their brave fan base couldn’t help but start to believe again.
So as we head into week two, we are left wondering, are Wales real contenders? Can England get the job done? Will Ireland be able to fight back? Are Scotland still in with a shot? And will any more tier two nations join Japan and Uruguay by producing unexpected victories?
We’ll know a lot more by the end of this huge week.
See BBC Sport or other online sports sites for a full list of results.