The Minnows Came to Play at Rugby World Cup 2019

Chris Wyatt, Kumamoto, October 7th, 2019


DJCoil Rugby Disclaimer: It is not the policy of this news service to make predictions about rugby matches. The predictions made in this article are relevant to the article, but only reflect the opinions of the author. The word choice of Minnows is also the author’s.”


Each successive world cup we hear the chant that the “minnows can no longer be disregarded.”  While upsets have been rare, games between traditional rugby powerhouses and the minnows (non-traditional rugby union nations that compete primarily with lower-ranked teams) have become more competitive.  The chorus grew louder after Japan shocked South Africa at Brighton 34-32 in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.  But aside from the Japan upset in 2015, it remains rare for a minnow to upset a Tier 1 nation.  And frankly, we really can’t call Japan a minnow any longer.  They have moved up into or at least just below Tier 1 status with their consistent good play and top ten rankings.

So here we are again at an RWC and many pundits have proclaimed that the gap between the top tier and the minnows is narrowing.  Are they correct? Perhaps.  But one thing is clear: in Japan, the minnows came to play, not get a participation ribbon.  There have only been two major upsets after 28 pool stage games, with 70 percent of the pool stage complete.  The first was an amazing game on September 25th at Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium where Uruguay stunned Fiji 30-27.  The second shocker was just three days later when host Japan topped a bewildered Ireland side 19-12 at Shizuoka.  Since then we have seen no other upsets, though Tonga came very close against France in Kumamoto.  

The Uruguay and Japan games are hardly enough to support the argument that the “gap is closing” between the top dogs and everyone else.  But let’s not shut the argument down so quickly.  If we look closely, one will notice a quiet difference with minnows often holding their own for much of the game against the giants.  Although Russia lost to Ireland 35-0, they played very well in the first half and held the powerful Irish to 21 points in Kobe.  France either is not up to snuff or took the United States too lightly. The consequence was a very nervous French bench and incredulous fans at 65 minutes in a 12-9 contest.  True, the French scored a trio of late tries to pull away.  But at minute 65, even a lot of France fans thought the Eagles could win.  Even the mighty All Blacks were looking a bit bewildered leading 10-9 over a gritty Namibia in the 35th minute before they began to put some distance between them and the Welwitschias.  Speaking of Namibia, the Welwitschias scored 22 points against Italy in their opener.  And finally, Tonga nearly toppled France in tough 23-21 loss in Kumamoto.  

In most of these games, the traditional rugby nations eventually pulled away.  In many cases, this was a result of tired minnows who lack the depth of the powerhouses and were eventually worn down after valiant efforts.  What does this mean for the remaining twelve pool games?  Are there any upsets left to come?  We may not see any upsets but there should be some competitive rugby and that’s what we all want to see, no?  It may be fine to see your team score a dozen tries, but a 107-0 score is not good rugby no matter how you look at it.

I will make the case that in many ways the gap is indeed closing.  But there is much work to be done before it closes.  In the meantime, as I stated, at this world cup at least: the minnows came to play!  With that in mind, I offer a few “bold predictions” for the remaining 12 pool stage games:

1.  The USA can beat Argentina (October 9th).

2.  Namibia will win its first-ever RWC match by beating Canada (October 13th).

3.  Despite Tonga’s impressive performance against France, USA will beat Tonga (October 13th)

4.  Japan WILL beat Scotland (October 13th) to capture the top Pool A spot.  Almost no one is mentioning it, but this is revenge for the 2015 game.

The minnows are biting at Rugby World Cup 2019.


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Chris Wyatt is a guest journalist for DJCoil Rugby who is attending the 2019 Rugby World Cup. His periodic articles will provide another perspective for matches attended.

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