by Ian Taplin, Academy Performance Manager, Wasps RFC

This is the most open World Cup in history as 20 of professionalism now means that most of the nations competing have squads who have been able to prepare for the global celebration of the oval ball game. As such 100 point winning margins will be a thing of the past and this tournament should provide the springboard for Rugby Union becoming a truly competitive world game.

The World Cup 2015 kicked off this week with an opening ceremony that displayed the well organised and thought out choreography that the team that eventually lifts the Webb Ellis Cup will need along with no small amount of effort, skill and a slice of good fortune. England were effective if unspectacular in gaining the bonus point win against Fiji but will be very satisfied with the result and will feel that they will grow in performance as the group games roll on.

This World Cup in its first week has already shown that since the game went professional in 1995 the gap between the emerging nations and the games traditional superpowers is rapidly diminishing. The most obvious example was the stunning victory of Japan's Brave Blossoms over the twice World Champion Springboks in a pulsating game which had the fairytale ending with a winning try with the final play of the game. The Georgians are also smashing their way into the World Cup party and their defeat of Tonga will have the demonstrated to the other teams in the group that this is a nation that will ensure that you know you have been in a game.

The much improved displays by Romania, Namibia, Uruguay and the huge potential that the USA has to become a major force displays how the improving technical, tactical and physical attributes have gone a long way to levelling the playing field. The Pacific Island nations are always a threat and had the global game ensured that the talent drain from these countries was stemmed then one or more would by now have been genuine contenders for Semi-Final berths. The country that outside of the old Five Nations and SANZAC unions that is best placed to break into the established old guard, is Argentina. They have built on the 3rd place at the 2007 World Cup by putting in place a solid infrastructure at home and competing annually against the All Blacks, Australia and South Africa has undoubtedly accelerated their development.

Having been granted an expansion team for the Super Rugby tournament the Argentinean Union has managed to secure the vast majority of the World Cup squad to this fledgling team which will further allow the national team to develop by being able to ensure players are released for international camps. Unlike the Pacific Island nations whose players are dispersed around the globe and as such are beholden to the many European clubs who are their paymasters.

I was fortunate this week to spend a day observing the Pumas in camp and they looked like a squad very comfortable with each other's company and clearly understand the way that they play and the strengths they have as a collective group. Another semi-final is certainly well within their capability and they are team that no-one will be taking lightly. This weekend though the spotlight will fall on the traditional rivalry between England and Wales which will see the two nations who probably invest more time in the pursuit of marginal gains than any others. It will be interesting to see if this is the determining factor or whether an old fashioned flash of brilliance is the critical difference.


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