ScrumV; Pro12 stars can shine at 2015 Rugby World Cup

By Ross HarriesScrum V
Nikola Matawalu drops ball over the try line
Fiji's Nikola Matwalu (right) has signed for Bath next season

In his latest column, BBC Scrum V presenter Ross Harris ponders the impact of the Rugby World Cup's opening weekend, which began with hosts England's 35 – 11 victory over Fiji.

On Friday night, Nikola Matawalu scored one of the greatest solo tries the World Cup has seen. Or he would have, had the referee's gaze not wandered to the big screen while Ben Volavola was lining up the conversion.

The replay confirmed that the flying Fijian had dropped the ball in the act of scoring, and the try was disallowed.

To the casual fan, Matawalu appeared to be a revelation - an impish, harrying scrum-half with enough pace to cruise past England's fastest player en route to the try line. To those that follow the Pro12, it was confirmation of what we all knew; that the former Glasgow scrum-half has the talent to shine brightly on the world's biggest stage.

It's a point worth remembering as domestic rugby in the Celtic nations takes a two-week break. There are more players from the Pro12 at the World Cup than there are from any other professional league. If they can capture the imagination of a new generation of fans over the next few weeks, domestic rugby could reap the benefits in the seasons to come.

Referee Jaco Peyper
Referee Jaco Peyper was over-reliant on the TMO

TMOver the top

The influence of the Television Match Official (TMO) needs to be minimised. The World Cup opener between England and Fiji lasted more than 100 minutes. Not because of any lengthy injury breaks, but because of a series of increasingly irritating and needless TMO referrals.

Jaco Peyper may have had to contend with a number of new directives, and the small matter of a global audience of millions, but his nerve deserted him too often, and led to enormous frustration among the crowd.

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The assistant referee was perfectly placed to adjudge whether Nemani Nadolo had scored from a cross- kick, but it was referred. Peyper was right at the heart of the action when Tom Wood wrenched his opponent from a rolling maul using the so-called "neck roll". That too, was referred. Nigel Owens would have made a decision in an instant.

Ironically, the only time Peyper didn't immediately refer a decision was when Matawalu "scored". That was the one occasion when he'd have been justified as he hadn't seen the grounding. If Jonny May couldn't keep pace with Matawalu, Peyper didn't have a prayer.

But as discussed, it wasn't until the conversion was on the verge of being struck that he changed his mind. Technology is there to make sure decisions that are made are the right ones. There are times when it is absolutely necessary. But a happy medium needs to be struck if we're to attract new fans during the tournament.

Nikola Matawalu distributes the ball off the back of a strong scrum
Fiji's scrum was impressive against England

Fiji not be underestimated

Wales watched the World Cup opener in the team room at their Vale of Glamorgan base. One imagines they weren't surrounded by pizza and beer like most World Cup fans.

Forwards coach Robin McBryde says he wasn't remotely surprised by Fiji's impressive scrummaging performance, but was a little taken aback by their intensity at the breakdown. The Pacific Islanders frustrated England all night, and forced an admirable eleven turnovers. It could prompt Gatland to reprise his experiment of playing two opensides, as he's set to do against Uruguay on Sunday.

Points to prove

The pool of death has provided more than its fair share of metaphors over the past few months. Fiji are the pirhanas, capable of taking a chunk out of any of the big predators. Australia are the sharks - looking more and more menacing the longer Michael Cheika's at the helm. And Wales - according to former All Blacks captain Justin Marshall - are the silent assassins.

BBC Sport - Rugby World Cup 2015: Wales can be 'silent assassins'

Aside from these colourful metaphors, the fixation has been on points difference. In a pool which contains four of the world's top ten teams, winning margins have been thought to be the ultimate difference between a quarter-final and an early exit.

Not necessarily so. Pro12 viewers are used to the vagaries of the bonus points system, and these could play a bigger part than winning margins alone, as could individual results against opponents. For example, Wales beat Uruguay by 45 points, and England could beat them by 60 points.

But if Wales beat England, and the teams end up level on points, Gatland's men will qualify at their expense. All hypothetical for now, but Billy Vunipola's last-minute try at Twickenham against Fiji could grow in significance as the weeks go by.

Scarlets set the pace

The Scarlets' Steffan Evans is felled by Glasgow's Rob Harley
The Scarlets top the Pro12 table after two rounds despite conceding six yellow cards

The first six weeks of this season's Pro12 are an opportunity to make hay while the sun shines. For certain teams, that is. Those with the fewest World Cup absentees should be taking full advantage.

The Dragons and Connacht are only missing two players each, but its the Scarlets who've roared out of the blocks.

In the absence of Liam Williams, Scott Williams, Ken Owens, Gareth Davies and Jake Ball, they've defied expectations to top the table after two weeks. They've beaten the defending champions, and one of last season's semi-finalists.

When their stars return, perhaps emboldened by another successful World Cup run, the bookies may be rushing to shorten the odds on the Scarlets lifting the trophy this year.

The Pro12 returns from Friday, 2 October. All the weekend's Pro12 highlights follow on Sundays on BBC Two Wales and the Scrum V website.