World Cup Minnows Battle Odds, Schedule
Rugby's minnows are the revelation of this World Cup but many are hampered by tight scheduling which has left them facing two games in one week, while the sport's giants have twice as long to recover.
Highlights of the first week's clashes saw lesser powers such as Japan, Romania and Tonga trouble the leading teams, but their huge efforts to close the gap risk being undermined by the two-tier scheduling system.
Canada play France on Sunday, giving them just three days' break after Wednesday's sensational late win over Tonga - who had only four days to recuperate from Friday's brave, bone-crunching loss to the All Blacks.
Tonga coach Isitolo Maka brought in 11 new players for the Canada game, saying he needed "fresh legs" after Friday's opener against New Zealand.
"It makes me laugh really when tier-two countries have four-day turn-arounds and all the tier-one countries have seven-day turn-arounds and eight-day turn-arounds," said Canada coach Kieran Crowley.
"But hey, it is what it is. We knew what it was when the draw came out in the first place and we're trying to do some things around our preparation to mirror what's happening."
United States captain Todd Clever admitted "it hasn't been ideal" to play Ireland and Russia within five days, while Georgia coach Richie Dixon bemoaned a schedule which has his team playing Scotland and England in the same week.
"The draw has not been kind to us and some of the other teams but you have to live in the real world and just get on with it really," Dixon said.
Tournament spokesman Mike Jaspers said organisers were aware of the frustrations but they believed they had produced the "best balanced schedule to date for a rugby World Cup".
Only five teams have 14 rest days or less in the month-long pool stage, down from seven in 2007, he said. But Jasper added that TV audiences - dependent on heavyweight teams playing at weekends - were a major factor in the scheduling.
"This is a tournament with global interest, not just New Zealand. Factors considered were fan appeal, broadcast and commercial considerations as well as player welfare," he told AFP.
"So we think this is a fair and balanced schedule for all teams while also achieving the best result in terms of the wider interests of the game," Jaspers added.
"The broadcast revenues that are generated by scheduling around the top nations matches are reinvested by the IRB (International Rugby Board) to increase the competitiveness of the so-called smaller nations."
Tonga halfback Taniela Moa admitted the short break between games had been challenging for his team, which had just one training session together between the All Blacks and Canada defeats.
"We had 11 changes for this game but we only trained once so it was quite tough," he said.
But most players and coaches appear to accept the difficulties as a reality of a growing game, and are proudly determined not to blame scheduling for their performances.
"There's lots of teams that are in the same boat," said bearded Canadian flanker Adam Kleeberger, Man of the Match against Tonga.
"There's going to be quick turn-arounds, it's just that type of tournament and we're not going to use that as an excuse."