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Rugby World Cup 2023: Opening Weekend Round up!

Rugby World Cup 2023: Opening Weekend Round up! - Absolute Rugby

Matthew Buckland |

Wow, what a first weekend of the Rugby World Cup we have just seen. So let’s take a look at the incredible action we just saw and all of the highlights from a spectacular weekend of rugby.

The Perfect French start

After an impressive opening ceremony, it looked like France were faltering slightly in their big moment. Both the home favourites and the All Blacks looked nervous in the first half of the first game of the tournament.

New Zealand got the competition off to a brilliant start for them, scoring a try in just over 90 seconds. The All Blacks were just one point behind after an intense kicking battle in the first half.

Mark Telea opened things up in the second half, scoring a try that French fans believed came from a forward pass. Things got even better for New Zealand when Richie Mo’unga did the unthinkable and managed to stop Damian Penaud from scoring a spectacular try in the corner.

But no one could stop Penaud a couple of minutes later and France took the lead. From there, the French defence was a brick wall and it led to more gaps starting to appear. France continued kicking the penalties through and their 78th minute try put the icing on the cake for France.

A commanding victory over one of the best teams in the world was an excellent start for France. Having starting Hooker Julien Marchand off injured just 12 minutes into the game is a big blow for an already injured French squad. But France should now be able to cruise to the top of Pool A.

On the All-Blacks side, they will know this is far from the end of their tournament. New Zealand had good moments and at times they were able to match the physicality of this French team. They will be pleased that guys like Scott Barrett and Mark Telea had an excellent game and they are still a force moving forward.

Italy get it done vs Namibia

This was arguably the best Italian team that we have seen at a Rugby World Cup and so they were expected to put Namibia to the sword.

But Italy were behind four minutes into the game after a penalty from Tiaan Swanepoel. Italy were able to respond with a penalty of their own and from there, Kieran Crowley’s team just took over the game with their power and perfect execution.

First half tries from Lorenzo Cannone and Paolo Garbisi gave Italy a 17-8 lead at half time despite Namibia scoring a well worked try in the corner of their own. While there was some hope for a close game in the second half, Italy cruised to an incredibly confident victory with more gaps being found in the Namibian defence.

At the full-time whistle, Italy had seven different try scorers and won the game 52-8. The result puts them top of Pool A, but Italy will know that they need a miracle to beat either France or New Zealand and advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in their history.

For Namibia, they will still take positives from the game. They showed some attacking flair at times and will still be hoping they can win their first ever game at the Rugby World Cup against Uruguay in three weeks’ time.

Ireland crush Romania

Everyone knew that Ireland would be the victors in the second game on Saturday as they opened their tournament against Romania.

Ireland picked a pretty strong team for the game, including a returning Johnny Sexton. Similarly to Italy, Ireland were shocked by Romania landing the first blow in the game. A misplaced kick eventually led to Gabriel Rupanu giving Romania an unlikely lead.

Unfortunately for Romania, they seemingly poked the bear and Ireland did not make a mistake for the rest of the game. Ireland hit back in that first half with five tries to lead 33-8 at half time.

They added another seven tries in the second half, with Tadhg Beirne, Johnny Sexton, Bundee Aki and Peter O’Mahony all getting a brace. Ireland fans were a bit concerned just after Sexton scored one of his tries, as it looked like he had injured his wrist.

But the 38-year-old came back out in the second half unharmed. It seems like Ireland have done exactly what they wanted in this first game. A clear, dominant victory while being able to avoid any injuries.

It is certainly not the start that Romania were looking for. But against the best team in the world, they could not have hoped for much more.

Australia silence a few of the doubters

Seeing as they were heading into the tournament on a five-game losing streak, there were some fans believing Australia would be shocked by Georgia in the first game of their tournament.

Those fans were a little bit quieter after Australia’s ferocious attack broke through Georgia’s line within two minutes. Jordan Petaia scored the first and Mark Nawaqanitawase added the second within the first ten minutes to show that Australia still have an exceptional attack.

The excellent goal kicking of Ben Donaldson helped Australia take a 21-3 lead into the half. Georgian flanker Luka Ivanishvili slid into the corner and it started to look like Australia might be under some pressure towards the end of the game.

But a misplaced pass ended up in the hands of Donaldson and he scored Australia’s third of the game. His second try gave Australia the bonus point and secured an impressive start to the tournament for Eddie Jones side.

While the scoreline highlights the excellent Australian attack, the thing that was most impressive about the Wallabies was their physicality. The scrum had been the most dangerous weapon in the Georgian locker, but Australia were able to control the scrum and win penalties throughout the game.

Despite the loss, Georgia still had some excellent moment. They would have been expecting a loss in the pool stage at some point. Levan Maisashvili’s team showed that they still have a chance of getting out of the Pool.

England kick their way to victory

The opening game of Pool D was a crucial one, as many believed it would be the game which determined who would finish top. Things could not have started much worse for Steve Borthwick’s side.

A nasty head on head collision saw Tom Curry heading to the sin bin, with the yellow card being upgraded to a red. The prospect of playing 77 minutes with a man down against an Argentinian side who had beaten England for the first time recently was daunting.

Argentina took the lead through a penalty less than ten minutes into the game, so I don’t think anyone saw what was coming next. While neither team could really establish much dominance in attack, England took every chance available and scored not only penalties but drop goals.

George Ford was unbelievable good with the boot throughout the game. In total, he scored all 27 of England’s points as they cruised to the win. Nine of those points came from drop goals, with England being smart enough to not waste the ball in good positions and instead, take the points when they were available.

It was far from the perfect English performance, but Steve Borthwick’s team will be pleased that they have gotten four points from a very tough game. Four red cards in the last six months is a very bad sign for England and they need to improve their discipline.

Argentina did look good towards the end of the game, but there were way too many individual mistakes. Double digit handling errors as well as allowing England to dictate the ruck. It was one of the worst performances in the Michael Cheika era of Argentina and they will need to improve to get out of the Pool.

Japan cruise past World Cup debutants

Sunday at the Rugby World Cup began with Chile making their debut at the Rugby World Cup. They became the 26th different country to play at a Rugby World Cup and scored their first try just six minutes into the game.

Just a couple of minutes later Japan responded when Amato Fakatava cruised through the Chilean defence. Fakatava’s second along with a try from Jone Naikabula meant that Japan led 21-7 at the half.

Chile were able to close that lead down, with Alfonso Escobar scoring not long after half time. But once again, Japan replied with three tries of their own, securing not only the win but the bonus point as well.

Japan showed a lot of attacking intent throughout the game and scored some exciting tries. Considering the lacklustre attacks of England and Argentina, Japan will hope that they can replicate that performance and aim for back-to-back Rugby World Cup semi-finals.

Considering it was their first ever Rugby World Cup game, Chile were impressive. It would still however be a big surprise if they were able to claim a win this tournament.

South Africa’s bomb squad too strong for Scotland.

It is rare to see the number 2 and number 5 teams in the world against each other in the group stage, but that is how Scotland and South Africa started their tournament.

A tight, physical affair was expected and that is exactly how the game began. In the first few minutes of the game, Springbok centre Jesse Kriel was incredibly lucky to not even concede a penalty for a head-on-head collision with Jack Dempsey.

6-3 at half time meant Scotland were certainly in the game, but things changed in the second half. Despite some valiant Scottish defence, Pieter Steph du Toit crossed the line for the games first try.

An incredible, no look cross field kick from Mannie Libbok put Kurt-Lee Arendse in for the games second try. In that second half, the power and pressure that South Africa put on the Scots was too much for them, with Finn Russell’s first half penalty being the only points Scotland scored.

South Africa will be pleased to have negotiated a very tough group game, while the early substitution of Eben Etzebeth will be a big concern.

Scotland will point to Jesse Kriel’s first half tackle, but they will missed some big opportunities. If they are to upset Ireland and advance to the quarterfinals, Scotland need fewer mistakes. They will at least be pleased that they were able to match the physicality of one of the best teams in the world.

Wales survive a late Fijian scare

The final game of the weekend was an absolute cracker between two teams who will both be aiming for the quarterfinals.

Warren Gatland’s team got off to a flying start, leading 8-0 just seven minutes into the game. But Fiji replied with some spectacular tries of their own. Captain Waisea Nayacalevu carved through the Welsh defence and over for the team’s first try.

He was also instrumental in the break that led to Mesake Doge adding the second. Wales were on the back foot and it looked like they had no answer for the Fijian attack. But the water break midway through the first half seemed to be a turning point for Wales.

A brilliant pass from Nick Tompkins put George North under the posts. Louis Rees Zammit extended Wales lead in the second half and a driving maul try with 15 minutes to go seemed to put the game to bed.

But the Fijian pressure led to tries from Josua Tuisova and Mesake Doge. They even had the ball in Wales 22 with seconds remaining. Heartbreakingly, superstar centre Semi Radradra dropped the ball to end the game.

Fiji will still be pleased with the result, as poor officiating should have led to them having a man advantage towards the end of the game. Wales will certainly be the happier side, thrilled to start their tournament with a tough win and a bonus point. Both teams still have aspirations for the quarterfinals.

 What was your highlight of the weekend? Let us know in the comments.

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