The Rugby World Cup is finally here and we are already preparing for the second weekend of the tournament. So let’s take a look at the major storylines from the week, as well as previewing the exciting games coming up.
Big News headlines this week
Injuries hit multiple teams
The Rugby World Cup is always a gruelling tournament. The sheer amount of high intensity, physical rugby that is played over such a short amount of time means that injuries are inevitable. It is not just the games where injuries happen, but also in training.
The Springboks received heartbreaking news on Thursday when they learned that 2019 RWC Final winning Hooker Malcolm Marx had torn his ACL in training. It is a tough injury for the reigning world champions as they know have just one healthy Hooker in the squad. There are also few Hookers in the world who can offer as much threat at the ruck.
South Africa have not yet called up a replacement, with utility forward Deon Fourie on the bench as the replacement Hooker this weekend against Romania. The Springboks were at least told that the injury that took Eben Etzebeth out of the Scotland game early on will only keep him out for 10 days.
Springbok fans have also been encouraged by news away from the tournament. 2019 starter Handre Pollard is on the bench for his club side Leicester Tigers this weekend. This means there is a small chance that Pollard could feature for South Africa later in the tournament.
Eddie Jones Australian side also saw an injury in training. Explosive prop Taniela Tupou is out of the team’s clash this weekend against Fiji. Tupou was brilliant against Georgia and he will be missed against a tough Fijian pack this weekend.
It is not the only concern for the Wallabies heading into the weekend. Captain Will Skelton has sustained a minor calf injury in training. The rumours are that Skelton will miss the game against Fiji this weekend, but scans on Friday should confirm whether the injury is more serious than first thought. Vice-captain Tate McDermott is out of the game with a concussion.
Concussion is the reason for David Cherry being ruled out of the remainder of the Rugby World Cup. But it was not an incident at training or even a nasty collision in a game. In fact, Cherry slipped down the stairs at the team hotel on a day off and the decision has been made to end his tournament early.
France almost embarrass themselves against Uruguay
The second weekend of Rugby World Cup action began with hosts France up against Uruguay. This French side had began their tournament with an impressive victory against the All Blacks and saw this game against Uruguay as a great opportunity to rotate their squad. They made 12 changes from the team that opened the tournament against New Zealand.
Facing the hosts of the tournament is a tough way for the tournament to start for Uruguay. Having never beaten France before, the expectations were for the home side to run up the score against Uruguay.
Despite the French getting on the scoreboard first, the home side were not happy with the way the game started. A wonderful cross field kick from Felipe Etcheverry gave Nicolas Freitas the opportunity to give Uruguay the shock lead. The French crows were silent as they saw their side losing to the 17th ranked team in the world.
Antoine Hastoy crossed over for France before Baltazar Amaya scored the second try for Uruguay. At this point there was just one point in it. But sadly for Los Teros fans, Uruguay just started to make too many mistakes that France capitalised on. A charged down kick led to Peato Mauvaka extending the French lead.
With eight minutes remaining, Uruguay’s defence was too thin and allowed Louis Bielle-Biarrey to stroll across and score. It was certainly not the easiest victory for France and they were let off the hook by mistakes.
They were lucky not only with the oppositions mistakes, but also with a questionable call from the bunker. A nasty no arms tackle from Romain Taofifenua led to him going to the sin bin and the feeling was that he would not be returning. But mitigation led to the towering lock returning to the field.
Uruguay will be thrilled with an excellent performance against one of the best teams in the world. If they can somehow cut down on those mistakes, they could make things interesting against Italy and Namibia.
Previewing the Weekends games
Round 2 of the Rugby World Cup Pool stage is throwing up some massively important games. Number one team in the world Ireland will have to face a tough Tongan side featuring a few former All Blacks.
On Sunday, there are two very important Pool games. Fiji will look to keep their tournament alive against the Wallabies. The final game of the weekend sees Japan look to build on their impressive win over Chile against an England team with an interesting new tactic.
New Zealand vs Namibia
The weekend games begin on Friday night with New Zealand facing Namibia. The All Blacks would have been disappointed with the way they fell apart in the second half against France in the first game of the tournament.
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has called the game vital and you can see that in the team selection. Six players from last week start against Namibia, with superstars like Scott Barrett, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga and Rieko Ioane on the bench.
Sam Whitelock is part of the retained group and he will make his 148th appearance for New Zealand. This equals Richie McCaw’s national appearance record, which will surely now be broken by Whitelock later in the tournament.
Namibia will have been disappointed with the one-sided nature of the result against Italy. It is not going to be easy for Allister Coetzee’s team, as New Zealand have scored 20 tries in the two tests they have played against Namibia. It is likely to be a one-sided game to start the weekend.
Samoa vs Chile
Samoa finally have the chance to begin their tournament this weekend as they face Chile. Seeing as they have been able to add some new stars thanks to the changes in World Rugby’s eligibility rules, Samoa have high expectations this weekend.
Christian Leali’ifano will start at fly-half for Samoa, having played for Australia at the last tournament. They have picked a strong team for this first game, with former All Blacks Lima Sopoaga and Steven Luatua also featuring in the squad. Theo McFarland is going to be crucial to Samoa as he starts at lock against Chile.
Samoa’s opponents are coming off the back of a 42-12 loss in the opening game of their tournament to Japan. Chile began that game excellently but need to keep that focus throughout the entire 80 minutes to have a chance at a shock upset against Samoa.
Wales vs Portugal
Wales were let off the hook last week by Fiji, but they will just be pleased to begin their tournament with a win. Warren Gatland’s team now have to turn their attention to the team playing in their first Rugby World Cup game since 2007 in Portugal.
Gatland has seen this as an opportunity to rotate, making 13 changes to the team that narrowly edged out Fiji last week. Hooker Dewi Lake comes in as captain, with Exeter duo Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza starting together in the second row.
Wales will want to make as few mistakes as possible against a Portugal side that are looking to cause an upset. Portugal’s captain Tomas Appleton said his team have to be at their best to beat Wales. Portugal are benefitting from having the majority of the same squad that qualified for the tournament last year.
The two teams have met just once before in Rugby World Cup qualifying, with Wales winning 102-11 in 1994. Portugal will certainly hope things go differently on Saturday.
Ireland vs Tonga
After their huge win over Romania, Ireland face a very tough test against Tonga. Andy Farrell has identified just how good this Tongan side is, as this Irish team is almost the strongest that he could have picked. World Rugby Player of the Year Josh Van der Flier is one of four players coming into this team.
Johnny Sexton stays in the side despite a slight wrist knock in the big win over Romania. Robbie Henshaw returns to the squad from injury and will feature from the bench against Tonga.
Tonga have picked a similarly strong side. If they are to upset Ireland, then some of the team’s superstars need to step up. Former Ulster fullback Charles Piutau starts for Tonga and will be playing against some of his former teammates.
Piutau is not the only former All Black starting for Tonga this weekend, with Malakai Fekitoa, Augustine Pulu and Vaea Fifita also featuring in the Tongan XV. Tighthead prop Ben Tameifuna captains the side and William Havili will be hugely important in organising the Tongan attack.
Ireland need to give Tonga as few opportunities as possible. As long as they can get their set piece working with few mistakes, Ireland seem to be an unstoppable force at the moment.
South Africa vs Romania
The Springboks showed their world class ability in the second half against Scotland, avoiding an upset that could have seen them struggle to get out of the Pool stage. But with that win, South Africa look forward and need to focus on Romania next.
The Springboks have made 14 changes to the team that beat Scotland, with Damian Willemse the only starter retained. When the team to face Romania was announced, it shocked fans that head coach Jacques Nienaber picked all four scrum halves in one squad.
Cobus Reinach starts at nine, with Grant Williams starting on the wing. South Africa have two scrum halves on the bench, with Jaden Hendrikse covering scrum half and Faf de Klerk covering Fly-half.
Romania have a very tough test. They were on the end of a hammering from Ireland and now they have to face the reigning world champions. There have been three personnel changes to the Romanian side, with last weeks try scorer Gabriel Rupanu one of the players keeping his place in the team.
Australia vs Fiji
The second game on Sunday is going to be huge in determining the two teams that go through to the quarterfinals. Fiji are coming off the back of a heartbreaking loss to Wales where Semi Radrarda’s knock on ended their comeback.
They have made four changes from the loss, including superstars Levani Botia and Josua Tuisova starting. A win is absolutely crucial for Fiji. Two losses in their first two games and any chance of them advancing to the quarterfinals is all but over. So Fiji need to do something they have not since 1954 and beat Australia.
For the Wallabies, this game is not quite as important. They still desperately need to win, but it is not the end of their tournament if they do lose. Eddie Jones will be without captain Will Skelton and vice-captain Tate McDermott who are both ruled out of this game by injury.
Superstar prop Taniela Tupou is also out of the game. Despite this, Australia will still be the favourites for this exciting game.
England vs Japan
The final game of the weekend is a matchup of two teams in Pool D. England began their tournament with a brilliant win over Argentina. They now face the other winning team in their group, Japan.
England will be encouraged by a good result over Argentina, but they will remember that Japan have an excellent record at the two previous tournaments. The 2019 tournament hosts also began their tournament with an emphatic win over Chile.
The final game of the weekend looks set to be an exciting one and if England can pull off the win, then the quarterfinals are almost a certainty for Steve Borthwick’s side.