World Rugby

C'est Magnifique The Five Key Takeaways From A Sublime World Cup Weekend

C'est Magnifique The Five Key Takeaways From A Sublime World Cup Weekend

Unveil standout moments and surprises from Rugby World Cup 2023's opening weekend in France. Here are the five key takeaways from all of the matches.

Sep 11, 2023 by Briar Napier
C'est Magnifique The Five Key Takeaways From A Sublime World Cup Weekend

What a weekend, eh?

Finally, after four years away, the Rugby World Cup has returned, and with the scorching temperatures across France for much of the weekend came some white-hot rugby with it worthy of your attention.

The hosts got the party started by picking up a historic victory over a former champion, and pool stage openers across the tournament gave first looks at how the directions of each pool may go. For those who’ve had points that they need to prove in France, this past weekend was the first step toward those teams answering the pre-tournament questions that had come their way.

The best part? The World Cup action is only just getting started; there’s over a month more of this to come, and FloRugby will be providing top-class coverage and analysis all tournament long.

Here’s a look at five talking points from the first round of play at the Rugby World Cup, with pool play in France continuing Thursday when the hosts play Uruguay in Lille:

Magnifique Bleus

In front of a raucous sellout crowd at the Stade de France to open the Rugby World Cup on Friday, France did something that no nation had ever previously been able to do entering what is now the 10th edition of the tournament — defeat New Zealand in a pool stage fixture. 

Nearly 79,000 spectators watched Les Bleus largely dominate the game’s final half-hour and pick up a massive 27-13 victory to kick off play in Pool A and give France, penned by many as one of the favourites to hoist the Webb Ellis Cup in a few weeks’ time, an immediate shot in the arm and surge of momentum to get its championship charge going. 

It wasn’t a completely perfect win; the All Blacks’ Mark Talea scored 91 seconds to put France on the back foot almost immediately while he additionally secured the fastest try ever in a World Cup opener in the process. But the sure scoring off the tee from Toulouse fullback Thomas Ramos (6-for-8 kicking, including five penalties) pushed Les Bleus to a narrow 9-8 lead at the intermission. 

Talea got his second try just a few minutes into the second half, but from there, it was all France. 

Without captain Sam Cane (a late injury replacement) in the fold, New Zealand’s defenses began to break down in the second half once winger Damian Penaud crossed over in the 55th minute, and as Ramos extended the lead with his boot, a late Melvyn Jaminet try put the exclamation point on a scorching-hot night in Saint-Denis and a magical moment for French rugby.

Ford Fires England Past Pumas

Without multiple key players available (Anthony Watson due to injury, Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola due to suspension), England, facing a dangerous and rejuvenated Argentina side which has picked up multiple strong victories under coach Michael Cheika, needed men to step up in their absence. 

Things only seemed to be going from bad to worse just moments after kickoff, too, when outside flanker Tom Curry was sent off just three minutes into the match for a head-to-head collision, leaving England a man down for the vast majority of the match. 

Step forward, George Ford. 

The Sale Sharks fly-half had, considering the circumstances, arguably his finest performance in an England shirt, going a perfect 9 for 9 with his boot (six penalties, three drop goals) as he scored every single English point in their comfortable 27-10 victory over the Pumas, with Argentina only finding a try in the 79th minute when the match by then was far out of its reach. 

It was exactly the type of top-class performance that England needed in what’s been a tumultuous tenure thus far for coach Steve Borthwick, and if his team can skate by giant-killers Japan on Sunday (with Vunipola back as Farrell will be forced to sit one more game) while being at the top of the pool, England should be a in a comfortable spot heading into the knockouts.

Wales Fends Off Fiji, Wallabies Win

The wide-open Pool C, arguably the most competitive pool at this year’s World Cup, could see all sorts of different combinations of countries advance to the quarterfinals. 

Saturday’s pool opener between sputtering Australia and a dangerous Georgia side was a particularly intriguing match with Wallabies coach Eddie Jones opting to omit numerous established names from his World Cup squad in favor of youth, but at least after the first game, Jones’ gamble has paid off. 

New South Wales Waratahs fullback Ben Donaldson was brilliant in just his fourth cap, collecting a brace with a pair of second-half tries while going 6 for 7 off the tee in Australia’s 35-15 victory over the Lelos. Sure enough, youth led the way for the Wallabies; Donaldson is just 24, while the other try scorers, Jordan Petaia and Mark Nawaqanitawase, are just 23 and 22, respectively. 

In the pool’s other match of the opening weekend, Wales and Fiji kicked off their World Cups against each other in one of the matches of the tournament thus far, and Wales — after nearly a year straight of disappointing performances — picked up a much-needed 32-26 win over the Flying Fijians in an electric end-to-end encounter that saw the Fijians rally back from 32-14 last to make things interesting and establish to the rest of the teams in the pool that they are, as always, never truly out of a match until it’s over. 

For Wales, meanwhile, it was a rejuvenating performance as winger Josh Adams was spectacular, scoring seven minutes in and later unleashing a brutal tackle that (literally) knocked the pants off of Fiji’s Selestino Ravutaumada. 

Ireland’s Ruthless Romp

Ireland entered the World Cup as the No. 1-ranked international side in the world, and in its Pool B opener against Romania, it played like it. 

Ireland ripped the Stejarii apart for 12 tries in an 82-8 romp, notching its most lopsided victory ever at a World Cup as four different players — Tadhg Beirne, Bundee Aki, Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony — had braces to help their side pick up the bonus point. Romania actually struck first in the third minute as Gabriel Rupanu notched a try and briefly got his country out in front, but Ireland put the pedal to the metal from that point forward and was in little danger the rest of the way. 

Sexton, with 24 points in all, also added onto his already-decorated career for club and country by becoming Ireland’s all-time leading World Cup scorer (passing Ronan O’Gara) in the win as he continues to romp and roll in major tournaments for his country at the age of 38. 

Tougher tests are undoubtedly coming — the meat of the “Pool of Death,” featuring Tonga, South Africa and Scotland in that order, is ahead — but coach Andy Farrell will find it hard to complain about 82 points in the roasting heat in Bordeaux ahead of a stretch of matches that will define where Ireland will stand following pool play.

Springboks Shoo Away Scotland

Scotland, tipped by many to be the tournament’s dark horses after an excellent summer series against France and a third-place finish in the Six Nations, had an immediate chance to prove it in the opening weekend against the reigning world champion, South Africa. 

And when Scotland looked right up to par with the Springboks in the first half and only found itself down 6-3 going into the changing room, Scotland, which has earned a reputation recently as a strong second-half team, especially following spirited performances after halftime against the French last month, appeared at least in the hunt for potential history and possibly notching just their third win over South Africa this century. 

The Springboks can quickly arrive in devastating force, however, and tries four minutes apart from Pieter-Steph du Toit and Kurt-Lee Arendse — the latter of which was set up by a sublime no-look, pinpoint kick across the pitch from fly-half Manie Libbok —reminded Scotland (and everyone else watching) that top to bottom, there may be no squad more talented in France right now than the Boks.

Combine Libbok’s moment of magic with the face that the team’s massive pack, which efficiently wore Scotland down all game, will beat and break most of the world if they’re allowed to become a major part of matches, and South Africa, as almost always, will be a major player for the Weeb Ellis.