Five Talking Points From Week Two Of The 2023 Rugby World Cup
Five Talking Points From Week Two Of The 2023 Rugby World Cup
Discover the Rugby World Cup 2023's top five match takeaways, from thrilling moments to game-changing plays, get the inside scoop now.
The rugby’s pretty good right now, don't you think?
The second week of the Rugby World Cup didn’t disappoint after a scintillating opening weekend, with favourites and those likely to advance to the knockouts starting to fall into place after 160-plus minutes of rugby for many of the teams playing right now in France.
The rest of pool stage play can make things go haywire over the coming weeks. However, after some eye-opening performances from several nations over the past few days, that chaos may be more likely to happen than not.
Stick around for a while — things are about to get wild at the World Cup.
Here’s a look at five takeaways and talking points worth examining following the second weekend at the Rugby World Cup:
Fiji Boosts Knockout Chances, Makes History
After the devastation, Fiji suffered at the end of its 32-26 defeat to Wales last weekend — when Semi Radradra mishandled a last-ditch pass in extra time, which would’ve likely resulted in a try, setting Fiji up for a potential match-winning conversion — the perpetual underdogs from the South Pacific deserved a bit of jubilation.
How about getting it in the form of beating Australia for the first time in 69 years?
In a historic victory for Fiji with one of the nation’s finest results ever (either away or at the World Cup), it erased the pain of the agonizing loss to Wales by picking up a mammoth 22-15 win over the Wallabies in Saint-Etienne, giving the Flying Fijians the Tier 1 win they likely needed in Pool C play in order to have a chance at advancing to the quarterfinals.
Fiji, which entered this weekend’s fixture having lost 17 out of its last 18 against the two-time world champions, saw Josua Tuisova pounce on an Aussie miscommunication following a kick and go all the way for a crucial try in the 43rd minute while perfect kicking from Simione Kuruvoli (5 for 5, including four penalties) plus an extra penalty from Frank Lomani helped give Fiji enough of a cushion to hold off the Wallabies’ final charges and beat them for the first time since 1954.
Having last made the World Cup knockout rounds in 2007, Fiji — as long as it avoids disaster in the coming weeks against Georgia and Portugal — has a serious chance to return to the elimination bracket with Wales and Australia still yet to play each other, holding the torch in what could be a groundbreaking tournament for the Pacific islands.
Are The Wallabies in Danger of An Early Exit?
The flip side of Fiji’s epic triumph against Australia is, of course, the question of what in the world has gone wrong with the Wallabies.
With plenty of cracks on the team’s surface already entering the World Cup as it arrived in France after having gone through successive defeats, coach Eddie Jones — amid his second tenure on the touchline with his home country — now must pull another rabbit out of the hat in a World Cup with Australia’s unblemished record of getting to the knockout stage (with at least a quarterfinals trip in every edition of the World Cup) now in legitimate jeopardy.
Without the victory over Fiji, the Wallabies now almost certainly have to defeat Wales on Sunday in Lyon to keep their knockout-round hopes alive, but they do have the advantage of their last win in the Autumn Nations Series last year being against Wales in a 39-34 triumph away from Australia in Cardiff. New South Wales Waratahs winger Mark Nawaqanitawase has scored tries in both of the Wallabies’ World Cup matches to date against Georgia and Fiji, and at age 23, has played a key part in Jones’ youth-focused squad selection that’s seen its share of highs and lows already in France.
Australia must look for more of the former option against Wales, however, or else risk elimination and subsequent humiliation.
Where Does England Fit Ford and Farrell?
Without its skipper, Owen Farrell, for its first two matches of the World Cup due to a red-card suspension in the leadup to the tournament, a sputtering England (which also lost to Fiji at Twickenham in a World Cup warmup match) was challenged to find form and leadership elsewhere with its two most difficult games in Pool D against Argentina and Japan occurring right from the start in France.
To the relief of under-fire coach Steve Borthwick and English supporters everywhere, the team’s first two World Cup weekends went about as well as they could’ve, considering the circumstances.
After an epic 9-for-9 kicking job from George Ford in the opening-round win against the Pumas, England then let loose for a bonus-point victory over Japan by a 34-12 margin Sunday in Nice, leaving Borthwick’s squad at the top of the pool on nine points as Farrell returns for selection for the remaining pool games. The try scoring was paired with Ford continuing to excel off of the tee, going 6 for 7 with a perfect mark on conversions as he remains the World Cup’s top point-scorer (at 41 points) through two weeks.
How Borthwick fits Farrell into the squad with the in-form Ford — as both are natural fly-halves — will be a major decision from the England boss, however, especially as England appears to be bound for a spot in the quarterfinals, where many potential clashes with tournament favourites loom. Still, it’s not a bad problem to have, and with the possibilities to tweak with lineups and/or rest players ahead in the pool against Samoa and/or Chile, watch for how the duo may coexist.
All Blacks, Springboks and Ireland Dominate
Three of the favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup — No. 1-ranked Ireland, defending world champions South Africa and New Zealand, whose reputation at the World Cup goes without saying — all had lighter fixtures in pool play this weekend and all cruised to dominant wins as a result.
For the All Blacks in particular, after they lost to host France in the World Cup opener to be beaten in the pool stage for the first time ever, they needed to let off some steam in their second match in France to get back on track. Namibia was the unfortunate recipient of what was to come.
New Zealand blitzed the Welwitschias for 11 tries as part of a 71-3 demolition that was a celebratory night for the All Blacks for multiple reasons; 22-year-old No. 9 Cam Roigard got the start and scored a brace in just his third senior international game, while legendary lock Sam Whitelock equalled Richie McCaw’s all-time All Blacks caps record with his 148th appearance.
Elsewhere in Pool B, Ireland routed Tonga 59-12 as captain Johnny Sexton made history of his own, breaking Ronan O’Gara’s all-time Ireland scoring record as he picked up a try and went 5 for 5 with his boot in the blowout. One of Ireland’s Pool B mates in South Africa, meanwhile, shut out Romania with a 76-0, 12-try drubbing in which Cobus Reinach and Makazole Mapimpi each picked up hat-tricks (Reinach’s of which came across just 21 minutes in the first half) — a statement made by the Springboks as they prepare for a titanic clash with Ireland, likely to decide supremacy in Pool B, on Saturday at the Stade de France.
Teros, Lobos Resilient Against Powers
Some of the more surprising results of the weekend came from Uruguay and Portugal, both of which put up worthy fights against Tier 1 sides, which left them forced to react.
The Teros, in their World Cup opener, even while faced with a near-capacity, pro-France crowd in Lille, were no pushovers against Les Bleus; Uruguay scored the match’s first try through Nicolas Freitas in the sixth minute and was only behind 13-12 early in the second half after Balthazar Amaya gashed the French defence on a brilliant solo run for a try.
Fourteen unanswered points from that point forward from France ended the Teros’ aspirations for a monumental upset, but no one left the Stade Pierre-Mauroy questioning Uruguay’s heart.
Over in Pool C, Portugal — playing in its first World Cup match since 2007 — did not lie down against Wales, even with much of the squad featuring amateur players with side jobs compared to Wales’ fully professional roster.
The Lobos, who last took on Wales when they were slugged 102-11 by the country in 1994, played fearlessly and with nothing to lose, finding a try off of a beautifully executed lineout in the second half when Nicolas Martins surged over. A rotated Welsh side managed to pick up the bonus point, but only as it required a late try from Taulupe Faletau to break through finally.
Portugal is a long shot for any points in France, but perhaps the admirable performance against Wales was a sign of good things that are still to come in the Lobos’ long-awaited World Cup return.
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