The 2019 Rugby Union World Cup is well underway and it’s been a great spectacle and advert for Rugby so far. Japan has embraced the tournament with their trademark exuberance, excitement and passion, as displayed in the opening ceremony and their opening Group A match win against debutants Russia 30-10 last Friday.
The game most covered and talked about post games was, of course, the heavyweight clash between New Zealand and South Africa at the weekend. Ominously, for the other teams, New Zealand produced an impressive, dominant and clinical first-half performance, outscoring South Africa thirteen points to three. Winger Bridge and lock Scott Barret, the brother of full-back Beauden Barret, scored great team tries and Beauden Barret kicked a penalty in place of fly-half Mo’uanga, who was solid with the boot, landing the first four kicks before being subbed midway through the second half.
The All Blacks were especially impressive defensively, shutting out South African star winger and prolific try-scorer Cheslin Kolbe for the whole match and apart from a brief spell of hope at the beginning of the second half when flanker de Toit scored South African’s only try, the All Black’s did what they do best and made sure they kept the ball for most of the game and defended their try-line like it was the borders of their own country.
Australia and France also opened their World Cup and Group D and C campaigns on Saturday. The Aussies survived a potential shock upset against a heroic Fiji side, who won the first half 14-12, but the Aussies came out in the second half like a different team and crushed Fiji 27-7, the final score ending 39-21 that ensured the all-important bonus point for the Aussies.
France looked on for a convincing and dominant win against Argentina when they raced to a 20-3 half-time lead thanks to tries from centre Fickou and fly-half Ntamack, who also slotted home both conversions and two penalties in the first half. However, the French Rugby Union’s team’s profound unpredictability continued to haunt them as they allowed Argentina to dominate the second half with two tries from lock Pagadizabal and second-half sub and hooker Montoya, which were both converted by fly-half Sanchez. Sanchez was subbed not long after missing the second try conversion, he was replaced by Urdapilleta and with twenty minutes remaining and a six-point deficit the super-sub converted two penalties’ in ten minutes to draw the match level. France’s goose looked cooked at this stage with Argentina having all the momentum, but neither team could breach the oppositions try line in a frantic last ten minutes and it took a drop goal from France’s second half-sub Lopez to separate the two sides in the game of the tournament so far.
On Sunday, World ranked number one side Ireland kicked off their Group A campaign with an impressive win against Scotland, racing to a 19-3 first-half lead thanks to three unanswered tries from forwards Ryan, Best and Furlong. Ireland added a further try from winger Conway and penalty in the second half while a deflated Scotland failed to register a single point eventually going down 27-3.
Back in Group C, England produced a dominant first-half performance against a physical Tonga side with two bulldozer tries from centre Tuilagu and a conversion and two tries from points machine and captain Owen Farrell. The second-half failed to live up to the first-half in terms of quality, which was mainly due to seven subs for England and eight for Tonga. England’s handling let them down in the second half as a result and they will need to work really hard on this are of their team and game if they want to win a second World Cup. However, they can take motivation from the fact they scored a further two tries by flankers George and Cowan-Dickie in the second half and would have scored more if their handling was sharper. Also, England’s 35-3 win and four tries ensured the all-important bonus point and because France failed to hit the magic four tries, England now leads Group C on five points with France on four.
Wales, who are in Group D along with the Aussies, kicked off their World Cup campaign on Monday with a convincing 43-14 against a spirited and physical Georgia. Wales came out of the blocks firing racking up a huge 29 first-half unanswered points thanks to four tries from backs Davies, Adams and Williams and flanker Tipuric. Wales added a further two tries in the second half by winger North and scrum-half Davies’ second-half replacement Williams, fly-half Dan Biggar was on song again with four out of five goal kicks scoring eleven points and finally, Georgia restored pride with two second-half tries by hooker Mamukashvili, substitute hooker Chilachava and fly-half Abzhandadze converted both.
There’s one game today from Group D as Fiji take on Uruguay who are playing their first match. Fiji was brilliant against Australia, especially in the first-half and on the counter-attack. If they can produce a similar performance today, they should see off the South Americans comfortably and if their two encounters to date in 2015 and 2018 are a good guide, then Fiji should win by a decent margin. The game is also likely to be high scoring, as was there previous two matches and most of both teams last ten international games.
England is in action again tomorrow, this time against the USA and England coach Eddie Brown is set to rest a host of his main stars and bring in a number of the second choice and fringe squad players, some who will be making their World Cup debuts. With so many changes England can’t afford to underestimate the USA who will be at full strength and snarling at the bit to take the field as it's their first game. However, as long as England are solid up-front, ruthless in attack and eradicate the handling errors that littered the second half of their last game, they should record another comfortable high scoring win.