Opening RWC matches prove it’s “anyone’s tournament to win”

Opening RWC matches prove that it's "anyone’s tournament to win"

The 2023 Rugby World Cup opening round of matches proved that “it’s anyone’s tournament to win”. Teams showcased their prowess and outdid themselves in the heat of France, as compared to their pre-world cup friendly matches.

Below is a wrap of each game’s outcome, as sides tested their own preparations against how those of their opposition.

Opening RWC matches prove it’s “anyone’s tournament to win”

There were few surprises mixed in with disappointments in this year’s RWC opening weekend, and it is a sure indication that any team probably can win hold aloft the Webb Ellis Cup. There are four pools containing five teams each, so therefore there are two games per round, while one team must sit out with a Bye.

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Reviewing the first eight fixtures, a brief overview tells the story of how the majority of outcomes were predicted and followed rankings/seedings.


France thrilling win over All Blacks – handing them first-ever pool game defeat

Host France thrilled their fans to a 27-13 win over a formidable All Blacks side, in their RWC 2023 opening round at a packed Stade de France. After a colorful opening ceremony, the teams took to the field to begin the hunt for the most coveted title in 15’s rugby, the Webb Ellis Cup.

New Zealand headed to this game without skipper Sam Cane who was ruled out late from the game. As a result, Tupou Vaa’i was brought in from the bench, seeing Dalton Papali’i move to the open-side flank, and Ardie Savea took up the skipper’s role.

Things seemed better for the All Blacks as it only took 93 seconds for Mark Telea to score a try which showed his individual skill and patience to collect a crossfield Beauden Barrett kick. There was little in the first half, with huge French defence stopping the usually lethal New Zealand offence, and only penalty kicks would see the scoreboard tick over. An infringement by the All Blacks front row handed France a late penalty, which Ramos gladly kicked in for 9-8 lead at halftime.

Fantastically, Telea replicated his first-half brilliance scoring after only three minutes to begin the second half. Thereafter, a nail-biting face-off was witnessed between Antonie Dupont and Aaron Smith, with Aaron having the upper hand for the most part. Les Bleus were gradually gaining in confidence, knocking at the All Blacks 22, and after fine build-up, it took a last-ditch tackle by Richie Mo’unga to stop Damian Penaud from scoring in the corner. However, Penaud’s second attempt was much more successful after collecting a pass from fly-half Matthieu Jalibert scoring on the same wing which he had earlier been denied.

The All Blacks were dealt a blow after Will Jordan was shown a yellow card for tackling Ramos in the air from a restart. Jordan came back and found himself in a similar predicament, yet the referee only settled for a penalty which Ramos kicked in to extend the lead to 22-13. The Le Bleus finished off powerfully after Melvyn Jaminet went over after benefitting from a bouncing ball extending the scores to 27-13 to hand the All Blacks their first-ever pool defeat in RWC history.

Italy whitewashed Namibia 52-8, extending their losing streak at RWC

Italy whitewashed Namibia with a seven-try bonus point over Namibia in their RWC 2023 opener in Saint Etienne. Tries from winger Ange Capuozzo, Lorenzo Cannone, Paolo Garbisi, Dino Lamb, Epalahame Faiva, Manuel Zuliani, and Paolo Odogwu ensured Italy ran away with the game against Namibia’s Gerswin Mouton solitary try. Fullback Tommaso Allan booted in 17 points in an exemplary performance.

This is Namibia’s 23rd straight loss in the RWC. Italy will be content with the five points collected, ahead of clashes ahead with pool heavyweights France, and then New Zealand in a fortnight after that.




Ireland blow off Romania with a record win in RWC 2023

Johnny Sexton led the Six Nations Champions to a resounding 82-8 win over Romania in their RWC 2023 opener. Ireland made a bold statement not only to their pool B opponents but, to the entire rugby fraternity.

The returning Sexton, who scored two individual tries, became the leading Irish World Cup points scorer, with 102 points – overtaking his fellow number 10 predecessor Ronan O’Gara. Mind you, Romania shocked everyone with an early lead from a fantastic Hinckley Vaovasa link-up with Gabriel Rupanu, who went over for his first try.

The try seemed to awaken the Irish men, who ran riot and scored successive tries from Gibbson Park, Hugo Keenan, and Tadgh Beirne giving Ireland a lead they extended in a constant form. Bundee Aki and Sexton both scored tries in both halves, including a brace from Joseph McCarthy and the physical Peter O’Mahony ensured the game was taken far from reach for the Romanian men.

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Tadhg Beirne scored the final try to put the game to rest concluding Ireland’s highest-ever RWC win. The men in green take a commanding lead in their pool after the bonus point victory, and pose a great threat to their upcoming opponents Tonga.

South Africa began their title defense over a determined Scotland

The RWC 2019 champions South Africa beat Scotland in their opener to start off their title defense. The game; which had promised to be a highly contestable match, saw both sides settling for penalties and tryless in the first half. Mannie Libbok drilled in two penalties and the Scots responded with Finn Russel’s solitary penalty kick taking the scores to 6-3 in favor of the Boks.

Of note: the Springboks will be worried about Eben Etzebeth, who was withdrawn before the halftime break due to an injury.

The Boks came into the second half quickly, scoring two tries within nine minutes, settling the balance of the fixture. A powerful set of ball carries created a perfect chance for Pieter Steph du Toit to charge over for the boks first try. A sharp Mannie Libbok kick found Kurt-Lee Arendse with acres of space, where he sprinted in and dotted the South African’s second try. In regards to stopping your opponents from scoring, stout Springboks’ defense denied all attempts by Scotland to add any points, ending the tie at 18-3 in favor of the Boks.

Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus produced a well-managed game plan, with his tactics of using lights to signal his players down on the pitch questioning how far active influence might be utilized? As a result of this set back, Scotland will now have an uphill task of beating an in-form Ireland, if they hope to progress to the quarters.




Eddie Jones’ Wallabies defeat Georgia to end 2023 form slump

The Wallabies defeated Georgia in their RWC opening rounds fixture, to put an end to their five-match losing streak. Eddie Jones’s men beat Georgia 35-15 in pool C opener at Stade de France. Tries from center Jordan Petaia, Mark Nawaqanitawase, and three penalties gave the Wallabies a solid 21-3 lead in the first half. Georgia was reduced to 14 men after winger Mirian Modebadze was sin-binned for a high tackle.

The Lelos rallied in the second half with flanker Luka Ivanishivili powering himself past the Wallabies defense for Georgia’s first try of the tournament. It may have transformed their efforts here, if it wasn’t for Wallabies front-rower Taniela Tupou intercepted pass to set up Ben Donaldson, who scored and converted his own try handing Australia a bonus point. It boosts the Wallabies station within an open pool.

Georgia however scored a late consolation try through prop Gigashvilli, ending the game with a 35-15 for the Wallabies, and a huge effort required now by Georgie to maintain a place in World Rugby built on, by men like recently interviewed Mamuka Gorgodze.

Wales survives Fiji’s resilient comeback to grab valuable Pool C victory

Wales survived a late comeback by a resilient Fiji side to grab an enthralling 32-26 win to mark their RWC 2023 opening-round match at Stade de Bordeaux. And it looked good when Josh Adams scored an early try for Wales. Fiji quickly responded well though, with a brace of tries from captain Waisea Nayacalevu (see below image) and flanker Lekima Tagitagivalu to take the lead. Short-lived in fact, after George North’s try gave Wales a balanced 18-14 halftime lead.

‘All guns blazing’ Louis Rees-Zammit collected a cross-field kick from Jack Morgan and scored a converted try that would see the third quarter owned by the side in red. Fiji was dealt a blow after repeated infringements led to Tagitagivalu being sin-binned. Wales took the advantage and went over through Elliot Dee, with Dan Biggar adding the extras pushing the scores out to a seemingly commanding 32-14 lead.

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Not to be outdone though, Tuisovas’ try sparked a late and determined onslaught by the Flying Fijians. Peni Ravai looked to have scored a try, but it was ruled out by the TMO for a double movement. Fijians were confronting their opponent’s poor conditioning and Mesake crossed over with only two minutes to go giving the Fijians an unlikely opportunity to claim an outright win. With time still available in sight of the red zone, Fiji launched a final onslaught. This however was not to be their night, as Semi Radradra knocked the ball on, ending the game for the relieved Welsh team.

Fiji’s determined spirit and fight highlighted this first round of the RWC 2023, and they will be determined to bounce back when they face Eddie Jones’ Australian side.




George Ford’s boot grants 14-man England a precious win over tame Argentina

George Ford kicked 27 points to grant England an empowering 27-10 win over Argentina in their RWC 2023 opening round. Steve Borthwick’s men; who had a poor World Cup build-up, fought off an apparently in-form Los Pumas side for their opening clash in Marseille.

England was dealt a blow early, after Tom Curry was yellow carded in just the third minute [which was later upgraded to a red card] following a head contact tackle on Juan Cruz after a bunker review. His face would say it all, as the English trend of indiscipline was punished by the officials. Despite this, England exacted their dominance as they showed their physicality by beating up the Los Pumas in every facet.

Ford kicked a series of fine drop goals before the Pumas were able to inflict worthy punishment. Argentina scored a solitary penalty and the two teams headed in for the halftime break with England leading 12-3. If the ‘value of a drop kick was realized’ in round one of this tournament, George Ford gave a fine exhibition.  England came back knowing that the tactic had caught the Los Pumas unaware and Ford continued the place-kicking onslaught, scoring in any opportunity he got to extend a 27-3 advantage.

Argentina got to England’s 22 and this gave Rodrigo Bruni a chance to wrestle his way over for the lone try of the match. Emiliano  Boffelli converted the try taking the scores to 27-10. It was a little too late for Los Pumas and the game ended in favor of England. Argentina however will boast of their defense prowess as they did not concede a try but, will have to win all their remaining matches if they would want to proceed past the quarter-finals or to claim the trophy in any manner.

Read key analysis in this feature here on how Courtney Lawes and George Ford showed fine ‘rugby intelligence’ to claim a famous World Cup victory.

The Brave Blossom hand debutants Chile first exposure to RWC standards

Japan opened their RWC 2023 campaign by handing Chile a 42-12 loss in their debut match in the RWC, in the rugby-city of Toulouse. The South Americans had a perfect start in fact, with an opening try by Rodrigo Fernandez in the sixth minute. Japan, however, responded immediately through Amano Fakatava leveling the scores. The Chileans held a resolute defense until the half-hour mark, when Jone Naikabula and Fakatava both scored tries to take the scores out to 21-7 at halftime.

Los Cóndores started off well in the second half too, after Alfonso Escobar scored in the corner to reduce the deficit to 21-12. This was short-lived though, as five minutes later Michael Leitch crossed over to extend the Asian nation’s position. Japan continued to run riot on the newcomers from then on, after Ryoto Nakamura and Warner Dearns went over in the final 10 minutes, taking the scores out to 42-12 in favor of the Blossums.

Chile will face the rested Samoa, while Japan will face resurgent England in a fixture that could prove another classic.



Key observations from RWC round’s opening matches

“Anyone’s tournament” is a fair assessment. The RWC 2023 Opening rounds were full of action, and there were plenty of observations that were found:

  • It is “any teams tournament to win” as teams have shown their prowess overshadowing their pre-World Cup matches
  • Teams heavily relied on kicking by their fly halves and fullbacks to win their matches
  • Discipline of teams will be a key determinant in winning the matches
  • Highly placed teams heavily overshadowed the lower placed nations; notwithstanding New Zealand will feel the pressure most after Round One
  • Teams will have to be focused and score maximum points in the remaining fixtures as a slight slip might be costly for any team that would like to advance to the quarter-finals as there is still room for surprises!

Any team at this point, simply needs to win. Be unbeatable from round two up to the Cup final, so the victors from the opening round are in the good position, but World Cups have been won from lower positions. The Springboks have proved that, and hope is still abundant ahead of the below schedule from Thursday until Sunday, September 17.

Upcoming RWC 2023 Round Two fixtures this weekend:

  • Thursday, September 14 2023   France vs Uruguay                  Lille

  • Friday, Sep 15 2023                        New Zealand vs Namibia     Toulouse

  • Saturday, Sep 16 2023                   Samoa vs Chile                         Bordeaux

  • Saturday, Sep 16 2023                  Wales vs Portugal                    Nice

  • Saturday, Sep 16 2023                   Ireland vs Tonga                      Nantes

  • Sunday, Sep 17, 2023                     South Africa vs Romania      Bordeaux

  • Sunday, Sep 17, 2023                     Australia vs Fiji                         Saint-Etienne

  • Sunday, Sep 17, 2023                     England vs Japan                      Nice

Fixtures courtesy of Rugby World Cup 2023


“Main photo credit Wikimedia Creative Commons
2015 Rugby World Cup, Wales vs. Uruguay (21442272130)