An Aussie resurgence, Fiji falls just short and is England back?
Well, that was one incredible opening round; from Chile scoring their first-ever try in a Rugby World Cup to Ireland showing their mettle in a dominating performance against Romania, there are just so many talking points from the opening round of the World Cup.
The flying Fijians lose in heartbreaking fashion
The game of the opening round came on the final match day of the first round, with Wales and Fiji battling to try and grab one of the top spots in pool C. With the Wallabies getting a bonus point win over Georgia, the pressure was on the two teams to perform,[AB1] and wow, did this game have everything. From excellent tries to lead changes, the game flowed in such a way to make this game one of the matches of the tournament.
However, after 72 minutes of nonstop rugby, the mighty Welsh found themselves up by 18 points. Game over right? Wrong, the Flying Fijians found their magic with Josua Tuisova cutting the lead to 11 and with time running out, Mesake Doge launched himself over the line. The gap is now down to six points . Game on. With the clock going well into extra time, Fiji found themselves again right on the Welsh try line. And the ball finds its way to Semi Radradra; all he needs to do is take the pass, and the try is his. The ball slips out of his hands, and the game is over. Fiji can still take a lot away from this game and will be motivated for their do-or-die match against the Wallabies.
The Wallabies and England silence their critics (for now)
At long last, the men in gold finally ended their 2023 losing streak, restoring a bit of faith to Australian fans that their team could make some noise on the world's biggest stage. Australia had to win this game if they wanted any shot of making the quarter-finals, so they came out firing, scoring within the opening minutes of the game thanks to JordandPetaia on the left wing. Not long after the young gun Mark Nawaqanitawase scored on the opposite wing to extend the lead. The Aussies never looked back, and thanks to a breakout game from Ben Donaldson, scoring two tries and slotting three critical penalty kicks. A convincing 35-15 win is the momentum the men in gold needed; however, another injury is not. Tate McDermott went down after attemptingto tackle Beka Gorgadze. Whether this injury becomes more profound will be a big story moving forward. Besides this minor setback, this win could start a successful campaign for Eddie Jones and his men.
Looking back on all that England has been through over the last month, the rugby world had counted England out of the World Cup after losing to Wales and Fiji. To add insult to injury their captain, Owen Farrell, was banned for the first two matches. The last World Cup finalists looked lost, and everyone had counted them out. In steps George Ford. He scored all 27 points for England and three drop goals in the first half alone. England's defence also stepped up, only allowing 3 points for 79 minutes of the game and letting Argentina score one try in the last minute. Tom Curry, however, has just been given a two-game ban for dangerous play. England looked promising against an upcoming Argentina team with star power all across the park. England held serve all game and could be England's moment to get into this tournament.
In a game of two halves, France convincingly won the opening game over the All Blacks.
The All Blacks went into this game knowing that beating the host nation in the opening match of the Rugby World Cup was always going to be a massive challenge. But with France losing star player Romain Ntamack before the tournament started and the All Blacks getting humbled by the South Africans just a few weeks earlier, this was the moment to strike for the All Blacks.
In the first half, they started strong, scoring within the opening minutes thanks to the speed of Rieko Ioane's breakaway and set up a try for Mark Telea to grab an early 5-0 lead over the hosts. France played the territory game in the first half using the power of exceptional kicking by Dupont and Ramos. It worked able to kick penalty after penalty, thanks to the boot of Thomas Ramos and led by a single point. The All Blacks should have been ahead, but because they couldn't execute on the French try line, they were behind on the scoreboard 9-8.
Mark Telea fixed this, however and scoring again in the early stages of the second half. 13-8 in favour of the All Blacks. However, that is the last point they would grab for the rest of the game. France dominated in the second half; every opportunity to score they took, every time the All Blacks went to ground, the French forwards powered themselves over the ball, getting turnover after turnover. France remained in total control for the rest of the game, scoring in the final minute to rub in it and ending with the last score line of 27-13. The All Blacks now know that they need to up their play for the rest of the pool play and wait to see who tops Pool B.
Three quotes from Dan Carter's Greatness episode that go hard 🥶— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 14, 2023
Watch the full episode, exclusively and for free on NZR+ below 📺
Kicking is going to be critical
The final point to talk away from the opening round is how vital kicking will be at this World Cup. Kickers like George Ford led their teams to victory by scoring every point for the English. Thomas Ramos was also a significant part of the win over the All Blacks, kicking from the halfway line and helping stretch out the lead of the All Blacks. Kickers like Wales’ Dan Biggar also being vital and just doing enough to get their team to the finish line.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, sometimes kickers put their teams in challenging situations. Teti Tela, for example, missed a crucial conversion in the dying moments of the Wales-Fiji game that would have cut the lead to just 4 points instead of six. Richie Mo'unga missed a few conversions that could have given the All Blacks the momentum they needed to get back into the game, but he didn't. If a team’s main kickers struggle, it will be challenging for their team to win as seen in just the first few games of this World Cup.
What’s going to happen in the next round?
After a fiery opening the next round could continue with more great match ups, such as the Wallabies vs Fiji, Fiji is in must win mode if they want to make the quarter finals and Australia will look to build off their win, Ireland play a motivated and ready Tonga, England play Japan and the All Blacks look to get their first win of this rugby world cup against Namibia. It’s only the beginning but so far this World Cup is living up to the hype.