You can’t ask for more drama than this past weekend at a Rugby World Cup. It was unpredictable, the first few upsets happened, and the first controversies were up for discussion.
For now, we will just look at the highlights from the weekend with the biggest winners and losers. Not in terms of scores, but where that really puts them in the tournament and whether they took a step up or missed an opportunity.
I want to start by giving massive credit to the smaller nations for how well they played. The efforts from Chile, Namibia, and Romania were full of heart, bravery, and just a joy to watch.
The France vs. New Zealand game was the ideal start to a World Cup. It was intense and the French were impressive, though they weren’t clinical. What was a worrying sign from the game was the constant senseless kicking. The kicks weren’t very purposeful and there were a couple of passages of play with 4 or 5 kicks in a row back and forth.
Most games went according to the script but there were two games that didn’t. I am of course referring to the England vs. Argentina and the Wales vs. Fiji games, but we will get to them in a bit.
A game that could have caused an upset, was the Australia vs. Georgia game but the occasion was clearly too big for Georgia. They lost against an Australian team that has had the most torrid run in the recent past of Wallaby rugby.
But let’s look at the biggest losers and then winners of the weekend as well as two refereeing issues.
I think in 3rd place is Georgia. Yes, they were unlikely to win but they have been impressive for a number of months and should have pushed the Wallabies all the way. They just never got going.
New Zealand sits in the 2nd place. They had their two flashes of the “All Blacks that used to be” at the start of each half but they weren’t present for the rest of the game. In terms of skill and technical ability, they have the right players and the right coaching. What has steadily become absent during the course of the past 2 years is the All Blacks rugby culture. The pride in wearing an All-Black jersey, the accompanying air of confidence, the togetherness of the team, and the fighting spirit to make every New Zealander proud seems to have all but disappeared. They need to have a serious reset of what it means to play All-Black rugby and I suspect the rest will fall in place once again.
Argentina was the biggest loser on the weekend. They were playing an England side that hadn’t been on such a low in years, yet they weren’t able to get going. They were disjointed at best and in their efforts they equalled the most handling mistakes by a side at a World Cup. They dropped the ball a record-equalling 14 times in the game and that pretty much summed up their day.
The biggest winners are easier to talk about.
France and South Africa put up the performances you expected and got through their games with the wins they wanted from the nerve-wracking opening games.
Australia finally won a game in 2023 and it will be a good platform for them to build from.
England has vastly improved from what we have seen in the past 2 years, despite not being perfect. When a side has lost that often, it is difficult to believe in your systems and in each other. The mental boost they will get from it will however shake up their pool and the upcoming results
The two biggest winners of the weekend in my opinion were Wales and Fiji. I know Fiji lost but in my opinion, they still won.
For years everyone has enjoyed seeing Fiji play in their exciting signature way. Their game against Wales and their 2nd-half comeback, especially, showed that they were far more than just fun to watch. They are far more disciplined overall, their phase play is up to par and they are in it for the full game.
On the other hand, you have Wales. They took a serious beating from Fiji but stood up to it with great bravery. When the few chances presented themselves, they were able to turn it into points but their defense stands out. They had a prop that put in over 20 tackles in the game by the time he left the field after 45 minutes!
The Josh Adams tackle on a rampaging Selestino Ravutaumada summed up the attitude of that Welsh team.
That brings us to two refereeing issues. So far the refereeing has really been of a high standard. They have been both strict and allowed the game to flow in many aspects.
However, the question of consistency is one that raises a few eyebrows.
The first one of course is the red card that Curry received in the England vs. Argentina game. If you go strictly according to the rules, then it is a red card. If you think about the intent and his body position, I would have thought that there would have been more logic applied and that it would have remained yellow at worst.
If you go on that ruling then Jesse Kriel is in deep trouble as he started with the wrong body position in his head-to-head clash.
The second incident was from the Wales vs. Fiji game. Wales kept infringing on their own line with penalty after penalty and they kept getting warned without a yellow card. The first time Fiji did that on their own line it was an instant yellow card with no warning.
The commentators mentioned that it was because of a professional foul. If you have played rugby before, you would notice that the penalties from the Welsh team all had an element of “a professional foul” to them.
Had the incidents been handled differently, it could have influenced the outcomes. I believe the referees will collectively be looking into this and we will see a great improvement in the decisions for the rest of the tournament.