Rugby World Cup off to a flier after memorable weekend

Fiji's number eight Viliame Mata runs with the ball during their Rugby World Cup Pool C match against Wales on Sunday. Photo: Romain Perrocheau/AFP

Fiji's number eight Viliame Mata runs with the ball during their Rugby World Cup Pool C match against Wales on Sunday. Photo: Romain Perrocheau/AFP

Published Sep 11, 2023


Rugby World Cup organisers hoped for a blockbuster opening weekend and they certainly got one, starting with host France's uplifting Friday night win and ending with a huge "what if?" moment in Sunday's classic Wales v Fiji encounter.

"As the first weekend of the tournament comes to a close, the France 2023 Organising Committee would like to thank the French and international fans present across the country who kicked off the 10th Rugby World Cup," the hosts said in a statement on Monday.

"The incredible excitement was felt across all official venues, whether in the stadiums — with more than 220,000 spectators present for the first eight matches — or in the Rugby

Villages, which collectively drew over 140,000 people to watch the opening match.”

The French team certainly did not fluff their opening night lines — though coughing up a second-minute try to the All Blacks was certainly not in the script.

Though there was nothing really hanging on the result, it was notable as New Zealand's first-ever pool stage defeat and the home win was perfect to pump up the atmosphere around the country.

After that superpower showdown came the rank outsiders, but Namibia showed more than just spirit against Italy before eventually falling away to a 52-8 defeat — still a far cry from their World Cup record 142-0 thrashing by Australia 20 years ago.

Ireland’s 82-8 hammering of Romania was the only real blow-out, and even then the Romanians had the joy of scoring the first try.

Coach Eddie Jones finally got a win on the board as Australia held off Georgia, before Saturday night’s showdown in Marseille between England and Argentina.

Having Tom Curry sent off after three minutes stacked the odds against an England side who had been terrible in their warm-ups but they were a team transformed on a memorable and noisy night in the Velodrome.

George Ford stunned the Pumas with three drop goals as he kicked all the points in a dominant 27-10 victory.

Enterprising play

Chile were far from outclassed in their tournament debut, going down 42-12 to Japan, but the first of Sunday’s double-header of key matches turned out to be a one-sided affair.

Scotland, on the back of some really enterprising play over the last year, had real belief that they could get to South Africa but it was never to be as the defending champions were in control from the start in an 18-3 win.

If that was a let-down for the neutrals, the action in Bordeaux certainly was not as Fiji sought a repeat of their famous 2007 pool win over Wales.

In a brilliant match Wales defended bravely, used all their tactical nous — or gamesmanship, depending on your view — and built a 32-14 lead.

Fiji kept coming back though, got within six points and, in a crazy finale, eventually worked the ball wide to Semi Radradra, only for his giant hands to fail him as dropped the ball with the try line at his mercy. Had he made it, Fiji would still have needed a tough conversion to secure the win, but now they will have to try to repeat the performance against the Wallabies in a wildly unpredictable Group C.

Not everything went smoothly for the organisers, as thousands of fans missed the start of the England v Argentina and Ireland v Romania games, stuck in huge queues caused by chaotic ticket and security checks.

Organisers issued an apology and said that after new measures and extra staff were brought in, the situation was much improved for Sunday’s games.

People entering the Marseille port fan village, in temperatures in the mid 30s, were also unimpressed at having any drinks, including water, confiscated on the gate — while they were welcome of course to buy beer at wildly inflated prices.

This year’s new tournament format, designed to give all teams fair and equal rest, means the action takes a break until Thursday, when France play Uruguay, followed by New Zealand against Namibia on Friday.

The highlight of another packed weekend programme looks to be Australia v Fiji in St Etienne.