Eight matches down, another 40 to come – and Rugby World Cup 2023 is already setting a high bar.
France and New Zealand defied energy-sapping temperatures at Stade de France to put on a spectacular opening match that set the early tone.
All Blacks winger Mark Telea got the game off to a lightning start, scoring the tournament’s opening try with less than two minutes on the clock. He added a second early in the second half, as the two sides swapped the lead in an intense, nerve-shredding outing.
But, after 31 wins in a row, the All Blacks finally lost their perfect pool phase record, as they were outmuscled by Les Bleus.
Damian Penaud scored his 30th international try in the 55th minute of his 45th French outing, while Melvyn Jaminet got his first in 16 tests in the dying moments, and Thomas Ramos kicked 17 points to guide the hosts to an historic 27-13 win.
Penaud is now joint-fourth alongside Philippe Sella on France’s all-time try-scorers’ list, just eight behind leading player Serge Blanco.
The first of four try-scoring bonuses were awarded in the second match of the tournament, as Italy ran in seven tries to beat Namibia 52-8, to sit pretty at the top of Pool A. Captain Michele Lamaro believes the Azzurri have it in them to give Pool A big beasts France and New Zealand a run for their quarter-final money.
Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, Bundee Aki and, Johnny Sexton – whose 24 points saw him become Ireland's leading all-time Rugby World Cup points scorer – all scored twice as Ireland ran in 12 tries to beat Romania 82-8.
Despite the one-sided scoreline, the Oaks made new friends on a hot Saturday afternoon in Bordeaux – especially when they scored the game’s opening try.
As Mastercard Player of the Match O'Mahony said: “You saw the way they rocked up. In the first two or three minutes they put us under the sticks. It was a right wake-up call for us – 'welcome to World Cup 2023' – you know what I mean?”
Full-back Ben Donaldson scored 25 points as Australia put a run of five successive defeats under Eddie Jones behind them to open their Pool C campaign with a bonus-point 35-15 victory over a Georgia side that had hoped for better at Stade de France.
England fans have George Ford to thank for their 27-10 win over Argentina in Marseille. In arguably the individual performance of the opening weekend’s action, Ford took charge after Tom Curry was sent off early for a dangerous tackle, nailing points to the board every time they became available. In a masterclass of pragmatic rugby, he kicked three drop goals in the first half, including one from 50 metres, and six penalties, as he clinically punished Argentinian indiscipline.
Amato Fakatava scored twice as Japan kicked off their Rugby World Cup campaign with a six-try 42-12 win over tournament debutants Chile at Stadium de Toulouse. But, as in Bordeaux on Saturday, rapidly improving Chile won new friends and influenced rugby thinking with a gutsy performance on an unseasonably warm afternoon in south-west France, while their fans ramped the atmosphere up to 11 in the stands.
Japan’s Michael Leitch, for one, is a convert: “They were awesome,” he said of the fans afterwards. “We expected the Chileans to be very passionate on the field but as soon as we got to the stadium the noise of the Chilean supporters was amazing. It was crazy. I wish they could come to every World Cup.”
South Africa kicked off the defence of their title with an 18-3 win over Scotland. After a first-half fought in close quarters, the reigning champions pulled away in 10 efficient second-period minutes, as first Pieter-Steph du Toit muscled his way over from close range, before Kurt-Lee Arendse got on the end of Manie Libbok’s astonishing no-look cross-field kick to score in the corner. Suddenly, the Springboks were 15 points clear, and in no mood to let Scotland back in the game.
If the opening match of the tournament set a high bar, the last of this weekend’s opening block, between Wales and Fiji in Bordeaux, raised it to new levels.
Elliot Dee’s converted bonus point-winning try with 13 minutes left and Fiji temporarily down to 14 looked to have settled the result 32-14 in Wales’ favour. But Fiji weren’t about to give up on a comeback and Josua Tuisova scored to spark a late onslaught.
First, Peni Ravai had a try ruled out for a double movement, then Mesake Doge crossed with less than two minutes left. It was 32-26 and Fiji, just, had time for one final shot at an astonishing comeback – but Semi Radradra knocked-on in the dying seconds with the try-line beckoning.
The next block of matches kick-off on Thursday, and that’s when Uruguay, Tonga, Portugal and Samoa all enter the Rugby World Cup 2023 chat.