Rugby World Cup 2023 continued to serve up some incredible matches as Ireland and South Africa went toe to toe in a thrilling Pool B contest at Stade de France, while Wales became the first side to qualify for the quarter-finals courtesy of their victory over Australia in Lyon.
Ireland beat the defending champions 13-8 in Paris on Saturday, with fly-half Johnny Sexton kicking a penalty and a conversion to take his tally to 45, which makes him the tournament’s top points scorer so far.
One area where Ireland were made to work hard was in possession at the ruck, where their usually rapid ruck speed was tested to the limit. Their average speed in Paris was 4.83s - the seventh slowest of any team in any game in the tournament - dropping them from first overall to sixth in the space of a week.
However, their defensive work at the ruck was outstanding. Though they are ranked 10th in the tournament for average turnovers with 6.7, they have second most at the breakdown with five.
"I think that’s one area where Ireland were exceptional tonight,” Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber said of Ireland’s breakdown work. “That’s probably one of the biggest reasons why we didn’t get momentum."
'More accurate than us' - Kolisi
Captain Siya Kolisi added: "I thought they were more accurate than us today, a bit faster to the breakdown. We knew it was coming. We got to their 22, but the opportunities we lost were all through the breakdown.”
An area where South Africa were a step above was dominant tackles, of which they made 31. To put that into context, France are ranked second for dominant tackles overall, and their total for the entire tournament (34) is only three more than South Africa managed against Ireland alone.
"Pieter-Steph [du Toit] is one of the best back rows in the world and he made his presence felt,” Sexton said in his post-match media briefing. “It was a very physical game, a lot more collisions than our first two games. I’m proud of the lads to front up.”
There was no such tight contest in Lyon on Sunday as Wales ran out 40-6 winners in Pool C against the Wallabies.
There was little between the teams early on, and in the 14th minute the Capgemini Metrics predicted that the match would end 25-25, but from the 17th minute onwards Wales were the expected winners at OL Stadium.
“First 10-15 minutes we were under the pump,” said Wales full-back Liam Williams after the final whistle. “We backed ourselves on our line, got the turnover. They aren't a bad team but I thought we put them to the sword this evening."
Uruguay's Ardao draws comparisons with Pocock
Wales were ranked fourth for total time in possession (16:22) but only 15th for territory (46%) which shows how happy they were to run the ball from anywhere on the pitch. Warren Gatland’s side are still the tournament leaders for tackles made with 505, though nearly exactly half of those came against Fiji in the opening round of the tournament (252).
On Wednesday Italy won 38-17 against Uruguay in Nice. The Italians took top spot off Ireland for average ruck speed (3.19s), and their 91 per cent tackle success rate puts them first in that category too.
At times they were wasteful, though, against Uruguay who are ranked third for turnovers per game (8.5) and first for turnovers at the breakdown (6.5).
"We were untidy first half, our discipline let us down,” said Italy coach Kieran Crowley. “We had seven turnovers inside our own 40, you can't do that. Uruguay put the pressure on us and made us pay.”
Uruguay’s impressive blindside flanker Manuel Ardao (pictured) has the most breakdown steals (6) to his name at the tournament, earning him high praise from Italy assistant coach Marius Goosen.
“There’s probably only two or three guys in world rugby at the moment that have the skill that number six has around the breakdown - like [David] Pocock used to have,” Goosen said of Ardao.
Elsewhere, Henry Arundell became the tournament’s leading try scorer courtesy of his five against Chile in Lille, while Tonga continue to impress with their red-zone efficiency, coming away with an average of 4.8 points per entry into the opposition 22 across the tournament - though that has not yet transferred to a victory for the Tongans.
Namibia were well beaten by France in Marseille on Thursday, but boast the third-quickest ruck speed across the tournament with 3.42s. They will need to be sharp in that area if they are to make good on their goal to win their first match at a Rugby World Cup when they take on Uruguay in Lyon on Wednesday, 27 September.
“If our forwards can do what they did today they’ll definitely outmuscle the Uruguayan team,” Namibia scrum-half Jacques Theron said after the game against France. “They did extremely well today so hopefully we can replicate that.”