After all the hype and anticipation, the Rugby World Cup started with a bang with an opening weekend that had a bit of everything. From bonus-point wins to huge upsets the 2015 tournament has gotten off to a sensational start with some top performances that have whetted the appetite of fans excited to see how the next six weeks unfold.
The tournament started on Friday night as the hosts England began their quest to be crowned world champions with a tough-looking opener against the Pacific Island bruisers of Fiji. Driven on by a passionate home support, Stuart Lancaster’s side came storming out of the blocks as Fiji’s indiscipline and poor decision-making cost them with England scoring two tries and racing into an early 15-0 lead. However, the Fijians bounced back with a try of their own through powerhouse winger Nademi Nadolo, with England eventually going in at half-time leading 18-8. As the second-half began with more early pressure, England’s indiscipline continued to let them down as they conceded penalties, although a couple of missed kicks at goal by the Fijians meant England weren’t punished as badly as they could have been. Despite that, a successful penalty from Fiji on the hour mark, saw the match enter the final quarter with England leading by just seven points as home fans became slightly nervous of an early upset. Driven on by some impressive performances by substitutes including Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola, England soon recovered with a try by Mike Brown calming home supporter’s nerves before a last-minute score by Billy Vunipola saw the hosts grab the crucial fourth try that sealed a bonus-point victory that could be crucial in deciding a group also containing Wales and Australia. Overall, it was job done for Lancaster’s men with maximum points gained although improvements will be needed ahead of matches against Wales and Australia.
Saturday began with World Cup fever hitting Gloucester as Pool C got under way with Tonga meeting Georgia at Kingsholm. On a beautifully sunny day in front of a near capacity crowd, fans witnessed the first upset of the tournament as underdogs Georgia, led by talismanic skipper Mamuka Gorgodze, battled past a disappointing Tonga side scoring two tries to Tonga’s one, with Georgian wing Tkhilaishvili scoring the crucial second try for Geogia to go with Gorgodze’s first-half score. Tonga finally got over the whitewash with just under ten minutes to go through Fetu’u Vainikolo, and despite Georgia having a man sent to the sin-bin late on, the Georgians hung on to claim a surprise victory.
As expected Ireland began their campaign with a convincing bonus-point victory over Canada. Seven tries scored in a 50-7 win in Cardiff, with Jonny Sexton pulling the strings expertly from 10 as Ireland prepare for the bigger tests that lie ahead in Pool D.
Two-time world champions South Africa began their pursuit of a record third World Cup triumph, with what looked like an easy enough game against Pool B minnows Japan. How wrong were we. In one of the biggest upsets in sporting history, Eddie Jones’ Japan produced a scintillating performance of attacking rugby running in three tries to record a momentous 34-32 victory in a World Cup classic at Brighton. With South Africa leading 32-29 going into the final play of the match, the Japanese players took the brave decision to go for the victory rather than take a shot at goal for a draw, when the Springboks conceded a penalty in their 22. Japan were awarded for their gutsy call as after constant bombardment of South Africa’s try-line, Karne Hesketh went over in the corner to record a historic victory, that opens Pool B right up.
The final match on Saturday saw Six Nations rivals France and Italy do battle at Twickenham. Having seen group rivals Ireland gain maximum points earlier on in the day, the French responded with a comfortable 32-10 victory thanks to tries from Rabah Slimani and Nicolas Mas, with the enigmatic Frederic Michalak grabbing 19 points. There was disappointment for Phillipe Saint-Andre however with winger Yoann Huget going down with a serous knee injury that has subsequently ruled him out of the rest of the tournament.
Sunday began with Samoa against USA in Brighton. In another entertaining match-up Samoa ran out narrow 25-16 victors over the States, in a match tighter than most people expected. Tries from Tim Nanai-Williams and Ofisa Treviranus secured the win for the Pacific Islanders as they stole an early march on group rivals South Africa. For USA, discipline let them down, however with themselves grabbing two tries, they too may prove a hard side to overcome in what is shaping up to be an intriguing Pool B.
Wales began their campaign in front of a home crowd as they faced minnows Uruguay in Cardiff. As expected, Warren Gatland’s men secured the bonus-point victory in a 54-9 victory as they ran in eight tries against a Uruguay side who performed admirably. However, the match itself was frustrating for Wales, as they produced a disjointed display with plenty of errors, while their injury crisis continued as hat-trick scorer Cory Allen was ruled out of the tournament with a hamstring injury, while there are also concerns over the fitness of players Liam Williams, Samson Lee and Paul James. With the crucial clash with England looming, Gatland will be hoping those players can make it, aware that much improvement will be needed.
Rounding off the weekend, world champions New Zealand began the defence of their title against southern hemisphere rivals Argentina. In an entertaining match, the Pumas ran the All Blacks close and even went in at half-time with a 13-12 lead. However, after an unconvincing first-half display, which saw captain Richie McCaw sent to the sin-bin, the All Blacks woke up in the second-half scoring tries through Aaron Smith and substitute Sam Cane as they weathered the Argentinian storm to seal a routine victory that has them up and rolling in this year’s tournament, a tournament which so far has not failed to disappoint.