It was a noisy start to Rugby World Cup 2023 as tournament hosts France beat New Zealand 27-13 in front of a raucous crowd at Stade de France on Friday.
Perhaps key to France’s success was the fact that they conceded the fewest penalties in the opening round of the tournament with just five, while the All Blacks gave away 13 penalties on attack alone.
New Zealand were ranked fourth overall for defenders beaten with 32 – winger Mark Talea topped the individual rankings with 11 defenders beaten – and fifth for metres made with 629m, but they were unable to translate those numbers on the scoreboard.
“We looked dangerous when we had the ball but we let ourselves down, and [were] not being patient and clinical with our skillset,” said stand-in New Zealand captain Ardie Savea after the game.
Elsewhere, Italy ran out 52-8 winners against Namibia on Saturday. It was a tough result for the African side, who were in fact fourth-best of all the teams for collision dominance across the first round with 47 per cent, and second for turnovers with nine.
Argentina looked favourites to beat England after Tom Curry’s red card in Marseille on Saturday, but the Pumas were ultimately unable to make inroads with ball in hand. Michael Cheika’s side only reached England’s 22 four times during their 27-10 loss.
“Pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” Cheika said after the match. “I think we let the play get too stop and start. England played the circumstances very well and full credit to them.”
England were led to victory by George Ford, who kicked all 27 of his side’s points including three drop-goals. According to Capgemini Metrics, in the moments before his first drop-goal, England had a 36 per cent chance of winning. When his third drop-goal went over less than 10 minutes later, they were up to 76 per cent.
Wales set new RWC tackle record
Wales held on for a narrow 32-26 victory against Fiji in Bordeaux on Sunday, with the Fijians camped on Wales’ line in the closing stages of the game but unable to find what could have been a decisive score.
Wales fly-half Dan Bigger said after the match: “It was absolutely exhausting. The last 10 minutes felt like the clock never moved.”
In fact the clock was moving, and across the 80 minutes it registered that Fiji had spent exactly 10 minutes in the Wales 22 with ball in hand – a full four minutes more than the next best team in round one.
Fiji also made the most carries of the opening round (176), made the fourth-most metres (654m) and were third best for defenders beaten (34).
In the end, Wales had to put in 252 tackles in order to win in Bordeaux, the most by any team in the opening round – and a new Rugby World Cup record.
It was only the sixth time in the tournament’s history a team had completed 200 tackles in a match, and comfortably beat the previous record of 218 by Georgia against Australia in 2019.
The top three tacklers in the opening round of games all came from Wales, with second-row Will Rowlands (27), prop Gareth Thomas (23) and flanker and captain Jac Morgan (20) leading the defensive charge.
“You cannot make that many tackles if you are not fit and have that ability to get up and go again,” said Wales’ assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys after the game. “The mindset and fitness was excellent.”