The headline act in the second round of fixtures was Fiji, who beat Australia 22-15 at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Sunday – their first victory over the Wallabies in 69 years.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Fijians’ attacking metrics were far less impressive in Sunday’s victory than in their opening-round loss to Wales in Bordeaux on 10 September.
Fiji’s 88 carries on Sunday was exactly half of what they managed in week one, and they made far fewer metres and line breaks as well as spending less time in the opposition 22 with the ball. Their time spent in Wales’ 22 with ball in hand was exactly 10 minutes – on Sunday against Eddie Jones’ side that same stat measured at just 24 seconds.
The big difference for the Fijians was taking points from outside the 22 when they were on offer: 15 on Sunday, 0 in the first round.
“It was a totally different performance,” said Fiji second-row Temo Mayanavanua. “I know people are expecting us to play with flair but we wanted to show that we can play both physical with our flair and be prepared for anything.”
The physical nature of their performance is seen in the fact that Fiji rank third for collision dominance in attack.
The team ranked second for collision dominance in attack is Uruguay, who on Thursday gave France a stern test at Stade Pierre-Mauroy before the hosts eventually got over the line with a 27-12 victory.
*France get a kick-start
The French showed respect by kicking their points on offer, which they have done more than anyone else in the tournament so far – scoring 21 points from kicks outside the red zone.
Uruguay ran at the French from the first minute, kicking only 13 times in total, and according to Capgemini Metrics they kept their expected points close to France up until the final quarter of the game.
However, Uruguay ultimately struggled to keep up in the set-piece, losing three out of their eight scrums.
“That is where they started to hurt us and where we started conceding penalties,” Uruguay coach Esteban Meneses said after the game. “We need to work on the scrum because these penalties cost us in terms of keeping possession of the ball and playing a quick game.”
*Wales tackle a tough job
Wales were made to work similarly hard for their 28-8 victory against Portugal at Stade de Nice, with number eight Taulupe Faletau scoring in the final play to give Warren Gatland’s side a vital try bonus point in Pool C.
Faletau also saved a try with an impressive chasing tackle – one of 365 tackles Wales have made at this tournament so far, putting them top in that category.
“The more game time he has, he gets better,” head coach Gatland said of Faletau. “I thought he did some really good things today and he’ll get better with more rugby fitness.
“He made some good decisions in terms of that tackle, and then that try at the end of the game.”
*Ireland feel need for speed
Meanwhile, Ireland kept up their impressive start to the tournament with a 59-16 victory over Tonga in Nantes.
Bundee Aki was Mastercard Player of the Match in that game, and now boasts the most tries (4), most carries (39), most defenders beaten (18) and most metres made (375m) at Rugby World Cup 2023.
Key to Ireland’s success out wide is that they are the only team at the tournament to boast a ruck speed under three seconds (2.92secs), though that rapid play was challenge by a bruising Tongan forward pack over the weekend.
“We had to work hard for our scores,” said second-row James Ryan. “(They are) hard around the ruck, they’re physical men, big men and they love that stuff.”
Andy Farrell’s side have been the most efficient side in terms of tackle success in France, missing an average of just 11.5 per game. Their resolute defence in Nantes meant Tonga had just one entry into the opposition’s 22, the lowest of any team in any game so far. However, since they scored a converted try from that visit it gives them the best efficiency of the competition in that area.
Elsewhere, New Zealand showed they are still a serious attacking threat as they average the most line breaks (14.5) after their first two games, while South Africa have perhaps surprised a few with their style of play in France, registering the lowest percentage of pick-and-go carries in the tournament so far with just five per cent.