Four years since the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, the wait and anticipation was finally over for rugby fans. Hosted in Japan, the RWC kicked off last week and will run until the 2 November. With 20 different nations participating, the competition is fierce in the sport’s centrepiece event. Below are the main headlines emerging from the first week of the tournament.
#1 – New Zealand sink spirited South Africa
New Zealand began their defence of the RWC in Pool B with a clinical performance over a spirited South Africa. South Africa made a rapid start in Yokohoma and deservedly led through a Handre Polland penalty. Despite the Springboks being wasteful with some clear-cut chances, two swift tries from George Bridge and Scott Barrett, as well as penalties from Richie Mo’unga and Brauden Barrett, helped the All Blacks seal their opening victory. New Zealand have now extended their World Cup winning run to 15 games, with their last defeat to France in the 2007 quarter-finals.
#2 – England’s super start
After enduring an abysmal World Cup campaign as hosts in 2015 by failing to reach the knockout stages, England made the perfect start in Sapporo by defeating Tonga 35-3. This England side featured the Northampton Saints duo Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam; the former marked his 78th appearance whilst the latter came on as a substitute to make his World Cup debut. Despite making a slow start to the match, England were in full force in the second 40. Manu Tuilagi’s two-try display was key to England gaining the full quota of points in a bonus-point win. England then followed up with a 45-7 victory over USA, claiming another bonus point win. Their forwards were instrumental in the seven-try victory, which was notable for USA flanker John Quill receiving the first red card of the tournament after a shoulder charge on Owen Farrell. These two victories are a statement of intent that England are ready to rectify the calamitous World Cup four years ago with success in Japan.
#3 – Wales win against Georgia and withstand Australia comeback
After winning their first Grand Slam since 2012 this year, Wales held the number one ranking at the start of the tournament. This was reflected in their opening victory in Toyota City, as Warren Gatland’s side scored six tries against Georgia to record a comprehensive 43-14 win. Despite missing an early conversion, Northampton Saints’ fly-half Dan Biggar was instrumental in Wales’ win, kicking 11 of the 43 points. In their second match in Pool D, Wales withstood a dramatic Australia comeback to seal a breathtaking 29-25 victory. Wales cruised 23-8 at half-time and extended the lead to 18 points through a further Patchell drop-goal. A remarkable comeback followed as tries from Dane-Haylett Petty and Michael Cooper – in addition to a penalty and two conversions from substitute Matt Toomua – cut the deficit to a mere point. But it was a further Patchell penalty in the last ten minutes which halted the Wallabies’ momentum, and proved the difference as Wales secured another crucial win.
#4 – Underdogs Uruguay stun Fiji
The spotlight from the opening round of fixtures will undoubtedly be on Los Teros – the supposed minnows of the tournament – who edged out Fiji in a memorable 30-27 victory in Kamaishi. After defeat to Australia in their opening match, Fiji made a strong start and outscored Uruguay five times to three. Ultimately, Fiji were edged out of the game as Felipe Berchesi’s conversion handed Uruguay their first World Cup win in 16 years, and just their third ever World Cup win.
#5 – Samoa sink spirited Russia in Kumagaya City
Samoa started their eight consecutive Rugby World Cup in style, as they kicked off their campaign in Kumagaya City with a 34-9 victory over the Russians. Samoa recorded a bonus-point win, crossing the whitewash six tries and overcoming two yellow cards to defeat a rather impressive Russian side.
#6 – Hosts Japan shock Ireland
After both Japan and Ireland were victorious in their opening matches against Russia and Scotland respectively, the hosts Japan replicated their victory over South Africa in 2015 to pull off another memorable World Cup upset at Ireland’s expense. Despite Ireland leading at the break, four Yu Tamura penalties helped inspire Japan to a historic victory. Japan were able to match the energy from the raucous home crowd with intensity on the pitch; every tackle, turnover and try was greeted with a roar. Back to back wins for the hosts will subsequently elevate the sport’s popularity within the country.
#7 – Bak San is Back
Finally, it would not be a Rugby World Cup without the presence of Japanese super fan ‘Bak-San’, who has emerged as a cult hero. Vying to feature all 20 teams at the tournament – with his body painted with the shirts of all participants – Bak-San is hard to avoid