Now that we’ve had a little time to draw breath, here are some of the main takeaways on a fantastic weekend of test rugby that brought historic wins for Ireland, Wales, Georgia and Romania as well as Namibia’s qualification for a seventh Rugby World Cup and two other outstanding qualifiers, which ended in narrow winds for Hong Kong and the USA.
HONG KONG ARE ONE STEP CLOSER TO RWC 2023
Gregor McNeish was the hero as Hong Kong advanced to the next stage of Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification thanks to his last-minute penalty.
Other than the tense finish, Hong Kong’s 23-21 victory over Korea in Incheon was remarkable in many more ways.
To come together with a new-look squad and win after so little preparation time after nearly three years away from the test arena would have been an achievement in itself.
But Hong Kong also had to contend with playing with 14 men for all but one minute of the match – and 13 at the midway point of the first half – following winger Charles Higson-Smith’s first-minute red card and a yellow to Matt Worley.
Despite the setbacks, Hong Kong went into half-time 15-0 up but were in danger of throwing the game away in a frenetic ending to the match until McNeish held his nerve to book a date with Tonga in the Asia/Pacific 1 play-off later this month.
Asia/Pacific 1 will take their place in Pool B alongside South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and Romania at Rugby World Cup 2023.
They say you can’t play running rugby in wet conditions… 😮— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) July 10, 2022
They were wrong.pic.twitter.com/uYRGW21jgi
IT’S STILL ALL TO PLAY FOR IN AMERICAS 2 PLAY-OFF
USA will take a one-point lead into their Americas 2 play-off with Chile after a 21-20 win in Santiago.
The match was played on a rain-sodden pitch and after some nice handling put Christian Dyer away in the corner, the Eagles’ next two tries scored by the prolific Joe Taufete’e and his replacement at hooker, Kapeli Pifeleti, came via the rolling maul.
Rodrigo Fernández scored an absolute belter from his own 22, skating through the treacherous surface and side-stepping past several defenders for a sublime 75-metre solo effort, while Santiago Videla converted his own try in the last minute to give Los Condores hope that all is not lost going into next weekend’s rematch in Glendale, Colorado.
The Americas 2 qualifier will join England, Japan, Argentina and Samoa in Pool D at Rugby World Cup 2023.
Also in the Americas region, Romania achieved their first-ever victory on Uruguayan soil in a test match at the second attempt, beating Los Teros 30-22 after overcoming the loss of Tudor Butnariu to a 14th-minute red card.
It was a brilliant ‘bounce-back’ result for Andy Robinson’s men who’d suffered their heaviest defeat in seven years in losing 45-13 to Italy the week before.
Uruguay’s South America rivals, Argentina, were also beaten by European opposition as Scotland levelled their three-test series with Los Pumas with a 29-6 win in front of a sell-out crowd in Salta.
Argentina XV, however, did win on their travels, taking down hosts Portugal 52-35 in Lisbon.
Meanwhile, in North America, Canada were on the receiving end of a Spanish onslaught in Halifax. Los Leones ran in nine tries in their maiden test against Canada in Canada to win 57-34.
It was the second-most points Canada have scored in defeat, their tally of 34 falling just one short of equalling the 35 they managed against the USA in a 38-35 loss in 2014.
NAMIBIA SET FOR ALL BLACKS HAT-TRICK
Namibia justified their pre-tournament favourites’ tag with a dominant 36-0 win over Kenya in the final of the Rugby Africa Cup 2022 which earns them a place in Pool A at Rugby World Cup 2023.
As Africa 1, Namibia can now look forward to games against New Zealand, France, Italy and Uruguay.
The Welwitschias have drawn the All Blacks for the third tournament in a row, following a 58-14 loss at Rugby World Cup 2015 and a 71-9 defeat at the last tournament in 2019.
NORTH LAYS DOWN RUGBY WORLD CUP MARKER
For the first time ever, all four of the home nations beat their Rugby Championship counterparts on the same weekend.
While England and Scotland produced eye-catching performances in defeating Australia 25-17 and Argentina 29-6, it is Wales and Ireland who deserve the biggest accolades.
In 116 years of history between the teams, Wales had never beaten the Springboks in South Africa.
But all that changed in Bloemfontein on Saturday thanks to a nerveless touchline conversion from the boot of Gareth Anscombe, which earned them a 23-21 win.
Anscombe had come on as a 53rd-minute replacement for Wales captain Dan Biggar and had kicked one and missed one of his two attempts at goal prior to Josh Adams’ try in the corner.
But the Cardiff playmaker made sure with the one that really mattered one minute from time, to ensure his name will go down in Welsh rugby folklore.
Ireland’s first win over the All Blacks in New Zealand was more comfortable, in truth.
The All Blacks lost Angus Ta'avao to a 30th-minute red card and were always on the back foot against an Irish side whose positivity after their first test defeat proved well placed.
Prop Andrew Porter was the unlikely hero with a brace of tries but Ireland could have had so many more had the All Blacks’ defence not been as good as it was.
GEORGIA ARE BACK ON TRACK
By their own admission, Georgia endured a disappointing Rugby World Cup 2019 with their failure to win more than one pool game and qualify automatically for France 2023.
COVID-19 and the subsequent serious illness suffered by head coach Levan Maisashvili was a huge roadblock that they had to overcome in the post-tournament rebuilding phase
But the Lelos will take huge confidence from this weekend’s 28-19 win over Italy as it is the first time they have beaten the Azzurri and the first time they have been successful against one of the established nations.
Having now broken through that ceiling and seeing young players like full-back Davit Niniashvili come through with flying colours, the Lelos can look forward with optimism that their time in the Six Nations may yet come.