One quarter-finalist confirmed, seven to go. Wales became the first team to book their place in the knockout phase of Rugby World Cup 2023, with a comfortable 40-6 win over Australia.
It’s a result that not only booked their place in the quarter-finals, but also pushed the Wallabies to the brink of a first-ever pool-stage exit from the tournament.
With both sides viewing this match as a must-win in a tightly contested Pool C, it was Wales who kicked out of the blocks the fastest. Gareth Davies scored in the third minute, benefiting from captain Jac Morgan’s scorching break to dot down under the posts.
Nick Tompkins and Morgan also scored, while Gareth Anscombe, on in the 12th minute for Dan Biggar, who went off injured, added six penalties, a conversion and a drop-goal in a Mastercard Player of the Match performance, as Wales recorded their biggest ever victory over Australia.
“We’ve got to make it count”
“That’s right up there. It was incredibly tough but we fronted up. We’ve got to make it count now, regroup with the bye week and make sure we do the business against Scotland.” Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has won a few big games in his time. So when he thinks the 13-8 Rugby World Cup Pool B victory over South Africa at Stade de France is “right up there”, it definitely is.
Not that the game needed his endorsement. It was an encounter that lacked for nothing in relentless intensity, pressure, and commitment, as well as pace, skill and bravery.
The match started at a blinding pace, and never let up, with both sides prepared to take an early gamble. The Springboks had the early advantage on the board and on the pitch, as Ireland’s early lineouts misfired. Both sides were willing to gamble.
But, inch by inch, Ireland willed momentum their way. Mastercard Player of the Match Bundee Aki’s break reset the match’s tone, and Mack Hansen’s try late in the first half gave them the half-time lead.
Cheslin Kolbe scored 11 minutes into the second half to take the lead back, but Ireland forced their way in front again just before the hour. And, this time, they didn’t let go. The Springboks missed three of four penalties and a conversion - and Ireland sealed victory with a Jack Crowley penalty three minutes from time.
South Africa v Ireland may be the match of the tournament to date, but it had to work hard to earn the title. Earlier, Georgia and Portugal set a challengingly high bar with an entertaining 18-18 draw at Stadium de Toulouse.
Both sides had a chance to take the win in the dying minutes. Georgia’s Luka Matkava missed a difficult conversion after Tengizi Zamtaradze had drawn the Lelos level with two minutes remaining, before Portugal’s Nuno Sousa Guedes dragged an almost equally tricky penalty just wide with the clock in the red. Cruelly, it looked to be going over before shaping away.
Wing Raffaele Storti scored twice, including one that seems destined for the tournament’s try-highlights package, as Os Lobos came back from 13-0 down after half-an-hour to lead 18-13 with just a couple of minutes left to play - before hooker Zamtaradze was driven over in the corner.
Scotland, meanwhile, kept their Pool B qualification hopes alive, with a 45-17 bonus-point win over Tonga. Gregor Townsend’s side ran in six tries to record their first win at RWC 2023, in their second match, to maintain the pressure on Ireland and South Africa, who have both played three times.
If Scotland can pick up a point-win over Romania on Saturday, that will set the scene for an epic decider against Ireland on 7 October.
Captain, scrum-half and talisman Antoine Dupont is returning to the France camp after surgery on a fractured cheekbone suffered during Les Bleus' record-breaking 14-try 96-0 win over Namibia in Marseille on Thursday, easing fears that his tournament may be over.
He left the field six minutes into the second half following a clash of heads with Namibia’s captain Johan Deysel, who had his yellow card upgraded to red.
After watching a rotated squad struggle to get over the line against Uruguay last time out, Fabien Galthié had opted to field a strong side for Les Bleus’ last match for a fortnight. Having changed out his two props and second row Cameron Woki at half-time, the plan was to make more changes around the 55-minute mark.
Namibia’s coach Allister Coetzee had also rung the changes to his side, with one eye on their final match, against Uruguay - where they hope, finally, to end their RWC losing streak.
That merely accentuated an already one-sided affair. Damian Penaud scored a hat-trick to move to third in France’s all-time try-scorers’ list, one adrift of Vincent Clerc’s 34 and five behind frontrunner Serge Blanco; 20-year-old new wing on the block Louis Bielle-Biarrey took his international touchdown tally to four in five matches; Charles Ollivon became the most prolific forward in Les Bleus’ history - he has scored 15 times for France.
“Look at us. We’re here”
Henry Arundell ran in five of England’s 11 tries on his Rugby World Cup debut as they beat tournament debutants Chile 71-0 at Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
The 20-year-old winger’s touchdown salvo equalled Josh Lewsey’s record as the most tries scored by an English player in a men’s international and moved him top of RWC 2023’s try-scoring rankings - and sent the 2003 champions to the brink of qualification for the knockout phase.
Despite the scoreline, England didn’t have it all their own way. It took them 20 minutes to break Chile’s line. As head coach Steve Borthwick said: “You have to give immense credit to Chile. They played in a manner that was courageous, incredibly committed and made it very difficult for us. Clearly I’m pleased with the way the team worked through a patch that was a bit sticky. But ultimately, we played some very good rugby.”
Chile, too, were keen to focus on the positives. Captain Martín Sigren said: “Four years ago we were getting the same result against Canada and USA. We were losing games against Brazil. Four years later, look at us. We’re here.”
Emiliano Boffelli scored 16 of Argentina’s 19 points, including their only try as they beat Samoa 19-10 in a rain-soaked encounter at Saint-Étienne’s Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
Their next match - a must-win if they’re to have any hope of qualifying from a wide-open Pool D - is against South American rivals Chile in Nantes on Saturday.