With the Rugby World Cup pool stages now over, what are notable trends from the past week’s action? Two Cents Rugby investigates with his five takeaways.
Scotland’s dry run against Ireland
It’s been a long time since Scotland has managed to get a win over Ireland. Questions were put to head coach Gregor Townsend after their latest loss about whether his side is good enough to match it with the top teams and if changes are needed in the set-up.
It’s worth nothing that since the last World Cup, they’ve beaten France both home and away. They’ve claimed their first away win over Wales since 2002. They’ve beaten Australia at home, Argentina home and away and came within eight points of the All Blacks. The one Six Nations side they’ve not managed to beat is Ireland.
Losing the do-or-die match against the number one team in the world is no shame. This Irish side doesn’t concede many tries, averaging less than two per game, and Scotland were going for broke, managing to bag two crossings. In this case, sadly for them, it was far from enough.
Wales under the radar
Top of their pool, three games with winning bonus-points and still not really fancied.
Wales were certainly pushed by Fiji in the opener and Portugal gave them a good game. But a record win over Australia and a six-try shift against Georgia, albeit with a scare during the middle of the game, was enough.
These results show this Welsh side is playing effective, winning rugby.
Stats wise, their tackling percentage hasn’t dropped below 88% in any of their pool games, which is something none of the other tier one teams have managed at this World Cup.
Taulupe Faletau having broken his arm is going to be a massive loss, but Warren Gatland certainly knows how to set up a team to be hard to beat, we’ll see how far it can take them.
Irish chance for history
Ireland have already made history by extending their winning streak to 17 games, the longest run of any Irish team. However, an even greater bit of history is on the cards if they can extend that streak to 18 with a quarter-final victory over New Zealand.
The last match they lost was that 2022 game to the All Blacks at Eden Park, but they backed it up with two away wins for a series victory in New Zealand.
Ireland have had close calls along the way against the likes of South Africa, Australia and even Samoa, but they’ve always managed to get the job done.
Even without the blowouts against Tonga and Romania, this year they’ve bagged a whopping 40 tries in 2023 and conceded only 13.
The All Blacks are a big team, but Ireland are number one in the world and will back themselves to make history on multiple fronts.
Tonga and Samoa come right
With some big names in both of the Samoan and Tongan squads, both sides were expected to be competitive in their pools.
Samoa opened up well enough with their win over Chile, but were disappointing in the losses to Argentina and Japan. Their final game against England was perhaps the best of their campaign, despite losing by one point. They were solid at set-piece and their backs showed some of their attacking skills we’d all been expecting.
Tonga were pumped by Ireland and Scotland in their first two games, looking clearly off the pace. But in their third game against the Springboks, they bagged three tries and also fronted up in the forwards. The result may have blown out, but they were certainly better value in the performance.
In a flip from Samoa’s fixture schedule, Tonga bagged their win in an impressive display against a poor Romanian side last up. Sadly for both teams they’ve come into their best form a touch too late.
A major upset
Not quite the same level as Japan knocking over South Africa back in 2015, but Portugal’s win over Fiji was certainly a good one for the competition.
Some of the less fancied sides have had some big scorelines put on them this Rugby World Cup, but Portugal hasn’t been one of them. They’ve been genuinely competitive in every game that they’ve played and came within a kick of beating Georgia.
Against Fiji, a side who already had one foot in the quarter-finals, Portugal were once again underdogs. But their electric backs like Manuel Pinto, Raffaele Storti and Rodrigo Marta set the game alive. Plus, their forwards tackled the house down.
It may not be a quarter-final berth, but it was a first ever Rugby World Cup win for Portugal which can hopefully encourage the next generation of players.