With the Rugby World Cup into its second week, what are five notable trends from the tournament? Two Cents Rugby investigates.
When we think Fijian rugby, the stereotype goes to the 7s skills in quick backs, offloads and high-risk entertaining rugby.
However, under Simon Raiwalui, they’ve really been showing themselves as a well-rounded team that can challenge in many different ways.
Earlier in the year, during the Pacific Nations Cup, we saw them putting their set piece to good use.
Now, in their do-or-die game against the Wallabies, we saw them win a game on the back of excellent work at the breakdown and kicking their penalty goals.
Fiji are already playing knockout rugby, with games against Georgia and Portugal to go, they are still very much a dark horse
It’s no secret that Ireland, under Andy Farrell, have been one of the most consistent sides in terms of their team selection.
Key players regularly get picked, with just enough rotation to ensure not all their eggs are in one basket. Ireland could have fielded much different sides against Tonga this week or Romania the week before.
They could have had twelve or so changes and still walked away with maximum points. But that wasn’t the case, and Farrell has stuck to his guns on squad selection.
Based on what we’ve seen, it has paid off, and Ireland have looked as slick as ever.
Their upcoming games are tougher than the first two, but based on what we’ve seen, they’ll be razor-sharp heading into the business end of the competition.
Springbok 4D Chess
Every week, we seem to be getting new innovations and plans from the South African management team.
Prior to the World Cup, the rugby world went into meltdown when coach Jacques Nienaber named a 7-1 split bench against the All Blacks.
Likewise, there was a surprise when they picked four scrum-halves in their initial 33-man squad for the World.
Now they’ve not only used all four scrum-halves but used them all in one game and, at one point, had three on the pitch at the same time.
In the forwards, they’ve also tested flanker Marco van Staden as a hooker against Romania. That may come in handy now that instead of bringing in Joseph Dweba to replace injured hooker Malcolm Marx, they’re bringing in fly-half Handre Pollard. Who knows what they’ll come up with next?
Tier 2 Games
Every World Cup, after an often inspired losing performance, we’ll get questions about the lack of Tier 1 vs. Tier 2 matchups outside of World Cups.
Most rugby fans would agree there needs to be more of these games. Logistics and finances are always going to be tough.
But the proposal to ring-fence off the Tier 1 teams even further seems like a backwards move when growing the game and will only see more blowouts like the Romanians faced in their first two games.
Fiji’s win over Australia also pushes them into The Rugby Championship conversation.
Not as popular with the neutrals as the likes of Fiji or Uruguay, but equally impressive in their first two games has been England on defence.
Sitting comfortably on top of Pool D, a large part of what England has gotten right is their defence.
England have been conceding an average of three tries per game in 2023, but against Argentina only conceded one and didn’t concede any against Japan.
Their discipline has been good, too, not breaking into double figures yet for penalties conceded in either game. Combine that with George Ford’s kicking game, and England’s platform has been good.
Does that mean England are now a favourite for the Rugby World Cup? No, however, it’s a better start than many expected for Steve Borthwick’s men.