Stats, talking points, data visualisation and predictions. That’s what you can expect from our weekly Rugby World Cup data recap. Time to dig into Round 1.
Hosts France got the 2023 Rugby World Cup off to a raucous start by registering a rare and memorable victory over the All Blacks. Our Round 1 blog looks at that and also highlights the other major stats and talking points from all the action on the opening weekend.
This opening blog is also a chance to debut our new momentum graphics, which give a great snapshot of how the action unfolded across each and every game.
Oh, and we’ll also fire up the supercomputer to update our tournament predictor so you know for sure who is going to win the whole thing…
France 27-13 New Zealand
Our first focus game has to be the opener. Two of the favourites for the title went at it straight from the off and it was New Zealand who drew first blood with a try from potential Rugby World Cup superstar Mark Telea. It took just 92 seconds for him to gather a cross-field kick and dot down in the corner, making it the earliest try scored in a World Cup opener. Telea’s effort beat Kirill Golosnitskiy’s try after 4m 45s for Russia against Japan in 2019.
That warning shot from the All Blacks wasn’t followed up with a barrage though, and despite Telea performing a similar trick at the start of the second half to again give Ian Foster’s side the lead, it was France who dominated the last 25 minutes.
Both sides will almost certainly progress from the pool, but New Zealand will be wounded from a first-ever pool stage defeat in their World Cup history. They’ll have to repeat South Africa’s feat from 2019 of losing a game but still going on to win the tournament if they want a record fourth title.
England 27-10 Argentina
England came into this tournament on the back of a miserable run of form and just two minutes into the match it seemed that their World Cup would follow suit, with Tom Curry being shown a yellow card which was later upgraded to red.
However, England seemed galvanised and instead went on to record a comfortable victory, with man of the match George Ford at the heart of the action. England’s fly-half slotted three drop goals – all of them coming in the space of 10 minutes at the end of the first half – a tally that has only been bettered once in a Rugby World Cup match.
Ford’s drop goals were pivotal. Opta’s win probability model gave England just a 27% chance of winning once Curry’s red card was confirmed, and it sat at 36% immediately before Ford went into full Jonny Wilkinson mode.
Ford’s three drop goals had the following impact on England’s win probability:
Drop goal 1: 46%
Drop goal 2: 61%
Drop goal 3: 76%
A 40% rise in the space of 10 minutes. Ford’s calmness and composure was a stark contrast to Argentina, who looked like they were the team with 14 men as they dropped the ball on 14 occasions – the most by any team in a Rugby World Cup match since 2007 (Australia 14 vs. Canada).
Wales 32-26 Fiji
Wales and Fiji have history in the Rugby World Cup. This was the fifth successive edition that they’ve met and memories of the Islanders’ 38-34 victory back in 2007 seem as fresh as ever. Fiji were dealt a tough blow before the tournament when pivotal fly-half Caleb Muntz was ruled out through injury but they were just a fumble away from putting that behind them and making a perfect start.
In order to keep out a rampant Fiji side, Wales had to make a remarkable 253 tackles (Fiji made just 70), the most any side has ever made in a Rugby World Cup match.
Individually, Will Rowlands made 27 of those hits, only three players have ever made more in a single game in the tournament’s history (Thierry Dusautoir, Taulupe Faletau, Jonny Gray – all 28). All that effort nearly became irrelevant as Semi Radradra had the try line begging in the final seconds, but he couldn’t collect the loose ball cleanly and Wales held on.
Wales scored four tries from just five forays into the Fijian 22, whereas Fiji made 12 entries into the Welsh 22 for their four scores. The losers enjoyed 96% possession and 85% territory in the final 10 minutes as they chased the win, but missed opportunities cost them dear and they’ll now need to find victories against Australia and Georgia if they have hopes of progressing.
Other Fixtures Round-Up
Australia 35-15 Georgia
Eddie Jones ended his dire start to his second stint with the Wallabies, snapping their five-game losing streak after taking over earlier in the year. Georgia will be disappointed having recorded some impressive wins in recent years. Thirteen penalties conceded didn’t help their cause.
Ireland 82-8 Romania
Johnny Sexton returned for the Irish and he duly scored 24 points in a thumping (comeback) win against Romania. He now has 102 Rugby World Cup points, surpassing Ronan O’Gara (93) as Ireland’s top points scorer in the competition and is now just nine short of O’Gara’s overall Test tally (1,083). How far is Sexton off the all-time Rugby World Cup points total?
Italy 52-8 Namibia
Namibia are yet to win a World Cup match, with 23 defeats from 23 efforts. Italy weren’t at their best but were never troubled. Tommaso Allan had a great day at the office with the boot, landing all eight kicks he took and contributing 4.4 points extra to Italy’s tally, based on the expected points (xP) of the kicks.
Japan 42-12 Chile
Chile made their World Cup debut and put up a valiant fight against an experienced Japan side, who in the end had too much power for the new boys. Chile actually enjoyed more possession and were the bigger threat with ball-in-hand, but handling errors (12) and some wastefulness did for them.
South Africa 18-3 Scotland
This clash was a real bruising affair, as you’d expect with South Africa. But ultimately it was decided with a few deft touches of flair from the Springboks, with Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Manie Libbok taking the headlines. Four lineouts and three scrums were lost by Scotland on their own feed, which stifled any momentum. The Scots have not lost more set pieces in a Rugby World Cup match since 1991 (eight vs. Ireland and New Zealand).
South Africa’s comfortable win against Scotland has boosted their chances of glory and they now sit as our favourites, rising from third. Ireland and France both won but slip a spot each.
England and Wales were winners on the charts this round, with the former now the best of the rest in fifth spot and Wales also rising a couple of spots. Scotland and Argentina both drop down after defeats and will need to bounce back quickly.