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 5.
The final round of the pool stage delivered the biggest shock of the tournament so far as a passionate Portugal side wonderfully overcame Fiji in a thriller in Marseille to record their first ever Rugby World Cup win.
That result completed our quarter-final line-up and all four matches pit a Northern Hemisphere side against a Southern Hemisphere one.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s do a quick dive into the data behind the three biggest matches of Round 5 as well as an overview of every other match over the last week.
We’ll also give an update on our tournament predictor and check back in to see how our pre-tournament predictions turned out.
Ireland 36-14 Scotland
Just like they did in Japan four years ago, Ireland blew Scotland away in the first half of an all-important World Cup clash. In Yokohama, it was a 16-point lead and three tries in the opening 40 minutes, but this time around Ireland bettered that with one of their best halves of rugby at any tournament, scoring 26 unanswered points and notching the try bonus point for good measure.
A glance at the stats would have you believe this was the tightly contested affair many thought it would be. Scotland carried the ball for 1,366 metres in total during the match – only Scotland themselves and Ireland (both against Romania) have carried for more in a match at this tournament. Despite that, just 46% of Scotland’s metres were over the gainline. Only Tonga (45% vs South Africa) have recorded a lower rate in a match at this year’s tournament. Scotland made 74 carries that failed to reach the gainline, which was also a tournament high. This meant that their gainline success rate was just 49%, compared to Ireland’s 59%.
The Irish defence was in fine form all night and they made a real statement when they kept Scotland at bay for wave after wave of attack in the opening quarter.
In total Ireland made 195 tackles, their most ever in a Rugby World Cup match, surpassing their tally of 171 against Japan four years ago. Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris made 22 and 21 tackles respectively; no Ireland player had previously made more than 20 in a World Cup match.
Ireland’s attack was as efficient as their defence was sturdy – they made five line breaks, with four ending in tries, and averaged 4.0 points per entry from their nine forays into the Scotland 22, restricting the Scots to just 1.8 from eight entries in reply.
Ireland cruised into the last eight in style, but their tournament will likely be judged on their quarter-final result. A mouthwatering clash against the All Blacks awaits.
Japan 27-39 Argentina
Japan and Argentina came into their clash with only one objective – win and secure a quarter-final spot against Wales next weekend.
Argentina burst out of the blocks quickest, scoring their earliest ever Rugby World Cup try, and despite keeping their noses in front for the remainder of the match and never trailing at any point, it wasn’t until the final 10 minutes that Pumas fans could finally relax.
It was an incredibly entertaining game and ultimately the Pumas were just too efficient when they reached the Japan red zone, coming away with points from every entry into the Japan 22. Their average of six points per entry was comfortably the best rate of any team to make more than one entry in a game at this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Argentina also won the breakdown battle – they retained possession from 99% of their rucks, the best rate of any team at the weekend, but also did it with great speed, completing 68% of their rucks between 0-3 seconds. Compare that to Japan’s 50% rate and it’s easy to see why Argentina had the upper hand in attack.
The Brave Blossoms weren’t without their own attacking highlights though, as Amato Fakatava scored one of the individual tries of the tournament. He was 66 metres from the Argentina try line when he received the ball out wide in his own half. Fakatava ate up those metres in seconds, carrying for 22 metres, chipping over a Puma defender for a gain of 30 more, before gathering the ball and galloping the final 14 metres to dot down for Japan’s opening try.
It was a score that any player would be proud of but was made all the more impressive given that Fakatava is a 6-foot-5 second row. He certainly knows his way to the try line – this was his fifth try in seven Tests – but he will struggle to score a better one in his career.
Sadly Fakatava’s try was in vain as Argentina booked a spot in the last eight. After a slow start to life in Pool D the Pumas are starting to hit their straps and will fancy themselves against an unbeaten Wales team.
Fiji 23-24 Portugal
This was no fluke. Portugal have been excellent throughout their entire 2023 Rugby World Cup campaign. Having drawn with Georgia and run Wales and Australia close, this was their last chance to record a historic first World Cup win. They weren’t going to miss out.
After a low-scoring but gripping first 40 minutes, Fiji were still our comfortable favourites to prevail at the break (80%). The second half however was off the charts. Our predictor flipped its pick for the winner 11 times as the two sides traded blows. Just when Portugal looked to have finally run out of steam, they produced a moment of magic that will be indelibly inked into Portuguese sporting folklore. Portugal had just a 4% chance of victory in the 78th minute before the electric Raffaele Storti ghosted down the touchline to put Rodrigo Marta away for the match-winning try.
In the end, both teams sort of won. Fiji needed just a single match point to qualify for the quarter-finals and deliver what seemed an inevitable knock-out blow to Australia. There were definitely times when that was in jeopardy, but they made it, and in doing so became just the second side to reach the quarter-finals after losing two pool games (since five-team pools were introduced in 2003). The other side to manage that feat was France in 2011, who went on to reach the final that year.
Portugal had the complete package throughout their four games. They defended resolutely, kicked from hand smartly and had more than enough threat in attack to score tries in every game, registering eight in total.
Samuel Marques made the most kicks from hand (45) of any player in the pool stage, accruing the most kicking metres in the process (1388). Nicolas Martins made the second-most tackles of any player (63/66) and stole the fourth-most lineouts (4), ranking as the best defensive player and second-best player overall in the pool stage according to the Opta Index.
Rodrigo Marta carried the ball for 459 metres, the third most, while only four players made more breaks than Storti (8) and no one beat more defenders than him (23, same as Bundee Aki).
Portugal had world class players across the pitch that looked totally at home on the biggest stage and it was that culmination of quality, belief and accuracy that resulted in this historic win. Their starting XV had an average of 28, and over half of players were aged 26 or younger.
Bring on 2027.
Other Fixtures Round-Up
New Zealand 73-0 Uruguay
Uruguay made the All Blacks sweat in the opening quarter of the match, with New Zealand taking 19 minutes and 37 seconds to get over for their first try. Thirty-four matches in men’s Rugby World Cup history have seen one side score 70+ points but only one had seen the eventual winners take longer to dot down for their first score – England against Chile earlier in this tournament (19m 51s).
In the end, it was a routine win for the All Blacks who have been ruthlessly efficient since their opening-night defeat to France. A bigger challenge awaits in the quarter-finals.
France 60-7 Italy
This was supposed to be a decisive match in Pool A. In reality, it was anything but, as France blew Italy away in Lyon, recording their biggest win against the Azzurri.
France’s deluge of tries took their tally to 27 this year, their most in a pool stage at the Rugby World Cup. Meanwhile, Damian Penaud scored twice to become France’s second-highest try scorer (35, behind Serge Blanco – 38) while Louis Bielle-Biarrey became just the second France player to score in his first three Rugby World Cup appearances (after Imanol Harinordoquy in 2003).
For Italy, Tommaso Allan knocked over his solitary conversion taking his Rugby World Cup kicking streak to 17 in a row, a tally Thomas Ramos also reached earlier in the evening. Only three players have slotted more consecutive kicks at goal in the tournament’s history. After showing early promise Italy’s campaign ended in misery, while France will face a ferocious battle against the Springboks in the quarters.
Wales 43-19 Georgia
Wales took a little while to get going against Georgia, but once they hit their stride they never really looked like losing to a Georgia team that was eying up a repeat of their Autumn Nations Series win against Wales.
Warren Gatland’s men were efficient in the red zone, averaging 4.4 points per 22 entry, while their scrum and lineout gave them the perfect platform for the first time this tournament as they became just the third side to record a 100% set-piece success rate in a match this year (also New Zealand (twice) and Argentina).
Wales have now won all their pool stage matches in the last two editions of the World Cup, after not previously managing it since the inaugural edition in 1987.
England 18-17 Samoa
If it wasn’t for Danny Care’s try-saving tackle this would most likely have been one of our featured matches and the talking point of the weekend. However, England just about managed to get the job done. As they say, winning is a habit and England have now won each of their last eight pool stage matches at the Rugby World Cup, their best-ever run.
Owen Farrell – when he wasn’t getting timed out by the shot clock – overtook Jonny Wilkinson as England’s top points scorer in men’s Test rugby, while Nigel Ah Wong had a night to remember as he crossed for a brace of tries, becoming just the fifth player to score two or more tries against England in a Rugby World Cup fixture.
Tonga 45-24 Romania
Neither of these sides had picked up a win heading into this final pool stage match and at half-time it was still in the balance as to who would be going home with a consolation victory.
Romania had picked up just eight points across their opening three matches but an improved showing here at least meant that despite defeat they avoided the ignominy of breaking the record for fewest points in a Rugby World Cup campaign, a record they (14 in 1995) actually shared with Canada (14 in 2019) already.
Tonga will have definitely expected more from their campaign, but they did find themselves in the most brutal of pools.
And then there were eight. Ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, we made our predictions for the quarter-final line-up, so it is only fair we check in to see how those panned out.
Although Pool B was the Pool of death. doom, and despair, Pool C was always the one with the most evenly-matched sides, especially when you throw in the brilliant Portugal. And so it was there that our rugby supercomputer tripped up. It backed Fiji, so kudos there, but it also backed Australia over Wales.
Looking ahead, the four favourites pre-tournament remain the top picks now, in fact in the exact same order, despite fluctuations during the pool stage. Wales have been the biggest gainers with Gatland’s gang jumping from our 10th pick all the way up to the best of the rest and fifth favourites.