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 2.
Round 2 was a tale of battling underdogs, playground bullies and an upset that wasn’t an upset. OK, technically we predicted a narrow Australia win (29-22) but Fiji’s thrilling victory over the Wallabies was still one for the ages and one that throws Pool C wide open.
We dissect three of the big games in detail but don’t worry, we haven’t ignored anyone, and have insights to share on every game from Round 2. We’ll also share what’s changed in our tournament predictor.
France 27-12 Uruguay
Rugby fans around the world may have packed their fantasy teams full of France players in anticipation of a big scoreline for Les Bleus, but Uruguay had other ideas when the two sides kicked off the second round of this year’s Rugby World Cup on Thursday evening.
After crossing for a second try in the 53rd minute to move within just one point of France, Los Teros fans must have been starting to dream of the biggest upset in Rugby World Cup history. Peato Mauvaka poured cold water on those dreams almost immediately though, with his try coming just two minutes and seven seconds after Baltazar Amaya had dotted down Uruguay.
Uruguay played with great ambition and were determined to hold onto the ball and attack from deep if they needed to. 70% of their 22 exits came via carries – only Ireland (77% vs. Romania) and Chile (71% vs. Samoa) have recorded a higher such rate in a match at this World Cup.
At times it was to their detriment – their six failed 22 exits were the highest of any team in a match so far in the tournament – but they caused France real problems and ended the game with more territory (53%-47%), line breaks (5-4) and defenders beaten (18-13) than France.
Los Teros face Italy next and will be eying an upset…
Wales 28-8 Portugal
Another side determined not to just make up numbers at the weekend was Portugal, and while they didn’t give Wales as much of a scare as Uruguay did against France, they made life difficult for Warren Gatland’s side.
Welsh fans will have no fingernails left by the end of this year’s Rugby World Cup with the sheer amount of late drama they’ve had to endure. After surviving a late scare against Fiji one week earlier it was Wales’ turn to lay siege to the opposition try line, finally crossing for what could be an important bonus point come the end of the pool stage. Faletau’s try (82:11) was the third latest scored at this year’s tournament and it was a theme of Wales’ victory against Portugal having also scored three minutes into added time at the end of the first half.
Portugal did get over for a well-worked try themselves. A week after Manie Libbok’s no-look kick, Os Lobos’ Rafael Simoes provided his own no-look assist, popping the ball down from a lineout to allow Nicolas Martins – who featured in our players to watch article – to crash over the try line.
It keeps up Portugal’s record of scoring a try in each of their Rugby World Cup matches (5/5) – only Zimbabwe (6/6) have played more matches at the Rugby World Cup and scored in them all.
Australia 15-22 Fiji
Fiji pulled off an historic victory against Australia, beating the Wallabies for the first time since 1954. And what’s more, they were deserved winners.
Both sides were evenly matched for many of their stats, but one major difference between the sides was the penalty count. Australia conceded 18 penalties to Fiji’s seven. The Wallabies’ tally was the joint most by any team in a match at this year’s Rugby World Cup (also Romania vs. South Africa), and the most by Australia in a match at the tournament since 1999 (20 vs. USA).
They were punished from those penalties too. Goal-kicking has often been an Achilles heel for Fiji but Simione Kuruvoli was perfect from the tee, landing all five of his attempts – no Fiji player has attempted more place kicks in a Rugby World Cup match and maintained a 100% success rate (Nick Little also 5/5 vs. USA in 2003).
His kicks were crucial. Fiji started the game as underdogs and it wasn’t until Kuruvoli’s 33rd-minute penalty to put his side 12-8 up that the Opta Live Win Probability model suggested Fiji were favourites to win.
Early in the second half, Josua Tuisova crossed the try line – his fourth in five World Cup matches – to extend Fiji’s lead and despite a late scare they held on to record a famous victory.
Meanwhile, a miserable year continues for Australia – they’ve won just 14% of their matches in 2023, their worst rate ever in a calendar year (min. six matches).
Other Fixtures Round-Up
New Zealand 71-3 Namibia
Putting their opening night disappointment behind them, the All Blacks put in a dominant display against Namibia despite making nine changes to their starting lineup. Ethan de Groot scored a try but then got himself sent off and became just the fourth player to endure this bittersweet combination in the Rugby World Cup. Remarkably, he was also the first All Blacks player to be sent off in RWC history.
It was New Zealand’s 50th World Cup win and, unfortunately, it was the 24th loss for the Welwitschias out of 24 attempts.
Ireland 59-16 Tonga
Ireland never really hit top gear in this match and Tonga’s slightly disappointing performance meant they never needed to. Johnny Sexton had already knocked over three conversions and a penalty goal but decided he’d break Ireland’s and Ronan O’Gara’s points record in style by splashing over the whitewash for a try.
He also nipped in ahead of Neil Jenkins to sit in fourth spot overall on the top points scorers in men’s Test rugby, behind just Dan Carter, Jonny Wilkinson and Owen Farrell. Tougher tests await Ireland this weekend, and their crunch game against South Africa will be their first real examination.
Samoa 43-10 Chile
Debutants Chile once again put in a resilient display, but the power and international experience of Samoa told in the end. Former Wallaby Christian Leali’ifano knocked over 16 points with the boot as his side scored four unanswered second-half tries to quash any hopes Chile had of causing a shock.
That being said it, was the South Americans who had a better tackle evasion rate (18%) and gained more post-contact metres (187), proving they definitely aren’t to be outmuscled in this tournament.
South Africa 76-0 Romania
Cobus Reinach now has two World Cup hat-tricks, and in fact the two earliest hat-tricks in Rugby World Cup history. His third in this match came after just 24 minutes, just a shade longer than his 21-minute effort against Canada in 2019 which still holds the record. Reinach has now scored six tries in just 120 minutes of his World Cup career – he might as well quit now.
The Springboks secured their four-try bonus point after just 11 minutes and 13 seconds, the earliest any side has ever scored four tries in a men’s Rugby World Cup match.
In similar fashion to Wales, it took England until the final play to dot down for the bonus-point try against Japan. It was a laboured performance with plenty of errors but Steve Borthwick’s side avoided a potential banana skin and England maintained their 100% record against non-Tier 1 sides in the World Cup (P17, W17).
Once again, their reliance on kicking was the talking point. They made 42 kicks vs. Japan, to go with 43 vs. Argentina in Round 1. They hadn’t previously made 40+ in a Rugby World Cup game since the 2007 final defeat to South Africa.
The only significant change in the overall tournament predictor this week sees Fiji swap positions with Wales after their impressive win over Australia. Pool C is still wide open with three sides having at least a 50% chance of making the KO stage (Wales, Fiji, Australia), and don’t write off Georgia yet either.
We now have England all but guaranteed a quarter-final berth in Pool D, with Samoa the biggest threat to Argentina advancing. Italy and Scotland are the underdogs in Pool A and B respectively, but they still have a chance to dump out one of the favourites if things go their way. Italy have a 9% chance of progression while Scotland’s likelihood sits at 10%.
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