There were suprising results from last week’s round of the Rugby World Cup, not least Uruguay’s win against Fiji. We have a closer look at the winners and losers coming out of these matches and what we might expect looking ahead.
Shock of the round: Uruguay
Undoubtedly, the biggest surprise of the round was Uruguay upsetting Fiji in Kamaishi. Fiji were heavy favorites, and this was viewed as an inevitable victory. They had more professional stars, more experience on the big stage and are considered simply on a tier above Uruguay. In a sport where the established usually dominate, Rugby World Cup shocks are seldom. Just ten months ago, Fiji beat Uruguay 68-7. A similar result was expected of this encounter. Despite this, Uruguay showed incredible professionalism and stamped their authority early. Fiji were clearly a larger team, with a pack weighing 891kg against Uruguay’s 817kg, yet Uruguay became the aggressors.
‘Los Teros’ showed strong passion and heart, yet it was the precise execution of game plans that caught Fiji out. Meneses’ constructed a defensive approach based on containing the ‘Flying Fijians’. Uruguay were efficient from their set-pieces and had a healthy ratio of kicking-to-carrying. Their offense was built on capitalizing on Fiji’s inevitable errors as frustration and tiredness kicked in. Uruguay Rugby is at an-time high, and from Montevideo to Rivera, they all have new heroes to be inspired by.
Player of the round: Kotaro Matsushima
Japan’s high-flying outside center looked spectacular in the opening game of the tournament. His three tries were essential for his side to overcome a dogged Russian side, who looked like they could cause an upset. In front of a full home crowd, he became the first Japanese player to score a hat-trick in the World Cup.
Matsushima has the potential to the tournament’s poster boy. His style and swagger combined with his passion and effectiveness makes him my dark horse for making the team of the tournament in a position which is highly coveted. The Suntory Sungoliath and Sunwolves player has the opportunity to raise his own stock and have the rugby world’s eye on him.
Winners of the round
As per usual, the All-Blacks got the job done in what could have been a tricky encounter against South Africa. Many considered the South Africans as favourites for the tournament, which is a title that New Zealand are seldom not given. The familiar rivals battled hard, and although it was not a spectacular performance by the Maori, it was grinded out. The Springboks played well and impressed, but two errors that led directly to tries opened the door for a New Zealand victory. The All-blacks certainly didn’t look perfect, but what they know more than anyone is that nothing is won on the first day.
A chance to put down a marker, Les Blues left Ajinomoto Stadium with a monumental win. Playing against a dangerous Argentina side who were also in the hunt for a top place finish in the pool, France grabbed a big win. In what turned out to be an instant classic, both sides looked ready to go to war. With the knowledge that England were heavy favourites for pool C, both sides came out firing. Led by young fly-half Romain Ntamack, a usually unpredictable side looked composed. France fans have plenty to be positive about after this round. With a hint of fortune they can be positive about going far in the competition.
Loser of the round: Fiji
A team that is usually always good for a World Cup shock, it Fiji who were undone by lower opposition. The Fijians had hopes of qualifying, with many considering them as dangerous opposition to upset Wales for the second spot in pool D. This result is particularly disappointing as the World Cup is always a chance for Pacific Island teams to impress and give their top performers a showcase. Unfortunately, not many of the Fijian players looked to have improved their reputation.