The 2019 Rugby World Cup is underway in Japan with 16 sides opening their accounts over the first four days with a mix of nail-biting thrillers, expected results and entertaining clashes to give fans a taste of what’s to come throughout the tournament.
Despite four sides yet to play a game, let’s dive in and have a look at who’s come out of the first four days looking the best.
1. New Zealand
Result: Defeated South Africa 23-13
The All Blacks, for the first time in a long time, came into the World Cup without overwhelming favouritism thanks to the rise of teams like Wales, Ireland and England and their recent close matches against the Springboks.
Any doubts look to have been thrown out the window with a solid, if unspectacular, win over South Africa in their opening pool game, one which has looked to have sealed top spot in the pool.
While there were portions of the game where they found themselves on the back foot, the defending champions were all in class in repelling the Boks offence and finding points of their own when it counted most.
Result: Defeated Georgia 43-14
Wales were handed an absolute gift of an opening game for the World Cup, being fed Georgia for their tournament start to give their players a chance to build some confidence.
An upset was never on the cards and Wales did exactly what they needed to do. Win, and win comfortably. There’s always room for improvement, but this is what Wales needed after an undulating few months of form.
Result: Defeated Scotland 27-3
Much like the Kiwis, Ireland faced their toughest task straight out the gate. They dominated a struggling Scottish outfit, crushing their European neighbours under the weight of their forward pack who completely outplayed their opposition big men.
Three of Ireland’s four tries came from a pick-and-go, a rolling maul and a short ball to the pod close to the line. If their 1-8 can fire again like that consistently then the Irish could pose a more of a threat than many were expecting.
Result: Defeated Tonga 35-3
Considering the shellacking Tonga copped at the hands of New Zealand a few weeks ago, many were expecting England to inflict a similar result. They did bag a decent win against the Island nation, but you know Eddie Jones won’t be happy with a lot of facets of their opening game.
A Manu Tuilagi double was the catalyst for a fairly comfortable 32-point win, keeping their opposition tryless in the process.
They weren’t as strong as many were hoping but it’s still a good win to kick off their campaign.
Result: Defeated Argentina 23-21
This ranking might reflect the quality of the game as a whole more than the French themselves, but Les Bleus showed an outstanding mental fortitude and late-game fitness to hang on to a match that, at first, looked like they couldn’t lose.
In a fixture that many pundits had at 50/50 before kickoff, the French ran riot in the first half, scoring 20 of their 23 points in the opening stanza.
Their second half certainly left a bit to be desired, but this was a key game for the three-time finalists who are now in a strong position to either slide into the quarters behind England, or even topple the much more fancied side to top the pool.
6. South Africa
Result: Defeated by New Zealand 23-13
It might be a little odd to place the Boks so high considering they lost their opening game of the tournament, but when it’s against New Zealand, a defeat is always taken with a pinch of salt.
While not quite able to reclaim their form against the All Blacks from earlier in the year, South Africa were able to take control of the game on more than a few occasions, pressuring the defending champions through the middle, and out wide where Cheslin Kolbe ran riot when given some wiggle room.
Keeping New Zealand to two tries is an achievement in itself and if the Springboks can better capitalise on some of the field position and possession they enjoyed, then they’re a very real threat.
Result: Defeated Fiji 39-21
A win’s a win. The Wallabies gave their fans a bit of a scare getting there though in a performance that was far from convincing.
After taking a deficit to half-time, the Wallabies were forced to turn it on in the second 40, or risk a boilover. And turn it on they did, scoring 27 unanswered points in the last half an hour, although the 39-21 scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story.
Despite the second-half turnaround and some genuinely strong performances off the bench, Michael Cheika’s men need to improve substantially if they want a realistic chance at a deep run.
Result: Defeated by France 23-21
Argentina produced an outstanding second half that nearly produced a sensational result against France. But alas for the Pumas, their second stanza blitz was undermined by their first-half flop.
They showed everything good and bad about Argentine rugby all inside a single 80-minute performance. Even though they put up a highly entertaining display of rugby in a nail-biting contest, this is a huge loss for their World Cup campaign and one they’ll need a fair bit of fortune to recover from.
For this week though, a tight two-point defeat sees them in the top half of the power rankings.
Result: Defeated Namibia 47-22
Despite conceding the first try of their game against Namibia, Italy bounced back in a big way, scoring seven of the next eight meat pies as their backline ran riot.
Their backline was on fire, throwing the ball around all over the shop in an entertaining display of champagne rugby. A few lapses that let the Namibians in, and the lower quality nature of their opposition, is what keeps the Italians a little lower in the rankings despite a nice win on the board.
Result: Defeated by Australia 39-21
Fiji came out like a team possessed, taking the fight to their favoured opponents and shaking the Wallabies.
Their first 40 minutes alone is worth a strong rating, but they let their opportunity for an early-tournament upset slip through their hands as errors crept into their game later on.
Fiji are a high-impact side with plenty of pace out wide and muscle in the middle but it’s their fitness which looks like letting them down. A strong showing no doubt but a loss is a big blow to their knockout-stage aspirations.
Result: Defeated Russia 30-10
It might be a bit harsh to throw the hosts down this far in the ratings despite winning on the opening day. Fact is, they should have won by a lot more.
A beautiful winger’s hat-trick from Kotaro Matsushima was the highlight as Japan struggled to get going, wavering against a burly Russian forward pack in the scrum and through the middle.
They’ve put high expectations on themselves after the success of 2015, so they won’t be entirely happy with the patchy win.
Result: Defeated by Italy 47-22
Considering their long and painful history at the World Cup, plucky Namibia put up an entertaining fight against Italy.
Their 22 points, coming from three tries, is the second-highest score they’ve ever registered at the Cup in 20 games. If that’s not a little bit of positive progress then I don’t know what is.
Result: Defeated by Ireland 27-3
Scotland have had a tough 2019, winning just a single game in their Six Nations campaign and not playing a single warm-up Test before the Cup.
Their struggles continued in their first fixture against Ireland, unable to cross the tryline in a lacklustre display that won’t give Scottish fans too much hope for the rest of the tournament.
They’ll need to vastly improve if they want to avoid being kicked out by either Samoa or Japan before the quarter-finals.
Result: Defeated by England 35-3
Tonga performed a little better than most were expecting considering their 85-point thrashing at the hands of New Zealand just a few weeks ago. The men in red were able to push England with their physicality, especially in the backline, which will have them hopeful of some positive results later in the tournament.
Still, not scoring a try and conceding four is never a great start to a tournament and they have some defensive issues to iron out.
Result: Defeatded by Japan 30-10
Russia almost had the perfect start against the hosts, pouncing on an error off of the first kick-off of the tournament and getting within ten metres of the line in as many seconds. They kept the pressure on and took an early lead in the game to silence the home crowd on opening night.
Unfortunately for them, that was about as good as it got, failing to properly capitalise on penalties inside their attacking half and a high phase count near the Japanese line. Mistakes began to creep in, allowing Japan to pounce in broken play.
Result: Defeated by Wales 43-14
Poor Georgia never had much of a shot coming into this one. Wales are simply far too strong an outfit for a gallant side that has seen improved results at the World Cup over the past few tournaments.
The good news for Georgia is that they’ve pushed arguably their toughest contest out of the way first up and, aside from the Wallabies, can aim to snag a win against either Uruguay or Fiji. Look for them to move up the rankings next week.
Not ranked: Samoa, Canada, USA, Uruguay