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Winners and losers: Rugby World Cup opening weekend

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Roar Rookie
24th September, 2019
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For many teams, a whole World Cup cycle of work lead to this past weekend, as for some this once-every-four-years festival of rugby is their only chance to play on such a grand stage.

For those in this tournament to win it, this long weekend was an opportunity to lay down a statement of intent to the other frontrunners to hoist the Webb Ellis Trophy on Saturday, November 2nd. Here are the winners and losers from the past four days.

Winner: Japan’s backs
Kataoro Matsushima certainly took all the glory by finishing three tries in the hosts opener against Russia, becoming the first Japanese player to score a World Cup hat-trick.

The build up to his tries however were just as impressive as his finishing, with centers Ryoto Nakamura and Timothy Lafaele looking particularly impressive in attack with offloading and quick distribution. Fly-half Yu Tamura also had a good game on the ground, beating four defenders and making 31 metres with two clean breaks.

Loser: Argentina
Shockingly poor in the first half, allowing themselves to be torn to shreds by France. A second half recovery fell just short as – after going down 20-3 at the half – they regrouped and even took a 21-20 lead in the 68th minute from a Benjamin Urdapilleta penalty. A minute later, replacement Camille Lopez gave France back a 23-21 lead with a brilliant drop goal, which they held to the end.

Nicolas Sanchez

(Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

The final Argentinian opportunity came in the 79th minute when fullback Emiliano Boffelli missed a penalty that would have won the Pumas the match. This was the most consequential loss of the World Cup thus far, as Argentina now almost certainly need a result against England.

Winner: New Zealand
In a traditional dominant New Zealand performance against South Africa, the All Blacks showed doubters that they are still a very dangerous side. New Zealand took control of the match in five minutes, scoring 17 points in between the 22nd and 27th minutes. They reminded everyone that they remain the team to beat.

Loser: Johnny Sexton
Johnny Sexton is battered from a long career of being targeted. It did not take a recurring groin issue a long time to act up against Scotland on Sunday, as he had to hand his kicking duties over to Conor Murray in the 26th minute. After this point Sexton had a minimal impact in what was a dominant Irish effort, which is a sentence that has probably not been used in over five years.

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Conor Murray’s kicking was inaccurate and inconsistent, as he missed out on five points that will matter on a bigger occasion. This puts plenty of pressure on both Sexton to prove his worth to this World Cup starting 15, and his understudy Joey Carbery to get healthy.

Winner: Ireland
It has been a long time since Ireland have put in a dominant performance on a big stage without Johnny Sexton playing well. For instance, their Six Nations campaign earlier this year was an utter disaster as Sexton struggled for form throughout the tournament. Sunday however showcased a different Irish side.

The Irish executed in all areas that pundits criticised them for this year thus far. Their line-out was clinical as captain and hooker Rory Best put in a great 80 minute performance, scoring a try off the back of an attacking lineout maul. Their defence was in fine form, holding the Scottish offence tryless and scrumhalf Conor Murray played his best match in a year.

Jonny Sexton

(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Loser: Scotland
Clearly second best to the Irish in Yokohama, frustrated by the Irish defence and had holes in their own. Very clearly lost the battle in terms of physicality and usual danger men Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg were pocketed by the Irish backline. Stockdale was specifically strong in this aspect for Ireland, as his line speed gave Stuart Hogg consistent problems.

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Perhaps Scotland’s biggest issue was how quickly they let controversy get in their heads, as their locker room at half time looked like the Monday after a long weekend, while the Irish were laughing and relaxed. Japan will certainly see an opportunity to get to the quarter-finals on home turf.

Winner: Tonga
The Tongans were valiant from the off, frustrating England in the first quarter of the match defensively with hard tackling and good line speed. The match was tied 3-3 at the 20th minute, with England losing discipline and patience as they failed to breakdown a supposed pushover Tonga side who lost 92-7 to New Zealand in their final Test before the World Cup.

In the final three quarters of the match, England did secure an all important bonus point win in what is the 2019 ‘pool of death’, however – even in a 32 point defeat – Tonga proved that they belonged in Japan.

Loser: George Ford
After having their struggles against Tonga England will be looking for changes to make and – unfortunately – I think Ford’s name will be one on the chopping block.

His position as the No. 10 going into this tournament wasn’t always secure, as Henry Slade has great chemistry with oustide center Manu Tuilagi, which could likely see him don the No. 12 shirt for England in future matches, slotting Owen Farrell in at fly-half.