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1. All Blacks’ weaknesses exposed by Wallabies
New Zealand’s huge 71-3 win against Namibia was clouded by a red card to Ethan de Groot, and while they have signalled their intention to fight that decision, they have bigger issues to worry about.
Their discipline over the past three Tests has been poor, and had Wallabies halfback Tate McDermott managed to get the ball over the line at the end of the first half in that narrow loss in Dunedin in August, the All Blacks would currently be one win from their past four Tests.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s now clear to see that the improved Wallabies’ performance in Bledisloe II exposed some weaknesses in the All Blacks – particularly in that opening 40 minutes.
The Wallabies had them on the rack with some dominant carries, and although Richie Mo’unga got the All Blacks out of jail in New Zealand, they have not been convincing since then. They can certainly get up for a quarter-final, but can they win three big Tests in a row? The jury is out.
New Zealand’s Rieko Ioane evades a tackle from Namibia’s Tiaan Swanepoe.Credit: AP
2. Leali’ifano and Cheika are on a remarkable collision course
Argentina have a rough schedule at this Rugby World Cup. They had England first up, and that disappointing performance and loss has already put them on a knife-edge already. Coach Michael Cheika would have been desperate to rectify that display but they had a ‘bye’ this weekend, before facing Samoa next week – and the Pacific Islanders will be ready for them.
Christian Leali’ifano, a Wallaby under Cheika at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, kicked 16 points for Samoa in their win against Chile overnight on Saturday. Samoa are highly experienced, with a number of players like Leali’ifano who have switched eligibility. They are also well coached and comfortable going to their set-piece – Cheika will need to tap into all his experience to avoid an upset and an early exit.
Leali’ifano played the full 80 minutes against Chile, copped one massive tackle and ran as many times as he kicked. There is life in the old legs yet.
3. Ireland and South Africa might be the two best teams in France
As the cliche goes, there will be a lot of sore bodies after Ireland’s 59-16 win against Tonga – and the Tongans will be carrying most of the bumps and bruises.
Ireland’s Bundee Aki makes a break against Tonga.Credit: AP
The Irish have found the Test recipe – a set of big, dynamic and confrontational forwards and a hard-as-nails No.12 in Bundee Aki. They are rightly praised for their tactical excellence, but it sometimes overshadows the fact they have players such as Caelan Doris, Peter O’Mahony and Andrew Porter who just want to smash you to bits.
Their Pool B clash against South Africa next week is a heavyweight clash, and it might not be the only time they play. If the Springboks adapt to the loss of Malcolm Marx, you can see them going all the way to the final – and Ireland clearly have that ability as well.
4. The standard is outstanding
If you are following this Rugby World Cup superficially, you could be excused for thinking that it’s just a blizzard of cards and kicking. That’s completely misleading. The modern player is so athletic, skilled and explosive compared to their predecessors that the intensity level in every passage of play is high.
Chile supporters at the World Cup.Credit: Getty
If you look at Tests even 10 years ago, the defence was far weaker: blokes regarded as icons of the game wouldn’t get away with those habits against modern attacks.
Eddie Jones made some interesting comments this week about how the game now requires power and skills in the transition phases. It was bang on. Games in this Rugby World Cup are in a constant state of compelling tension because even small errors are getting brutally punished.
5. The South Americans are coming
It flew completely under the radar, but the premier competition in South America was rebranded Super Rugby Americas this year and is being backed by World Rugby to develop the game. It features teams from Argentina (2), Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and the United States, and the impact can be seen at this Rugby World Cup.
Uruguay gave France a metaphorical bloody nose at the weekend, and Chile have been entertaining everyone with their style of play (and fans). Rugby is clearly on the up in South America, and they now have a fantastic lead-in to the Rugby World Cup in the United States in 2031.
The most impressive thing about the Uruguay performance in the 27-12 loss to France was their attacking shape: it was a display built on skill as much as passion.
Watch all the action from Rugby World Cup 2023 on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. Every match streaming ad-free, live and in 4K UHD with replays, mini matches and highlights available on demand.
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