In Brief: Rugby World Cup


Talking points from the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France

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Image by Erwan Harzic

By George Roberts

Once, twice, thrice
South Africa triumphed for the fourth time, the first nation to do so, beating New Zealand 12-11. It was the first New Zealand-South Africa final since 1995. 1995 marked South Africa’s return to the global sporting stage since the end of Apartheid and epitomised with Nelson Mandela, in a Springbok shirt, presenting the Webb Ellis Cup to Francois Pienaar.

New Zealand captain and flanker, Sam Cane, became the first man to be sent off in a Rugby World Cup Final, previously only Ben Smith, in 2015, had received a card in a final. Three more yellow cards were awarded with one to New Zealand and three to South Africa. Overall, eight red cards were awarded in this edition the same as in the 2019 instalment. However, 56 yellow cards were handed down in comparison with 28 in 2019. England were the only team to not have a player warming the seats in the sin bin as opposed to five last time.

The Northern Hemisphere Can’t Win Knockout Matches?
Wales, Ireland, and France all went unbeaten in the Pool Stages and lost in the quarter-finals. England, also unbeaten in the Pools, survived a late surge against Fiji (30-24) in the quarter-finals. This left them the sole Northern Hemisphere team in the semi-finals, narrowly losing to South Africa (15-16). Both New Zealand and South Africa suffered defeats in the Pool Stage but came back to face each other in the finals. 2019 went better for the Northern hemisphere with two representatives in the semi-finals. However, 2015, hosted in England and Wales, all the Northern Hemisphere representatives departed in the quarter-finals.

It’s not all about Tier One
The Portuguese rugby team pushed ahead of the author in the queue for security at Montpellier airport in September but they did produce some brilliant rugby beating quarter-finalists Fiji in a Toulon thriller (24-23) and drawing to Georgia (18-18). This was their first World Cup victory at only their second World Cup. Samoa came agonisingly close to humbling England (17-18) and Argentina (10-19). Uruguay gave Italy (38-17) and France (27-12) a run for their money. Fiji reached the quarter-finals (losing 30-24 to England), beating Australia on the way (22-15). Japan almost became back-to-back quarter-finalists but for a tight game with the Pumas (27-39).

A Second Tier Future?
World Rugby announced plans for a Nations Championship to begin in 2026. It will alternate between the July and November Test windows, Lions tours, and Rugby World Cups. Importantly, there will be promotion and relegation, but not until 2030 and no formal plans have been announced. The gap between Tier One and Two nations was, at times, painfully obvious. Romania, for example, conceded over 70 points in three of their outings. In a glimmer of hope for Tier Two, England “A” are due to play Portugal in February 2024 but there is still a dearth of test matches for Tier Two nations. Argentina entered the Rugby Championship – competing against Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa – in 2012. Three years later they were semi-finalists at the World Cup.

A Trio of Statistics
New Zealander Will Jordan scored eight tries across the tournament. Heequalled the all-time record, drawing level with compatriots Jonah Lomu and Julian Savea and South African Bryan Habana.Sam Whitelock of New Zealand (2011-23) now has the most appearances at World Cups with 26. Henry Arundell managed five tries in one game against Chile. Impressively, not a World Cup record as that accolade is still held by New Zea-lander Marc Ellis who run 6 past Japan in 1995 (it ended 145-17