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Wales and England might regret stepping onto the coaching merry-go-round.

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Scorelines don't tell the full story on a record breaking RWC weekend

By Matt Merritt
NZ celebrate 2

After a year’s wait Rugby World Cup 2021 has finally arrived, and if week one is anything to go by, it will be a tournament worth the wait! It would be easy to suggest that the teams we expected to win all came out on top and as such there’s not been much progress, but scratch beneath the surface and there’s lots to be positive about.


Ahead of the first day of fixtures World Rugby announced a sell out crowd of 40,000 for Eden Park. Though in reality the stadium was never full, there was nonetheless a big crowd for each of the three opening day games, especially for the Black Ferns match and plenty of noise from the stands.

In the first match of the day France took the win, scoring 40 points to South Africa’s 5. It would set a trend for the day, each of the favourites winning by a sizeable score whilst the losing teams showed definite signs of progress.

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For South Africa, the period between the 17th and 67th minutes will give them heart. For 50 minutes in the middle of the game France were scoreless and it was only as the clock ticked down and French fitness won out that the score line tipped so heavily to one side.

Captain Nolusindiso Booi, speaking after the final whistle, saw definite improvement in her team. “Everything that we were doing was great, it was giving me goosebumps. It takes me back to the previous World Cup – how bad things were – and shows that we are coming up with a better team. That scoreboard doesn’t mean anything for now. We are looking forward to the next game.”

After a short break England would run out to face World Cup debutants Fiji. The newcomers, whose entire starting 15 has less caps than Red Roses captain Sarah Hunter, played some incredibly entertaining rugby, but this was only going to end one way and the tournament favourites managed to break three records in one moment as Claudia MacDonald’s fourth try was simultaneously the most tries in one World Cup game for an England player, the 14th try of the game – the most England have scored in a single game, and confirmed the biggest score the Red Roses have racked up at a World Cup. Impressive stuff for a player who, just a couple of months ago, thought she might never play again!


Fiji might never have looked in danger of beating their opponents, but when they did gain possession their flair and attacking ambition was a joy to watch. They were also the first team to score three tries against England in nearly a year. Pretty impressive given this was Fijiana 15’s seventh ever Test match.

In the final game of the day New Zealand came back from behind to beat Australia. After 30 minutes you’d be forgiven for having thought the Black Ferns’ campaign might be over before it had really begun, but once again big game experience paid off. After the initial nerves and emotion from the most incredible haka ever seen in the women’s game had worn off, household names made their mark with Portia Woodman reminding the crowd why she’s considered one of the deadliest finishers in the game with a hattrick of tries and Ruby Tui earning a player of the match performance.

The crowd for day two in Whangarei was smaller, but even more boisterous, than the previous day. They were treated to an entertaining first game as Italy secured a strong win over the USA, scoring 22 points to the Eagles 10.

“The first half we had some problems to manage the possession of the ball,” Italy Head Coach Andrea Di Giandominico said after the game. “Just at the end of the first half we went in the USA half, we try to play more, but made many mistakes so at half-time we spoke about this and in the second half it was much better, the possession.”


Game two was better for North American fans as Canada comfortably beat Japan, scoring 41 points while their opponents had to settle for a single try. While it was a strong performance their Captain, rampaging number 8 Sophie De Goede, saw plenty of opportunity for improvement.

“I think we can work a bit on our finishing, some handling errors cost us. I think we just need to flip that switch a bit. We have a strong set piece, but we can’t simply be relying on that. So, I think we can improve in those type of areas.”

The final game of the weekend turned out to be the most dramatic as Scotland, making their return to the tournament after a 12-year absence, lost in the final minute.

A Kiera Bevan conversion securing the win for Wales. Scottish captain Rachel Malcolm was forthright in the post-match press conference, speaking from the heart. “I am heartbroken at the minute. The way we fought back into the game shows the character that we have within this team. We are so passionate about performing for our country and it just shows the effect of not taking points when we had pressure earlier in the game.”

So, after six matches who were the top players? As we’ve already mentioned England’s Claudia MacDonald topped the try-scoring charts after successfully crossing the whitewash four times. Those 20 points also give her top spot on the points charts.

In terms of carries, Sophie De Goede was first among forwards with an impressive 115 metres. Black Ferns talisman Ruby Tui was everywhere for her team and that showed with her racking up 165 metres while carrying, but that was eclipsed by Red Roses fullback Ellie Kildunne who racked up a mind-blowing 193 metres ball in hand.

It’s no surprise that the leaders in those stats come from winning teams, while on the defensive side of things the tables largely flip around. Australian Atasi Lafai and USA prop Hope Rogers both made 19 tackles to help their teams’ defensive effort. Impressive stuff, but eclipsed by a herculean display by Wales’ Alex Callander. The openside flanker tackled opposition players 24 times and maintained a 100% success rate.

However, there are achievements statistics can’t measure too, and seeing Abby Dow back on the field after a horrific leg break in the Six Nations that many believed would cost her a trip to New Zealand, was something special. That she used her searing pace and scored almost as soon as she stepped out on the pitch as a replacement was a reminder of why she got a seat on the plane without playing a minute in the lead up to the tournament.

If there was one player who stood out for me across the first weekend of games, I’d point to Ruby Tui. Whether it was staring down her opponents in the haka, seemingly being in ten places at once throughout the game against Australia or lighting up the post-match interviews with a gigawatt smile and boundless enthusiasm, she embodies all that was good about a thrilling opening weekend of the World Cup!


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