rugby world cup 2023 – round four

by allyn freeman

Free Jack and Tongan International, Semisi Paea, swaps shorts with South Africa’s Eben Etzebeth after their 4th round match up

As the fourth week ended of Rugby World Cup 2023, a clearer picture emerged of the probable eight teams that might advance into the quarter finals. Barring a fifth and final round of possible upsets, the groupings would be as follows:

            Ireland versus New Zealand – England versus Fiji

            France versus South Africa – Wales versus Argentina

            The most interesting of the final qualifying contests features Ireland against Scotland in the coming week (See “Round Five Schedule”). Ireland won this year’s Six Nations championship with a Grand Slam, defeating all five fifteens, and was ranked number one for many weeks.

            France, the host country, has performed commendably, especially, filling regional stadiums. The eight venues outside Paris have attracted capacity crowds, even for many of the tier two and tier three matchups (e.g.; Uruguay/Namibia, Georgia/Portugal, and Samoa/Chile). The Marseille stadium nearly filled its 68,000 seat stadium for each match.

            In Paris, rugby enthusiasts view matches via large screens set up at the historic Place de la Concorde square in the center of the city. Most of the French cafes offer RWC television viewing to patrons with these bistros packed with fans when France plays.

Handré Pollard, South Africa

            Penalties and try conversions in rugby are as commonplace as scrums or lineouts. It’s the success rate of these kicks that often represents the winning margin in close contests. On the world’s stage for over ten-years is the talented Springbok kicker Handré Pollard who made his RWC 2023 debut last week against Tonga.

            Pollard was the standout player in South Africa’s RWC 2019 victory against England. tallying 22-points from six penalties and two try conversions. He has been a prolific scorer for more than decade, starting out in the 2012 World Rugby Junior Championship, won by the Springboks over New Zealand.

            Out with an injury most of this year, his return for South Africa means the team has a world class fly half/inside center in reserve. Against Tonga, he made four successful kicks at goal, some from long distances. He could return to the starting lineup as a scoring threat.

Round Four – Recap

Fiji – 17 – Georgia 12 –  The only close game of the eight-card week. Georgia, or the Lelos, led 9-0 at the break. The Fijians failed at every long lineout throw, ceding possession. But in the second half, Fiji rallied for two converted tries. Georgia mounted a desperation final movement that ended with the Fijian fullback kicked the bouncing ball out of the try zone.

Uruguay 36 – Namibia 26 – Namibia surprised everyone by bursting inro a 23-12 lead, seemingly, on track for its first ever RWC win.  But the Teros (local bird) rallied in the second half with 24 points to secure the victory.

Japan 28 – Samoa 22 – The Brave Blossoms led throughout the match with three tries. What’s been intriguing for Japan during the past decade is the number of non-Japanese players who play for the national side. The oddest fan hat in the tournament featured a scrumcap sporting numbers on each side that tallied (manually changed) the score as the game progressed.

New Zealand 96 – Italy 17 – The All Blacks were expected to win but not by such a blowout, amassing 14 tries. Italy joined the Five Nations championship in 2000, solely, a money move to allow three television matches a week. Since then, the Azzurri (Blues) have been bottom of the Six Nations table almost every year, never winning more than two games.

Argentina 59 – Chile 5 – The Pumas easily defeated the Condors. Argentina has never lost a rugby match to any of its South American rivals, winning 42 times against Uruguay, 40 versus Chile, 17 against Paraguay, and 13 against Brazil.

Scotland 84 – Romania 0 – These mismatched pastings are always part of every RWC. Scotland achieved a Bonus Point against the Mighty Oaks.

Australia 34 – Portugal 14 – The Wallabies kept their narrow hopes alive for a quarter final berth. The Aussies have played poorly in their last nine Test Matches, winning only twice.  Clearly, rugby union needs an overhaul if the nation is to remain in the top ten in the future.

South Africa 49 – Tonga 19 – The Springboks dominated the Sea Eagles in all facets of play. South Africa poured in seven tries, most, under the posts, converting all. The faithful Tonga fans clapped loudly and often for their underdog fifteen.

Round Five Schedule

Thursday, October 5 – New Zealand vs. Uruguay

Friday,      October 6 – France vs. Italy

Saturday,  October 7 – England vs. Samoa, Wales vs. Georgia, Scotland vs. Ireland

Sunday,    October 8 – Japan vs. Argentina, Romania vs. Tonga, Fiji vs. Portugal

Final Note

            The 2027 RWC is scheduled for Australia, which has already lined up stadiums for the event. No decision has yet been made to increase the number of teams from 20 to 24. Had this change existed for RWC 2023, the four extras might have included squads from the USA, Canada, Spain, Russia, or Kenya.

            The four added teams would increase tourist visits to the host nations, a vital revenue boost. Remember, the quadrennial RWC comes to the USA in 2031 for Men and 2033 for Women.

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