By allyn freeman

Free Jacks 8-man and Namibian International, Wian Conradie, touches down for a try against the Dallas Jackals at the beginning of the 2023 MLR season

The 10th iteration of the Rugby World Cup began on Friday, September 8th in Paris, France. This years tournament features three Free Jacks, making up 33% of the overall MLR players in Rugby World Cup 2023: Wian Conradie and LeRoux Malan for Namibia; and Semisi Paea for Tonga. Free Jacks Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, George Petrakos, also makes his Rugby World Cup Debut on staff for Italy. In total, there are nine current MLR players representing their countries on the world’s biggest stage.

“Round One has concluded, absent of upsets, unless perhaps like me, you expected the All Blacks to return to winning ways,” joked Free Jacks High Performance Manager, Tom Kindley. “Instead, France set the tournament alight in style, dispatching the All Blacks in the opening fixture and putting their competition on watch. We were incredibly proud to see our 2023 MLR Forward of the year, Wian Conradie, ( ) make his 3rd RWC appearance; and counterpart Le Roux Malan come off the bench for his first RWC outing in a pretty good effort against a strong Italy team that includes our head of physical performance, George Petrakos. Round 2 will see Le Roux and Wian both starting against the All Blacks, and Semisi Paea off the bench for Tonga as they face Ireland to open their RWC account. We are very proud of these boys flying our flag on the ultimate stage.”

A complete rundown of round 1 written by Rugby Historian, Allyn Freeman, can be found below.

On Friday September 8, the NY Times published a long article about rugby, which, before reading, all assumed would be a preview of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. The subject instead dealt solely with a narration and assessment of the All Blacks. Once again, New Zealand superseded the sport and its most significant tournament.

            The article pointed out that the Kiwis were not the dominant force of seasons ago. However, in the past year, the team recorded eleven straight victories and seemed on the path to regain the number one ranking from World Rugby. That mark was never obtained after South Africa routed the All Blacks 35-7 at Twickenham, achieving the largest win ever against its southern hemisphere rival.  How good were these All Blacks, really?

Rugby World Cup, Round One – (NB: World rankings in parentheses.)

France (3) 27 – All Blacks (4) 13The 2023 RWC began with a magical matchup between the home side and, historically, the world’s best fifteen, and past, three-time RWC champion. The Stade de France’s 80,000 seats were sold out for the first match in Pool A.

The Kiwis scored a try within two-minutes of the opening whistle to lead 3-0. After, a pattern emerged that continued for the match; “Ill-disciplined” All Black play resulted in penalty kicks (13 total) for France, expertly taken by fullback Thomas Ramos.

The half ended with France up 9-8. New Zealand notched a try at the start of the second half to go ahead 13-9. France retaliated with two tries and two additional penalties. Ramos (five penalties) tallied 17 of France’s 27 points. This represented the first loss ever in RWC pool play for the All Blacks.

South Africa (2) 18 – Scotland (5) 3 – The defending RWC champions showed up in a new, lime green strip. Scotland’s fifth place rankings was its highest in years. The Springboks displayed team cohesiveness, gradually, wearing down the Scots in loose play. Scotland will have to improve if it hopes to book a place in the quarterfinals.

England (6) 27 – Argentina (10) 10 – Earlier this year, the Pumas crushed England 50-29 at Twickenham. The English team was young and inexperienced. The Red Roses could not penetrate the Argentinean defense and resorted to the rarely used drop goal with George Ford hitting three to the delight of England supporters. How will future pool opponents defend against the English drop goal attack?

Italy (12) 52 – Namibia (21 ) 8 – A predictable result with the more experienced Six Nations fifteen trouncing the low ranking African team. Trivia: In the Six Nations event, Italy has beaten four of the five nations but never England.

Ireland (1) 82 – Romania (19) – No contest.

Japan (14) 42 – Chile (22) 12 – Chile, the Cinderella fifteen, made its RWC debut against Japan. It was the first occasion were the Condors displayed their red and blue kit. Chile scored first, surprising the heavily favored Brave Blossoms. Japan’s experience prevailed in a 42-12 result.

Australia (7) 35 – Georgia (13) 15 – Eddie Jones has returned to coach. The Wallabies had no difficulty overpowering Georgia in Pool C.

Wales (8) 32 – Fiji (9) 26 –  The final match of the first Round turned out to be the most exciting game, a ding-dong battle between two evenly matched sides. It marked a contest between traditional rugby play (Wales) against the free flowing, go for broke Pacific Island style.

Fiji featured two open field tries and, in the first half, lead 14-11. Wales was patient, moving the ball steadily up field and replying on back play to produce short yardage tries in the second half. Wales attained a 32-14 advantage, seemingly ending Fiji’s chances. But lapses in defense allowed the Islanders to punch in two tries to narrow the gap to 32-26 with a minute on the clock.

Fiji needed a try and a conversion for the upset. The team took the kickoff to within 15 yards of the Wales line. A last minute kick to an open winger with a clear field to the try line resulted in a

knock on. Game ended.

Wales made 252 tackles, a new RWC record.

Idle Teams: Uruguay, Portugal, Tonga, Samoa

Major League Rugby Players in RWC – Nine total. Five for Namibia. Three Free Jacks.

Round Two Schedule

Thursday, September 14 – France vs. Uruguay

Friday,     September 15 – New Zealand vs. Namibia

Saturday, September 16 – Samoa vs, Chile, Wales vs. Portugal, Ireland vs. Tonga,

                                          South Africa vs. Romania

Sunday,   September 17 – Australia vs. Fiji, England vs. Japan

Television – The RWC is available on NBC’s Peacock Channel for a fee.

Final Note

            Pre-match speculation fostered the idea that Round One would be ripe for upsets. But form held true throughout. (Photo: Namibia vs. Italy)

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