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Rugby World Cup round-up: France stuns New Zealand, Wales triumphs in weekend of spectacular matches

In the enthralling opening weekend of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the rugby world witnessed a series of captivating clashes, setting the stage for what promises to be a memorable tournament. The festivities kicked off with the hosts, France, squaring off against the formidable New Zealand All Blacks in a contest that had aficionados on the edge of their seats. The encounter was, without a doubt, the most anticipated curtain-raiser in the annals of this prestigious competition.

In a startling turn of events, New Zealand stunned the world by scoring the fastest-ever try in a World Cup opener, with Mark Telea crossing the try line in less than two minutes. France, however, showcased their resilience, demonstrating their mettle against the mighty All Blacks. Under the astute leadership of Fabien Galthié, Les Bleus managed to orchestrate a sensational comeback, ultimately prevailing 27-13. This defeat marked the largest margin of loss New Zealand had ever endured in the Rugby World Cup, highlighting the French team’s formidable prowess.

The first half saw France edge ahead with a 9-8 lead, bolstered by a dominant scrum and exceptional scramble defense. As the second half unfolded, their momentum surged, and New Zealand found themselves faltering in the kicking battle, unable to escape their own half. The prolific Damian Penaud, who had emerged as the top try-scorer in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, notched his 30th try for France, while Melvyn Jaminet celebrated his first. It was a testament to the character of the French squad, who, under immense pressure, delivered the crucial victory needed to bolster their confidence and prospects in the competition.

England faced a daunting task against Argentina, especially after Tom Curry received a red card within the first three minutes. Yet, the English squad displayed remarkable resilience and adaptability. Georgeaab Ford emerged as the linchpin, orchestrating the game with three expertly executed drop goals. This strategic approach allowed England to maintain a 12-3 lead and disconcerted their opponents. Rather than expending energy chasing tries, they methodically built their score, ultimately securing a 27-10 victory that positioned them favorably in Pool D.

The clash between Wales and Fiji in Bordeaux served as the pièce de résistance of the weekend. Sixteen years after their iconic showdown in Nantes, these two teams once again delivered a spectacle for the ages. Warren Gatland’s Welsh side triumphed 32-26, earning a valuable five points. The match featured exhilarating tries from the likes of Josh Adams, George North, Louis Rees-Zammit, and a pivotal bonus-point score by Elliott Dee.

Wales had to withstand a ferocious Fijian resurgence in the final 20 minutes, as the Pacific Islanders launched a relentless assault. Only a late knock-on by Fiji denied them the opportunity to replicate their historic success from 2007. In this wide-open group, Wales departed the encounter with maximum points, showcasing their attacking prowess and ingenuity that consistently troubled the Fijian defense. With upcoming matches against Portugal, Australia, and Georgia, this victory marked a nearly perfect start for the Welsh squad.

Ireland, entering the tournament as the top-ranked team in the world, lived up to their billing with an emphatic 82-8 triumph over Romania. Though the opening two minutes saw Ireland caught off guard, they swiftly rebounded with a multi-phase attack that yielded a dozen tries. Despite sweltering conditions, the Grand Slam champions exhibited exceptional ball-handling skills, and Bundee Aki emerged as a constant threat. Johnny Sexton’s triumphant return, marked by two tries and a 24-point haul, further bolstered Ireland’s dominance.

While more challenging opponents await, Ireland’s performance in this opener exceeded expectations. Italy, often viewed as outsiders in a group featuring France and New Zealand, commenced their campaign with a resounding 52-8 victory over Namibia. Although the Azzurri encountered early challenges and led by just nine points at halftime, they surged ahead in the second half. Tommaso Allan’s flawless kicking secured all five second-half tries, as Italy showcased their depth and determination, especially among the substitutes.

Scotland, however, faced a formidable challenge in their opening game against reigning world champions South Africa. The encounter proved to be an uphill battle for Gregor Townsend’s squad, as they struggled to establish dominance. A malfunctioning lineout hampered their efforts, and despite brief glimpses of promise, they found themselves trailing 6-3 at halftime. In the second half, the Springboks asserted their dominance in the scrum, rendering Scotland’s defensive efforts futile. The final scoreline of 18-3, while not insurmountable, sets up a must-win scenario for Scotland against Ireland, with Tonga and Romania awaiting in the group stage.