The Rugby World Cup is up and running after roaring into life in France over the weekend, with enthralling contests already emerging in the sport’s most prestigious competition.
Hosts and tournament favourites France got off to a winning start and showcased their skill in front of a raucous home crowd with a 27-13 victory over New Zealand.
England banished their woeful World Cup preparations by beating Argentina with 14-men after Tom Curry was sent off in the 27-10 contest.
Ireland made good on their impressive run of form and Wales held their nerve despite a cagey finish to beat Fiji, while Scotland were overpowered by reigning world champions South Africa.
Mail Sport’s Chris Foy picks out 10 major talking points from the opening weekend of the Rugby World Cup.
England got their Rugby World Cup campaign off to a winning start with victory against Argentina
Former New Zealand star Dan Carter unveils the Webb Ellis Cup at the opening match
1. Make your minds up
Inconsistency over head clashes threatens to cause problems and protests during this tournament, if officials and the judiciary can’t ensure uniformity.
It was staggering to see Jesse Kriel, the Springbok centre, avoid punishment after colliding head-to-head with Scotland’s Jack Dempsey.
Tom Curry must have a fair chance of having his red card for a similar dangerous tackle rescinded at a hearing tonight, but that would also serve to undermine the new bunker review system which led to his initial yellow card against Argentina being upgraded.
The game is tying itself in knots; striving for total safety, which is impossible, as it is full of close-quarter, high-speed collisions.
2. Sort stadium issues
The scenes at Stade Velodrome in Marseille on Saturday night cannot be repeated. It is all very well urging spectators to arrive earlier at venues — to avail themselves of expensive on-site food and drink options, all supposedly in the name of safety — but arrangements have to be better.
The stairway up to the main entrance on one side of the stadium is clearly unsafe, signage is limited and assistance is woefully inadequate.
What really grated was seeing further delays caused by the over-zealous confiscation of all plastic water bottles in searing heat.
The scenes at Stade Velodrome in Marseille on Saturday night cannot be repeated as supporters queued in unsafe conditions
3. Chaos and extortion
France now appears to be in the same league as Britain when it comes to constant transport and travel chaos and excessive pricing. Metro systems in cities have been overwhelmed by fans heading to and back from stadiums, while Uber and other taxis are indulging in shameless profiteering.
The same can be said for certain Airbnb hosts, with records of 11th-hour cancellations, no doubt in order to take a higher offer.
And now an air traffic control strike is looming on Friday…
4. Mortal All Blacks
The All Blacks’ aura has gone, surely for good this time. Even when carrying weapons and indulging in a spot of throat-slitting, the Haka no longer strikes fear into opponents.
This is not a side of the same formidable, imperious standard as so many in the past. Head coach Ian Foster’s tone is all wrong; accepting defeat too readily. Once the French overcame their opening-night stage fright, they buried the Kiwis — as the Boks or Ireland can do in a quarter-final.
The All Blacks’ aura has gone, surely for good this time after they were well-beaten by France
5. Libbok’s box of tricks
The champagne moment of the opening weekend must be Manie Libbok’s no-look kick to set up a try for Kurt-Lee Arendse.
The sheer audacity of it was incredible to behold as the fly-half glanced straight towards the nearest defender, Grant Gilchrist, just as he sent the ball skywards at a very different angle — perfectly.
Libbok is one of the new generation of backs who have brought the Springboks a whole new dimension. What a talent.
South Africa’s Manie Libbok pulled off a sensational no-look kick in their win over Scotland
6. Anthems are awful
The anthems have been shocking and distracting. While organisers may have decided that employing choirs of children was a cute touch, it just isn’t working.
At the Stade de France, moments before France v New Zealand kicked off, the anthems should have been a culmination of all the pre-match fanfare, but they were an echoing, jarring mess.
It was the same for England-Argentina and Wales’ encounter with Fiji — two nations in particular who have such singing pedigree that they should just be left to get on with it themselves.
The various national anthems have been shocking and distracting at the World Cup
7. Fiji’s ref injustice
Fiji really did have cause to nurse a sense of injustice in Bordeaux on Sunday night.
While it is wrong to heap further pressure on referees, who have a tough enough job as it is, there is no doubting that the Pacific Islanders were more harshly treated than Wales by English official Matthew Carley.
Fiji really did have cause to nurse a sense of injustice in Bordeaux on Sunday night against Wales
It is always that way round; the establishment nation seem to get the rub of the green against a country from outside the game’s cosy inner circle.
Nobody is suggesting anything untoward but it has felt too often that there is some sort of subconscious imbalance.
8. No upsets… so far
One thing missing from the first set of fixtures was a decent upset. The nearest to it was England thumping Argentina when down to 14 men.
Romania losing to Ireland by a cricket score was a throwback to past tournaments when mis-matches were common.
Georgia were outmuscled by Australia, Fiji endured that near-miss agony against Wales, while Chile and Namibia were gallant but limited.
9. Farrell or Ford at 10?
Stand by for a fresh selection debate next week involving Owen Farrell. He will be free to play when England take on Chile in Lille on September 23, but George Ford must stay at 10 now, unless Steve Borthwick rotates and rests key players for the banker third pool game — but that is less necessary with a ‘down’ week afterwards.
Farrell will surely end up at inside centre. Borthwick will pick him — he nearly always does when the captain is available — but the nagging suspicion for many observers is that Ford functions better alongside two bona fide centres.
George Ford (right) led England to victory against Argentina, but captain Owen Farrell (left) will soon be back from suspension
10. It’s all kicking off!
This World Cup is already witnessing some stand-out kicking trends. Ford’s three drop goals against Argentina was one of them, as England reverted to what Maro Itoje referred to as a ‘Nineties rugby’ ploy, to good effect.
Back-rowers have been used as additional tactical kickers so far — which is a new trend — with Ardie Savea, Ben Earl and Jac Morgan all putting boot to ball, with varied degrees of success.
And the balls are flying, as noticed by those kicking them. Stand by for 65 to 70-metre penalty shots in the coming weeks.