Rugby World Cup Takeaways: France and Ireland Live Up to the Hype. High Tackles Are Already An Issue

AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
Romania’s Nicolas Onutu, left, holds his son with Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw at the end of the Rugby World Cup Pool B match between Ireland and Romania at the Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.

The two biggest takeaways from the first block of games at the Rugby World Cup reinforced a couple of pre-tournament predictions.

France and Ireland both appear to be the real deal and ready to challenge the southern hemisphere’s vise-like grip on the trophy.

Rugby’s newish rules on head contact and player safety that have been brought in since the last World Cup also threaten to be an overriding theme, with some players still getting used to the big changes in the way they are allowed to tackle. Officials are already under scrutiny for apparent inconsistency.

There was one red card for a head clash in the opening set of eight games and there might easily have been at least two more. Scotland felt especially aggrieved that South Africa center Jesse Kriel’s seemingly illegal tackle was missed completely by the ref and TV officials in the opening minutes of their game.


France quite simply lived up to all the hype with an opening-game victory over three-time champion New Zealand outside Paris. It set the tone for the tournament in front of nearly 79,000 fans at Stade de France and boosted the host team’s hopes of being back there for the final on Oct. 28.

France came through its big test 27-13 after going behind very early. It now likely faces a smooth run to the quarterfinals, with pool games to come against Uruguay and Namibia before Italy, the last real challenge before the knockout rounds.

New Zealand was left licking plenty of wounds, including a new injury concern for captain Sam Cane, who was withdrawn from the team before the France game.

AP Photo/Lewis Joly
France’s Damian Penaud, bottom, knocks the ball on in a tackle by New Zealand’s Richie Mo’unga during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match between France and New Zealand at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. France won 27-13.


It is sometimes difficult to take too much out of a game featuring the top-ranked team in the world against one of the rank outsiders, but No. 1 Ireland did just about everything that was asked of it in a record-setting 82-8 romp over Romania with Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton making a try-scoring return in his first test in six months.

That got the campaign underway convincingly for a team that has never gone past the quarterfinals at a Rugby World Cup but has realistic expectations of winning this one. An Ireland or France triumph would be the first for a team from the northern hemisphere since 2003 and only the second in the 10 editions of the tournament. New Zealand, South Africa and Australia have eight titles between them.

AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
Ireland’s James Lowe, left, is tacked by Romania’s Marius Simionescu during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match between Ireland and Romania at the Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.


Romania basked in a moment of World Cup glory when scrumhalf Gabriel Rupanu sped away to give the Eastern European team an eye-opening third-minute lead against Ireland in sweltering Bordeaux. It lasted two minutes and Ireland replied with 12 tries in all to sweep away any thoughts of one of the biggest upsets rugby has ever seen.

Tournament debutant Chile made a rousing first appearance and the Condors also scored the first try against 2019 quarterfinalist Japan before losing 42-12.

(AP Photo/Lewis Joly
Japan’s Amato Fakatava, centre, runs to score his team’s first try during the Rugby World Cup Pool D match between Japan and Chile at Stadium de Toulouse, Toulouse, France, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023.

Fiji came closest to striking a big blow against Wales in the World Cup’s best game so far, but center Semi Radradra dropped a pass with the tryline open in front of him in the very last play in a pulsating finish, and the chance for a famous win slipped through Fiji’s fingers.

Every non-Welsh fan was likely cheering for the flying Fijians, whose recent rise is an example of a key focus for rugby in ensuring the so-called smaller teams are improving, the game is spreading, and the World Cup doesn’t remain the preserve of a handful of rich rugby nations.


England flanker Tom Curry received the first red card of this year’s Rugby World Cup. It likely won’t be the last amid a clampdown on hits to the head and an expansion of the match officials’ ability to review game footage and foul play and make a delayed decision on if a player should be sent off.

Curry forever has the dubious distinction of being the World Cup’s first sending off through the new “bunker review system,” which saw his yellow card upgraded to red by the television match official. He faces a ban.

AP Photo/Daniel Cole
England’s Tom Curry, center left, clashes heads with Argentina’s Juan Cruz Mallia, for which he got a red card, during the Rugby World Cup Pool D match between England and Argentina in the Stade de Marseille, Marseille, France Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.

Chile captain Martin Sigren was guilty of a very similar tackle to Curry’s but only got a yellow card. Kriel’s tackle early in the South Africa-Scotland game also resulted in a clear head clash, but didn’t result in any action at all from the officials.

No one opposes rules that make the game safer — especially in the wake of a group of former players claiming they are now suffering from brain injuries because of constant head hits during their careers — but different sanctions for similar acts irritates teams and coaches.

“There are still inconsistencies in seeing these things,” Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said. “We are frustrated by that.”

AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
Referee Matthew Carley, right, shows a yellow card to Wales’ Corey Domachowski during the Rugby World Cup Pool C match between Wales and Fiji at the Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023.