After four years of waiting, rugby fans were rewarded this week as the sport’s centrepiece event – the 2019 Rugby World Cup – got underway in Japan.
Spanning over seven weeks, and featuring teams from 20 different nations locking horns some 48 times, the competition is already fierce.
And among the World’s elite, there is a contingent of seven Saints vying to lift the Webb Ellis Cup come 2 November – with four Northampton players having already turned out for their countries.
ENGLAND 35-3 TONGA
Sunday 22 September, 2019
Sapporo Dome, Sapporo
England’s last World Cup outing was nothing short of a disappointment for all involved – falling out of their home competition without reaching the knock-out stages – but with Eddie Jones having taken the reigns in the interim, the side entered the competition at number three in the world.
Kicking-off their campaign against Tonga, Jones’ side laid down a clear marker this time around – with Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam among their ranks as they downed Tonga convincingly in Sapporo.
Lawes – playing in his third World Cup – started the opening match to make his 78th appearance in an England shirt, while Lewis Ludlam – who only made his international debut a month ago – came off the bench to complete his whirlwind rise from Northampton Saints starlet to World Cup debutant. Former Saint Nafi Tuitavake also lined up against the Northampton duo as Tonga got their tournament started.
The Red Rose took some time to find their feet in the game, but galvanised in the second 40 to secure the full quota of points with a bonus-point win, while keeping their opposition from crossing the whitewash to get their tilt at the title off to a great start.
WALES 43-14 GEORGIA
Monday 23 September, 2019
City of Toyota Stadium, Toyota City
Following their quarter-final finish at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, where they ultimately fell to South Africa, Wales came into this year’s competition having claimed the world no.1 spot briefly just weeks before the tournament started.
And starting out against Georgia, Warren Gatland’s side wasted no time making their mark in Japan – racking up a 43-14 win after scoring six tries in Toyota City – with Saints’ Dan Biggar firmly at the helm in the No.10 shirt.
Featuring in his 74th international match, the Northampton fly-half – also in his third Rugby World Cup – helped his side make their statement of intent as he kicked 11 of Wales’ 43 points as they claimed the full five points from their opening game.
RUSSIA 9-34 SAMOA
Tuesday 24 September, 2019
Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, Kumagaya City
Lining up against former Saint Vasily Artemyev, Ahsee Tuala was set to make his first appearance in the Rugby World Cup as Samoa faced Russia on Tuesday.
But the Northampton fullback pulled out of the match with a calf injury just before the Island Nation kicked off their World Cup tournament in Kumagaya.
Samoa went on to claim a bonus-point win, scoring six tries in a bruising encounter that saw the side overcome two yellow cards to beat Lyn Jones’ impressive Russian outfit.
FIJI 27-30 URUGUAY
Wednesday 25 September, 2019
Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, Kamaishi City
In what has been the biggest shock of the tournament so far, Fiji fell to Uruguay in their second match of the tournament.
Api Ratuniyarawa entered his second World Cup as he started the game to make his 31st Fiji appearance; and the Northampton lock was amongst his country’s four try-scorers as he crossed the whitewash just after half-time.
Despite Fiji looking the stronger team in the early exchanges, and outscoring their opponents five tries to three, the boot of Uruguay’s Felipe Berchesi saw the South Americans to their first World Cup win in 16 years and only their third-ever victory in the tournament.
After claiming both Saints’ Players’ Player and Supporters’ Player of the Season for his efforts last term, Cobus Reinach is poised to make his World Cup debut today after linking back up with the Springboks following a four-year hiatus.
Wasting no time in making his mark during the warm-up games as he crossed the tryline against Australia, Reinach will be hoping replicate that impact as he starts the game on the bench.
Biggar and Wales are also poised to lock horns with Australia on Sunday, while Tuala’s Samoa prepare to tackle Scotland on Monday and Ratuniyarawa will hope to be involved again as Fiji take on Georgia on Thursday looking for their first win of the competition.
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