Day two at the Rugby World Cup: All Blacks begin title defence
New Zealand are bidding for a third successive Webb Ellis trophy.
After victory for hosts Japan to get things under way, the Rugby World Cup continues with a mouth-watering trio of matches on Saturday.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at what to expect as New Zealand, South Africa and Australia enter the fray.
All Blacks launch title defence with high-profile clash
New Zealand’s bid for a third successive Webb Ellis trophy begins with a tantalising Pool B clash with South Africa in Yokohama.
While the All Blacks are favourites with the bookmakers to win the tournament again, there has been talk of them looking more vulnerable of late. They lost to South Africa in September 2018, then won the following month before a draw between the sides in July. New Zealand also lost to Ireland in November, and last month were beaten by Australia.
Head coach Steve Hansen feels there are “probably more teams who can win this tournament than the last one… this time probably five or six.”
The Springboks – surely among those sides – will be wearing an image on their jerseys of the late Chester Williams. The former South Africa wing, who was the only non-white member of the 1995 World Cup winning side, died from a heart attack on September 6 aged 49.
Tricky test for Australia?
Australia, the beaten finalists four years ago, kick off their campaign by facing Fiji in Sapporo, a match that is being regarded as a potential banana-skin for Michael Cheika’s Wallabies.
They will have the experienced duo of captain Michael Hooper and David Pocock in their back row, alongside number eight Isi Naisarani – who is one of three Fiji-born players that will start in the XV.
Fiji’s side features three members of the Sevens team who won Olympic gold in 2016 in Leone Nakarawa, Viliame Mata and Josua Tuisova.
Coach John McKee said: “Michael Cheika might think his team is unpredictable – I like to think we have got some unpredictability about us as well.”
Argentina aim to repeat history
Argentina, defeated by South Africa in the 2015 bronze-medal match, will look to repeat their exploits of 12 years ago when they face France in Tokyo.
The Pumas memorably beat 2007 hosts Les Bleus in the opening game of that tournament, triumphing 17-12 at the Stade de France.
And they went on to repeat the trick after both teams were beaten in the semis, claiming third place by seeing off the French 34-10 at the Parc des Princes.
Jacques Brunel’s France won the most recent meeting, 28-13 in Lille last November.
Matsushima the hosts’ hero
The first Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia opened with a victory for the host nation as Japan beat Russia 30-10 in Tokyo.
The Cherry Blossoms bounced back after Kirill Golosnitskiy’s early try for the Russians, with wing Kotaro Matsushima proving the star of the show as he registered a hat-trick.
Flanker Lappies Labuschagne also scored a try for the Japanese in a match head coach Jamie Joseph admitted his players had gone into feeling nervous.
Joseph said: “We said before the game, it is all about expectation and the guys always prepare well but you realise just how much pressure there is on the guys and we’re proud of the way they came through in the end.”
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 20, 2019
Golosnitskiy’s effort in the fifth minute was not only the maiden try of the tournament – it was the fastest to be scored in the opening match of any Rugby World Cup.
- Pool D - Australia v Fiji, 0545 BST - ITV
- Pool C - France v Argentina, 0815 BST - ITV
- Pool B - New Zealand v South Africa, 1045 BST - ITV