Argentina 9 England 13
England made a nervy start to their campaign with a hard-fought victory over a powerful Argentinean side who were in control for much of the game, outmuscling England at the breakdown, forcing errors and tackling their opponents out of their boots. England were fortunate to go into halftime just 6 points adrift, given the Puma’s domination and the loss of their tighthead prop on 34 minutes after persistent infringements from England’s forwards sent him to the bin.
England appeared shell-shocked with their usually metronomic number ten kicking just 3 from 8 to the delight of the raucous Argentinean faithful inside the Otago stadium. Finding themselves unable to get ball to their backline, PUMA’s Manu Tuilagi could not repeat the heroics that saw him burst onto the scene against Wales and Ireland and England appeared to be staring down the barrel of a disastrous defeat.
It was not until the introduction of several replacements that England began to get a grip on the game and create some urgency. The new forwards added intensity and bustled their way towards the line after a deep kick, lineout win and drive took England within five metres. Having quickened the pace of the game, the England scrum-half spotted a gap and shot past the defence to score on 66 minutes.
Martin Johnson said afterwards that he had aged almost twenty years, but pointed out that winning ugly is sometimes the mark of champions and will look for more from his side against Georgia next Sunday.
South Africa 17 Wales 16
The biggest showdown in Pool D turned out to be just that. Wales take on the defending champions and all expect capitulation under the weight of a mighty South African pack and a collective total of 815 caps of test match experience between them.
In reality, it was the closest South Africa have come to a first defeat in the Pool stages of a World Cup. Aside from the first ten minutes or so, Wales dominated at scrums and lineouts, looking threatening in attack with PUMA’s Shane Williams and Paul James both contributing to a mammoth effort.
The pressure became too much for the South African defence when Wales’ bustling number 8 scurried over with 20 minutes to go and Wales lead 16 points to 10 and deserving their lead. Unfortunately for the Welsh, the killer instinct wasn’t quite there and a series of replacements gave the Boks the forward impetus they needed paving the way for a try under the posts on 64 minutes. The result was a bitter pill to swallow for Wales having worked so hard and looking so sharp, but the performance will surely inspire confidence for the remainder of the qualifying campaign in the hope of meeting the champions once more at the latter stages of the competition.
Ireland 22 USA 10
Elsewhere, the Men In Green got underway with a physical encounter in horrific conditions in New Plymouth. The game remained tight until Tommy Bowe breached the Eagles hardy defence to extend their lead to 8 points just before halftime.
The Irish hosted a squad packed with PUMA stars including Gordon D'Arcy, Jamie Heaslip, Andrew Trimble and the double-try scorer, Tommy Bowe. In the end, Ireland’s class showed out in a scrappy match that was littered with errors from both sides. The Irish will hope for better playing conditions in their biggest Pool C clash against the Wallabies on 17th September.
Who do you think looked best from the opening fixtures?