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  • Charles Patterson

Looking ahead to Week Two at the World Cup (Part 1)

The first weekend of matches at the 2023 Rugby World Cup gave us some cracking games – hosts France saw off the All Blacks on the opening night, with a tight first half followed by a dominant showing in the second. It was New Zealand’s first ever pool-stage loss. Saturday saw Namibia trounced by Italy, while Uruguay have yet to play. So, what lies ahead in week 2 for these teams?

France v Uruguay, Thursday 14th September, 8pm

Les Bleus will be in good spirits after their opening night win. The first half was an attritional affair, with the boot of Thomas Ramos edging them ahead 9-8 at half time. Ramos did miss a couple of kicks throughout the course of the evening and will hope his radar is more accurate going forward. This week however, the kicking tee will be the responsibility of either Antoine Hastoy or Melvyn Jaminet with 12 changes from the 15 that started against New Zealand. Only Cameron Woki, Yoram Moefana and Gabin Villiere retain their places.

There is a welcome return for Anthony Jelonch, who will captain France from number 8 on Thursday evening on his World Cup debut after a 9 month injury lay-off. Jelonch was injured against Scotland in the Six Nations and it was doubtful whether he would play any part in this World Cup, but Fabien Galthie had full confidence in his man to recover.

One to watch on the wing is Louis Bielle-Biarrey, who is set to become France’s youngest ever World Cup player at 20 years and 87 days – two months younger than Romain Ntamack was for his debut at the 2019 edition. Sadly Ntamack misses the tournament this time through injury but there’s plenty of time for both to shine in the future. Student Bielle-Biarrey only made his Les Bleus debut in August but solid displays against Scotland and Fiji ensured the chance to represent his country on the biggest stage. It means his degree in business management will need to wait for now, but I don’t think he’ll mind all that much.

Uruguay are always underdogs when it comes to the World Cup, but they normally grab a shock win among some gritty performances. Coach Esteban Meneses selects 11 returnees from the 2019 World Cup. Fan favourite Santiago Arata is fit after a broken finger earlier in the year. The 27-year-old has had some journey – in 2019 he was playing in the newly-formed Major League Rugby for Houston SaberCats, before COVID curtailed the 2020 season where he was able to play just once for Uruguayan side Penarol.

Since then, Arata has gone on to become first choice scrum-half at Castres in the Top 14, first displacing Rory Kockott, and then pushing aside Jeremy Fernandez for the number 9 shirt. He cites Antoine Dupont as someone he follows closely, but there can be no meeting between the two on Thursday with Dupont rested – Maxime Lucu starts, with Baptiste Couilloud taking the scrum half spot on the bench.

In other news for Los Teros, prop Matias Benitez could be in line for a World Cup debut at the age of 35.

France: 1. Jean-Baptiste Gros, 2. Pierre Bourgarit, 3. Dorian Aldegheri, 4. Cameron Woki, 5. Romain Taofifenua, 6. Paul Boudehent, 7. Sekou Macalou, 8. Anthony Jelonch ©, 9. Maxime Lucu, 10. Antoine Hastoy, 11. Gabin Villiere, 12. Yoram Moefana, 13. Arthur Vincent, 14. Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 15. Melvyn Jaminet. Replacements: 16. Peato Mauvaka, 17. Reda Wardi, 18. Sipili Falatea, 19. Bastien Chalureau, 20. Thibaud Flament, 21. Francois Cros, 22. Baptiste Couilloud, 23. Thomas Ramos

Uruguay: 1. Mateo Sanguinetti, 2. Guillermo Pujadas, 3. Ignacio Peculo, 4. Felipe Aliaga, 5. Manuel Leindekar, 6. Manuel Ardao, 7. Santiago Civetta, 8. Manuel Diana, 9. Santiago Arata, 10. Felipe Etcheverry, 11. Nicolas Freitas, 12. Andres Vilaseca ©, 13. Tomas Inciarte, 14. Bautista Basso, 15. Baltazar Amaya. Replacements: 16. Facundo Gattas, 17. Matias Benitez, 18, Reinaldo Piussi, 19. Ignacio Dotti, 20. Lucas Bianchi, 21. Carlos Deus, 22. Agustin Ormaechea, 23. Felipe Berchesi

New Zealand v Namibia, Friday 15th September, 8pm

This week’s other match in Pool A is the perfect opportunity for New Zealand to bounce back. After losing Sam Cane and Eroni Narawa to injury, they have drafted in back row Ethan Blackadder as cover, but it’s Luke Jacobson selected at blindside flanker this week. It’s testimony to the All Blacks’ strength in depth that they can rotate Richie Mo’unga (after a poor performance last weekend) and bring in Damian McKenzie at fly half.

Injuries have limited the rotation possibilities though, and there are only 9 changes in the starting lineup, when perhaps more would have been expected. Due to this, it could mean that as many as nine players feature in every game at this World Cup. Sam Whitelock will equal Richie McCaw’s 148 caps, and will surely reach 150 by the end of this tournament.

The main talking point in the squad is the inclusion of Cam Roigard, the Hurricanes scrum half. He brings a running threat and a thunderous left boot to the equation, offering something markedly different to Aaron Smith and Finlay Christie. With Smith off to Japan next season, it could well be a glimpse into the future. Temporary captain Ardie Savea called him a quiet assassin, and this is certainly a match where he should have plenty of opportunities to show why.

It’s the starting scrum half for Namibia, too, that will be the focus of attention. Damian Stevens topped the charts for offloads and passes in Round One, and also scored all of Namibia’s points in the 71-9 defeat in Tokyo at the 2019 World Cup. 100% success at scrum time could be something Stevens uses in an attempt to get the upper hand over Roigard. In the midfield, captain Johan Deysel also has the accomplishment of previously scoring points against the All Blacks, back in 2015.

New Zealand: 1. Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2. Samisoni Taukei’aho, 3. Nepo Laulala, 4. Brodie Retallick, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. Luke Jacobson, 7. Dalton Papali’i, 8. Ardie Savea ©, 9. Cam Roigard, 10. Damian McKenzie, 11. Leicester Fainga’anuku, 12. David Havili, 13. Anton Lienert-Brown, 14. Caleb Clarke, 15. Beauden Barrett. Replacements: 16. Dane Coles, 17. Ethan de Groot, 18. Fletcher Newell, 19. Scott Barrett, 20. Tupou Vaa’i, 21. Aaron Smith, 22. Richie Mo’unga, 23. Rieko Ioane

Namibia: 1. Jason Benade, 2. Torsten van Jaarsveld, 3. Johan Coetzee, 4. Johan Retief, 5. Tijuee Uanivi, 6. Wian Conradie, 7. Prince Gaoseb, 8. Richard Hardwick, 9. Damian Stevens, 10. Tiaan Swanepoel, 11. Divan Rossouw, 12. Le Roux Malan, 13. Johan Deysel ©, 14. Gerswin Mouton, 15. Cliven Loubser. Replacements: 16. Louis van der Westhuizen, 17. Desiderius Sethie, 18. Haitembu Shifuka, 19. PJ van Lill, 20. Adriaan Booysen, 21. Max Katjijeko, 22. Jacques Theron, 23. JC Greyling


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