The Malta Independent 19 October 2019, Saturday

Rugby, World Cup, Day 2: France holds on for 23-21 win over Argentina; Australia beat Fiji 39-21

Associated Press Saturday, 21 September 2019, 13:52 Last update: about 27 days ago

The Latest on Day 2 of the Rugby World Cup in Japan (all times local):

8:40 p.m.

New Zealand straightened the world champion crown on its head and removed any doubt about its status as Rugby World Cup favorite as it overcame South Africa 23-13 in the tournament's most anticipated pool game.

A resurgent South Africa drew with the All Blacks on their home turf in July and stripped them of the Rugby Championship to make many question whether the New Zealanders had been finally brought back to the field. They also lost the No. 1 ranking they'd held for a decade, but that's coming back to them after this win that showed off their ruthlessness and depth of skills.

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7:35 p.m.

Defending champion New Zealand led South Africa 17-3 at halftime in their much-anticipated pool match in Yokohama.

The Springboks' stifling defense kept the All Blacks in check until the second quarter, when the New Zealanders struck twice quickly with imagination and speed to leave the South Africa behind on the scoreboard.

George Bridge and Scott Barrett scored the tries in a three-minute span, both converted by Richie Mo'unga, and the All Blacks looked good to begin their quest for a third successive World Cup triumph with a win over their greatest foe.

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6:05 p.m.

Flyhalf Camille Lopez came off the bench to nail an audacious dropped goal as France withstood a ferocious Argentina comeback to win 23-21 in their Rugby World Cup Pool C opener.

Argentina rallied from a 20-3 halftime deficit thanks to its imposing forward play, with lock Guido Petti and replacement hooker Julian Montoya punishing weak defense from a flagging France with easy tries after the break. Two penalties from Benjamin Urdapilleta gave Argentina a 21-20 lead, but Lopez replied one minute later to make it 23-21.

Argentina fullback Emiliano Boffelli missed a last-minute, 47-meter penalty attempt which would certainly have given his team victory.

Les Bleus had seemed in control after carving Argentina open with their running game during the first half, with center Gaël Fickou scoring a try on the left and scrumhalf Antoine Dupont touching down on the right.

Flyhalf Romain Ntamack coolly converted both tries from difficult positions out wide, and slotted over two penalties to pad out the advantage. He missed a penalty attempt late in the match that could have given the French a five-point buffer.

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5:05 p.m.

France has cut Argentina open with its running game, scoring two well-worked tries to lead 20-3 at halftime in their Rugby World Cup Pool C match.

Center Gaël Fickou got the first on the left flank after 17 minutes, stepping inside swiftly after taking a pass from midfield partner Virimi Vakatawa.

Scrumhalf Antoine Dupont scored the second down the right, four minutes later, set up by winger Damian Penaud after an excellent surging run from veteran fullback Maxime Médard.

Flyhalf Romain Ntamack coolly converted both tries from difficult positions out wide, and slotted over two penalties to pad out the advantage.

Argentina led 3-0 through flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez's penalty in the 14th, after he'd botched his first attempt.

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3:35 p.m.

Australia avoided the first big upset of the Rugby World Cup when it rallied from 21-12 down in the second half to beat Fiji 39-21.

The two-time champions were rattled by an early try to flanker Peceli Yato and a 50-meter intercept in the opening minutes of the second half by center Waisea Nayacalevu.

But as Fiji appeared set for its biggest result at a Rugby World Cup, Australia regained its composure.

Two tries in quick succession from rolling mauls by hooker Tolu Latu put Australia ahead for the first time in the 62nd minute as the Wallabies finally found a way to neutralize Fiji's powerful and elusive running game. The Australians took full advantage when Fiji had a man in the sin-bin late in the second half.

Backs Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete, both born in Fiji, scored late to make it appear comfortable for Australia, which scored six tries in all.

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2:35 p.m.

Fiji leads two-time champion Australia 14-12 at halftime and there's a big upset on the cards in the second game of the Rugby World Cup.

Fiji winger Josua Tuisova rampaged down the right side to set up a try for flanker Peceli Yato in the eighth minute. That score added to an earlier penalty by flyhalf Ben Volavola and gave Fiji a surprise 8-0 lead at the Sapporo Dome.

Australia recovered from its shaky start when captain Michael Hooper drove over in the 18th. Christian Leali'ifano converted for 8-7. 

Volavola kicked two more penalties but wing Reece Hodge added a second try for Australia five minutes before halftime.

Before that, Fiji's powerful runners were bursting through tackles and rattling the Australians, who last lost to Fiji in 1954.

Australia has only lost two World Cup group games and a defeat against Fiji on Saturday would probably rank as its most surprising loss at the quadrennial event.

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1:50 p.m.

The Rugby World Cup game between Australia and Fiji has kicked off under the permanent roof at the Sapporo Dome.

The stadium in northern Japan is traditionally a baseball arena and home to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, but the field was switched around to host the second game of the tournament.

There will only be two games at the Sapporo Dome; Australia-Fiji on Saturday and England-Tonga on Sunday.

The Australian and Fijian teams were welcomed onto the field by Japanese Taiko drums.

Two-time champion Australia is favored to win the opening match of Pool D against an exciting but unpredictable Fiji team. Australia last lost a game to Fiji in 1954.

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12:45 p.m.

Alun Wyn Jones will become the fourth Welshman to play at four Rugby World Cups when he leads the Six Nations champion onto the field for its tournament opening game against Georgia.

The veteran lock will join Gareth Thomas (1995-2007), Stephen Jones (1999-2011) and Gethin Jenkins (2003-2015) in a select group that has featured for Wales in four editions of the global tournament.

Jones is also set to equal Gethin Jenkins's record of 129 caps for Wales when he starts against Georgia in Toyoto on Monday, in what will be his national record 14th World Cup game.

Wales coach Warren Gatland retained 10 players from the starting XV which lost a warmup game against Ireland before traveling to Japan. Elliot Dee, Ross Moriarty, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, and Leigh Halfpenny started against Ireland in Dublin but have been relegated to the bench.

Alun Wyn Jones, scrumhalf Gareth Davies, flyhalf Dan Biggar and winger George North are the only players returning from Wales' previous World Cup game — a quarterfinal loss to South Africa in 2015.

Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Aaron Wainwright, Alun Wyn Jones (captain) Jake Ball, Tom Francis, Ken Owens, Wyn Jones. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Aaron Shingler, Ross Moriarty, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Leigh Halfpenny

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10 a.m.

The first Rugby World Cup in Asia kicked off with host Japan securing the win it needed to get momentum rolling.

Now for the biggest showdown of the group stage, with the New Zealand All Blacks facing South Africa's Springboks in Yokohama.

The All Blacks, aiming for an unprecedented third consecutive World Cup title, have never lost a match in the pool stage of the tournament. But they're facing a daunting opener against South Africa, which won the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship this season for the first time in a decade. The most recent game between the traditional heavyweights of the sport resulted in a 16-16 draw in July, and they're 2-2 in previous Rugby World Cup meetings.

Two-time champion Australia gets its Pool D campaign started against Fiji in Sapporo, in the north of Japan, and France and Argentina meet in Pool C.

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