There was revenge aplenty as Wales beat England and New Zealand toppled Australia to invert last weekend’s results, while France did the business against Scotland, Italy ran up the scoreboard with Russia in town and South Africa downed Argentina.
Wales hit the front
Last weekend, England head coach Eddie Jones was purring after his side’s impressive triumph over red-hot Wales.
On Saturday, however, he was tipping them as World Cup favourites, after a gritty display at the Principality Stadium saw the hosts emerge 13-6 victors, with accession to the top of the world rankings an extra feather in Warren Gatland’s cap.
Ospreys wing George North got the only try of the game after quick thinking from Dan Biggar sent Josh Adams free, before the fly-half again saw a gap to chip a cross-field kick to North, who gathered and dotted down with ease.
England asked questions in the second 40, coming close on several occasions, but resolute defence from the likes of Alun Wyn Jones and the Davies brothers – who became the first siblings to start for Wales in 13 years – in addition to Leigh Halfpenny’s long-range penalty, settled the scores.
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) August 18, 2019
And though the result saw Wales rewarded for their stellar recent form as they were recognised as the world’s best for the first time in their history, Gatland played down the achievement with greater tests of their character on the horizon.
“It’s nice for a day but we won’t be shouting from the rooftops about it,” he said.
“We’ve got to keep things in perspective. Lots of journalists will be out there saying “this is a joke” – probably Kiwi journalists more than anyone! It’s just a number.
“We’re not making a big fuss of it. We’ll keep it in our pocket and go from week to week.”
France outline their credentials
France got their World Cup warm-ups off to the perfect start as they ran in five tries to consign Scotland to a 32-3 defeat in Nice.
Two from Maxime Medard set the tone, while Alivereti Raka, Gregory Alldritt and Antoine Dupont all got their names on the scoresheet.
Glasgow Warriors man Adam Hastings provided the only points for Scotland from the tee, who will look – like Wales – to turn things around when they play host to Les Bleus at BT Murrayfield next weekend.
While the result may not make for pretty reading for fans of Gregor Townsend’s team, there were bright sparks throughout from the likes of Ali Price, who will no doubt prove crucial for Scotland in Japan.
Italy in the points
Always heavy favourites to prevail on the Adriatic Coast against Russia, Italy nevertheless impressed as they notched up 13 tries in an 85-15 win.
Ex-Zebre wing Matteo Minozzi became the first Italian in 12 years to bag a hat-trick, while his former teammate Mattia Bellini grabbed a double.
— Italrugby (@Federugby) August 17, 2019
The Azzurri’s second-biggest international win, pedants will point out that anything less might have raised questions, but slick play with ball in-hand throughout – leading to 11 of their 13 tries coming from backs – will certainly be of encouragement.
The following day, head coach Conor O’Shea announced his 31-man squad for the World Cup, featuring 25 Zebre and Benetton Rugby players, with skipper Sergio Parisse also set for his fifth RWC.
South Africa back it up
After sealing the Rugby Championship title last time out, South Africa edged past Argentina to topple the Pumas for the second time in as many weeks.
S’busiso Nkosi grabbed a double as they prevailed 24-18, a result that sent the Springboks above England and into fourth in the world rankings.
Elsewhere, after being humbled last weekend in Perth, the All Blacks promptly dished out a lesson of their own as they turned the tables to down Australia 36-0.
The win meant that they lifted their 17th Bledisloe Cup on the spin – the perfect salve after they failed to defend their Rugby Championship crown last time out.