Rugby World Cup 2023: what to look out for this weekend

<span>Composite: Getty</span>
Composite: Getty

Chile’s Game gears for England clash

Cristobal Game, Chile’s promising 23-year-old wing, lines up against England on Saturday in Lille having been a late call-up to Los Cóndores squad. Santiago Videla, the team’s goal-kicker who started both their games at No 14, is sitting out after a concussion sustained in the defeat by Samoa, handing an opportunity for Game to show what he can do against England.

“The whole process of not making the roster, of finally coming and playing, it must have been an amazing experience for him,” said the Chile head coach, Pablo Lemoine. “He is one of the most promising players in Chilean rugby. He is a very serious player for his age. He comes from sevens and we have seen him mature very quickly.”

Lemoine described England under Steve Borthwick as “pragmatic and organised. A lot of kicking game, a lot of strategy, with high-class players looking to counterattack. I imagine a lot of aggressiveness in the forwards. We have been watching them, we saw their games with Argentina and Japan, and ultimately we will have to be intelligent and not commit penalties because it is an important platform for them … it is surely the most important game in Chile’s history.”

‘Athlete’ McFarland to help stretch Pumas

Theo McFarland of Saracens – or Theodore, as the Samoa assistant coach Mahonri Schwalger likes to call him – will switch from second row to blindside flanker for Friday’s match against Argentina in Saint-Étienne, with the Pacific Islanders aiming to put plenty of width on their game.

“Theodore is an athlete,” said Schwalger on Thursday. “His original position is six. He’s played a lot of games at six. We are trying to get him out there and get him involved in the game a lot more, especially these Test matches when we’ve got to take every opportunity, and use our speed to get the ball wide.”

Schwalger also found time to mention two of rugby’s classic pre-match press conference staples: winning as the priority, along with their intention of relishing the physical battle in store against Los Pumas.

“World Cup rugby is all about winning,” said the former Scarlets and Sale hooker. “We’re focused on getting that ‘W’, we will do anything we can do to make sure we get it … As Samoans we love the physicality, so we are looking forward to it, and I know there’s going to be some sore bodies. We are just going to throw everything into it.”

Matias Dittus and Theo McFarland get in a tangle
Samoa hope Theo McFarland (right) will get to grips with Argentina in Friday’s game. Photograph: Stéphane Mahé/Reuters

Leali’ifano left wounded by missing tee

The Samoa fly-half, Christian Leali’ifano, meanwhile who will come up against his former Wallabies coach, Michael Cheika, revealed some first-class banter has been meted out to his teammate Lima Sopoaga this week. The fly-half’s kicking tee went missing during the win against Chile, and he issued an appeal on social media for its safe return.

“I think he’s still looking for it,” Leali’ifano said. “He’s had that one since he was 14 and it’s something you hold almost as close as a baby when you are kicker. Hopefully the world out there can find his tee … The boys have been mocking him a little bit this week, [asking him] “Is it this one?’” Brilliant.

Portugal place faith in forwards on bench

The Portugal head coach, Patrice Lagisquet, insists Georgia have become much more than a strong forward pack before Saturday’s Pool C showdown in Toulouse. The Portuguese team won plenty of fans in the defeat by Wales in Nice last Saturday and Georgia’s coaches, including the former England international Joe Worsley, will have been putting the hours in on video analysis this week.

“When I see people talk about Georgia they underestimate their level,” Lagisquet said. “They not only have a big forward pack, they have very good backs. We know for four years and now they can perform very well.”

That said, Lagisquet has opted for a six-two bench split of forwards to backs for the early kick-off on Saturday. “We don’t usually do that, but we have done it just once [before] against Georgia, and we do it again as in our last games we lost in the last 20 minutes. They [Portugal’s players] are training to be able to maintain a high intensity level during 80 minutes.”

“If I had to bet where the game will be won I would say in the forwards,” said Tomás Appleton, the captain and inside-centre. “We are having six-two on the bench, because we need that physicality.”

Tomás Appleton in possession against Wales
Tomás Appleton, in action against Wales, says his side ‘need that physicality’ against Georgia. Photograph: Stéphanie Lecocq/Reuters

Ashman wary of Tonga threat in must-win game for Scots

Brad Mooar, Scotland’s assistant coach, refused to accept the notion that Tonga performed poorly in the one-sided 59-16 defeat by Ireland in Nantes last Saturday.

“In parts, they were outstanding,” Mooar said. “They took six jackal turnovers off Ireland. They were outstanding in the contact area. Ireland normally recycle the ball for breakfast.”

Which begs the question of what kind of petit déjeuner Andy Farrell’s side will cook up against the crushing physicality – yes, that word again – of the Springboks pack on Saturday.

Ewan Ashman, the Scotland hooker, picked up on Mooar’s theme and was determined to talk up Tonga before Sunday’s clash at Stade de Nice – a must-win game for the Scots in view of their opening defeat by South Africa.

“That Ireland-Tonga score isn’t reflective of Tonga as a team,” Ashman said. “They have quality individuals and probably some of the biggest hitters in the world. They have got some class players as well. It’s a huge challenge.”

Scotland players in training
Scotland are under pressure in their match against Tonga having lost to South Africa in their opener. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

Georgia ready for ‘bit of a final’ against Portugal

“Game management” is another favourite catchphrase in rugby and Georgia’s head coach, Levan Maisashvili, wants to see his players managing affairs better against Portugal.

“We were disappointed after Australia,” said Maisashvili on Thursday. “We weren’t able to manage the game well and made tactical errors on a number of occasions, particularly with our kicking game.

“There was a clear lack of discipline. In the second half we were able to get back into the game, but couldn’t get the result we wanted.”

Asked if the match against Portugal is a “final” for fourth place, Maisashvili was unconvinced: “In a way it is a bit of a final, but it’s also just the beginning. We’ve only played one match.”

However Merab Sharikadze, Georgia’s captain, was emphatic when asked the very same question: “Every match is a final in rugby,” he said. That’s more like it.