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

Capuozzo keeps things fresh with Italy

Ange Capuozzo started at full-back in Italy’s win against against Uruguay last week and now returns to the wing for the Azzurri’s Friday-night meeting with the All Blacks in Lyon. Tommaso Allan slots back in at No 15 having started at fly-half in Nice but will certainly stay on kicking duty, being 13 from 13 for the tournament. Capuozzo says rotation is all in a day’s work for Italy’s back line. “In any team we can swap places and be allocated here or there, so it’s even more important to be on the lookout and listening out carefully to what the others say and how they behave. It is important for us to have a chance to experience different positions, I believe, to keep up a certain level of diversity in our configuration on the field. Between the 15 of us we don’t have a problem to swap around.” It’s a fine balance between flexibility and confusion, but scoring five tries against Uruguay suggests things are working OK.

Eye-popping efforts in All Blacks’ camp

Quizzed on the current form of the New Zealand pack, the forwards coach, Greg Feek, said they have been holding nothing back when it comes to scrum training in preparation for Italy. “The best way to judge that for us is within our own camp,” Feek said of the front eight’s efforts. “When you see boys get up from set piece, their eyes nearly popping out their heads and really looking at each other and thinking: ‘That’s what we need.’”

Romania seeking improvement against Scotland

“It wasn’t what we were looking for.” That was the simple assessment of Romania’s coach, Eugen Apjok, after 82-8 and 76-0 defeats by Ireland and South Africa, respectively, in Pool B. “We know we are in the death pool,” he added. “It’s a big challenge for the team.” Things are unlikely to get easier in the groupe de la mort on Saturday, with Scotland chasing a second straight bonus-point victory in Lille. Gregor Townsend’s side are aiming to make up ground on the Springboks and Andy Farrell’s men, ultimately hoping to set up a decisive encounter against Ireland in Paris next Saturday. “Scotland really like to hold on to the ball and play wide,” said the Romania hooker Rob Irimescu. “Obviously South Africa and Ireland did a good job on this as well, so hopefully the experience of these matches will help us with this game.”

No ‘i’ in team for captain Gilchrist

With the Scotland captain, Jamie Ritchie, sidelined after copping a high tackle during the win against Tonga, Grant Gilchrist takes the armband in Lille for their third match. The second-row stressed his belief that teamwork will be the surest route to secure the desired bonus point against the Oaks. “This will be a team full of energy,” Gilchrist said of the Scots’ mood. “The important thing for us is that we play as a team and don’t go individual. It’s very easy when you have got loads of energy and excitement around playing and you see opportunities, you try to take them too early … We don’t need to try and force it as players, and a lot of that comes when you’re thinking: ‘I want something to happen for me.’”

Gilchrist added that swapping the sultry south for cooler climes in Lille may suit Scotland. “I’ve been moaning every day [in Nice]: ‘Why is it 30 degrees, it’s nearly October, what is going on?’ It’s not the climate we’re used to,” Gilchrist said. “But I’m sure very quickly when we get home we’ll be craving the 30 degrees again.

Grant Gilchrist in training with Scotland for the Rugby World Cup match against Romania
Grant Gilchrist (centre) will captain Scotland against Romania, and the lock says teamwork will be key to achieving the desired bonus-point win in Lille. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

“When you’re working and training hard it’s good for preparation and hopefully coming up here and it being a little cooler we can use the hard work we’ve done in the heat of the day to really push our fitness on.”

Fiji’s French connection

Before his team attempt to secure quarter-final qualification with a bonus-point victory against Georgia in Bordeaux on Saturday, the Fiji coach, Simon Raiwalui, thanked French fans for their backing. It seems the Pacific islanders have come to see France as their second home.

“We definitely feel the support, you can hear it at the stadiums and we’re very appreciative,” he said. “I think we have a real connection with France, Waisea [Nayacalevu] is [based] here, I played here and lived in France for 11 years. So we have a connection with France and the French people … I think it’s got to do with how the boys play, the spirit that they play in, and we definitely feel the support and appreciate it.”

Fiji are the likely quarter-final opponents for England, whose progress into the last eight was assured by Japan’s Pool D win over Samoa on Thursday. Will Steve Borthwick’s side end up trying to eliminate France’s second-favourite team?

Hooper won’t predict Wallabies’ future

“It’s an interesting question,” said the second-row Tom Hooper when asked if Australia’s players would be happy to see Eddie Jones coaching them in 2024. So far, so noncommittal. “I just think everyone is really happy Eddie is our coach at the moment,” he said. “Whoever the coach is going forward, as a young team, and as a playing group in Australia everyone is going to put in for whoever has the job and if that’s Eddie, that would be just as good. I think he’s a really, really good coach.”

The views of the Brumbies lock were somewhat clearer on the subject of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, which he saw on a recent trip to the Louvre. “I already saw it on a day off and I wasn’t that impressed to be honest,” Hooper said. “I preferred some of the other works.” Pushed on whether he prefers impressionism or Renaissance painting, Hooper said: “I don’t know what any of that means, but I thought some of the shadowing on some of those paintings was pretty cool, and the sculptures were pretty cool.”

France upbeat on Dupont recovery

In context of rugby’s continuing controversy over head injuries, rushing Antoine Dupont back from a fractured cheekbone carries various risks for France. There is zero chance of him playing against Italy next Friday but the team doctor, Bruno Boussagol, was upbeat on the captain’s prospects of returning “fairly soon”.

“He’s doing as well as possible,” said Boussagol. “We’re six days on from his operation and the swelling has gone down. He’s having some pain that’s linked to the head injury, but which has nothing to do with the post-op. He’s doing very well. He’s in high spirits. He’s quite confident.”

Boussagol added; “There’s also the question of concussion. There will be a neuro checkup in a week’s time, as soon as he arrives, to assess his condition so that he can gradually resume physical activity. So for the moment the news is reassuring, we’re doing our best to support him and we hope he’ll be back fairly soon.”

All going swimmingly for South Africa

Faf de Klerk’s appearance in swimming trunks after the 2019 Rugby World Cup final triumph over England was one of the more enduring images of that tournament. Now Springboks fans are paying tribute to their No 9 by turning up for matches wearing what the Australians call budgie smugglers.

A South Africa fan poses wearing South Africa swimming trunks outside the Stade de France in Paris.
A South Africa fan pays personal tribute to Faf de Klerk before the meeting with Ireland in Paris. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

“I think it’s a fantastic thing. It’s a fun thing,” said the South Africa second-row Marvin Orie in the buildup to their meeting with Tonga on Sunday. “If that’s going to help the fans to have a good experience in coming to watch the match, then of course it’s something good.”

The back Willie le Roux added: “People love Faf because he’s got the nice blond hair and you can’t miss him.” De Klerk’s scrum-half opponents certainly find him hard to miss – whether they love him is another matter.