Around the World Cup (Day 15)

Your round-up of the stories behind the headlines from Day 15 of #RWC2019

Around the World Cup (Day 15)

RWC hits 1.8 million ticket sales target

RUGBY World Cup organisers have confirmed they’ve hit their target of selling 1.8 million tickets during the tournament but warned fans against touts and falling victim to scams.

Despite fears that crowds might be sparse in Japan, fans have turned out in their droves, packing stadiums even for games not involving tournament heavyweights.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said the tournament had “captured the hearts and minds of a nation and the global rugby family” and congratulated the Japanese organisers for hitting their milestone.

There are now a “limited” number of tickets available on the official ticketing website, as sponsors and nations hand back some seats, organisers said.

However, there have been “inevitable incidents related to ticket scams, touts selling fake tickets and third-party websites selling tickets unofficially” with some fans who bought seats illegally being denied entry to games.

Such incidents are likely to increase as the pool phase hots up and the tournament enters its knock-out stage, organizers said.

“While tickets remain available, our advice to fans is to only buy through official channels to avoid being disappointed,” said Beaumont. Ticket prices vary widely, from ¥100,000 (€800) for the best seats at the final, to ¥2,000 for the cheapest entry to the pool game between the United States and Tonga.

Hooper: We’ve moved on

AUSTRALIA captain Michael Hooper has insisted his side's World Cup focus has not been distracted by refereeing rows.

"There has been a lot of stuff said but we can't control that," said Hooper.

"We have been focusing on what we can control and that has very much been the point of this week. You can't spend your time thinking about everything. You have got to narrow your focus, particularly after a loss."

On Australia's training this week, Hooper said: "The level was probably a bit higher as far as contacts sooner in the week than normal.

"The guys wanted to get their hands back into a rugby match - that couldn't come round quick enough. I really wanted to win that (Wales) game... and yeah, I am frustrated.

"I still thought about a lot of those moments through the week, but now we are 24 hours away from playing this next one I have moved on, totally."

Les Bleus Wary

Three-times finalists France head into Sunday’s Pool C meeting with Tonga battling a rising injury toll and hoping to avoid a repeat of their stunning upset by the Pacific islanders at the 2011 tournament in New Zealand.

“This is also the biggest pack of this World Cup,” coach Jacques Brunel said of Tonga, who lost their opening Pool C games to England and Argentina.

“We have seen that they are capable of imposing this power, that they are difficult to manoeuvre.

“This team has power, strength, it is aggressive, enterprising. We will have a big challenge.”

France’s preparations have been hampered by injuries, with fullback Thomas Ramos and hooker Peato Mauvaka ruled out Friday.

Cheers, Mate

Apart from passion and hard training, Uruguay are fuelling their bid for World Cup credibility with plenty of caffeine as they bond over hot cups of ‘mate’, a traditional South American drink.

The national beverage of Uruguay and popular in Argentina and other parts of the region, mate is brewed in metal flasks from chopped-up yerba mate leaves.

The Uruguayan players have brought plenty with them to Japan, where the ingredients are hard to come by, and they shared a brew as they visited Oita Stadium Friday on the eve of their third World Cup pool clash against Australia.

“It is really very important for us. It’s like a social tradition to share a mate every time,” Uruguay centre Agustin Della Corte said. “In our travels we have a lot of leisure time so we like all the time to be sharing a mate. Each one of us brings our own thermos and the mate, the yerba. With the team, we bring 200 kilos.”

Manly Conversations

Eddie Jones was not allowed to meet the referee Nigel Owens before England’s test of “manlihood” against Argentina Saturday due to tournament regulations.

Jones claimed his “brutal” England side are ready for what he expects will be a macho battle against Argentina when victory would guarantee a place in the quarter-finals for the first time since 2011. But he has not been permitted to meet with the referee on the eve of the match, as is customary during the Six Nations and autumn internationals.

The opening rounds of the tournament were dominated by a series of controversial refereeing decisions that led to a remarkable statement from World Rugby in which the officials were publicly criticised.

Tournament rules dictate however, that coaches cannot meet with the match officials. “It is a World Rugby regulation and we follow every World Cup regulation to the letter, that is why I am here today [fulfilling media duties],” Jones told The Guardian. “So we won’t see the referee before he comes in before the game and he has bodyguards with him, so we can’t get to him, we just smile and say ‘hello’.”

Selfless Sanchez

Argentina is using the selflessness of axed flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez to bond even more before it make-or-break Rugby World Cup match against England.

Argentina must win or they will be eliminated in the pool stage for the first time in 16 years.

Sanchez, Argentina’s record scorer, has been left out of the 23 to play England, replaced in the reserves by Lucas Mensa, who wasn’t the only one surprised. Mensa prefers to play inside centre but said he can back up starting flyhalf Benjamin Urdapilleta.

“These are games where everyone has to play a part, but we know the important thing is the team,” reserve scrumhalf Felipe Ezcurra said. “Nico (Sanchez) is an example to the whole team in that sense, in terms of how he is conducting himself and how he transmits to everyone that the important thing is the group and not individuals. That makes us very strong.”

No Contest

Fans were left underwhelmed again by the sight of uncontested scrums for most of Friday’s South Africa bloodless victory over Italy in Shizuoka.

Italy lost both of their tighthead props to injury in the first 20 minutes with tighthead, Simone Ferrari, sustaining what appeared to be a serious hamstring injury in the opening 60 seconds of the match. He was replaced by Marco Riccioni, but he lasted just 18 minutes before he was ordered off for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) - he also appeared to be suffering from a rib injury.

Under law three, the referee can order uncontested scrums for safety reasons when a team cannot field a suitably trained front-rower. Nicola Quaglio came on for Riccioni, but given he was listed only as a loosehead prop, referee Wayne Barnes had no option but to order uncontested scrums for the remaining 60 minutes.

He explained his decision to South African captain Siya Kolisi.

"Just a strange occurrence, so I thought I'd explain. No 18 [Riccioni] is going off for an HIA and being replaced by a tighthead [sic]. That means it goes to uncontested scrums for that 10 minutes then we'll have another conversation."

That other conversation occurred when Riccioni was unable to return to the field after his HIA, with Barnes ordering uncontested scrums for the rest of the match.

Retallick Back

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen knew that Brodie Retallick was ready to make a comeback from a dislocated shoulder when he started annoying everyone around him.

The lock, named to start against Namibia in their World Cup match on Sunday, dislocated his shoulder against South Africa in July and suffered nerve damage which he feared would rule him out of the tournament.

“He has decided to be an annoying guy again so that’s a good sign,” Hansen said.

“He has come back from injuries and personal tragedy in the past so he knows how to go about doing that. There is no doubting his work ethic, you see it when he plays and it is just an extension of that.

“He loves playing and to have something you love taken away from you, it’s pretty easy to work hard to get back out there.”

Hansen has rested both Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett and gives utility back Jordie Barrett his first start at flyhalf.

New Zealand: B Smith, S Reece, J Goodhue, A Lienert-Brown, G Bridge, J Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, C Taylor, N Laulala, B Retallick, S Whitelock (c), S Frizell, S Cane, A Savea.

Replacements: D Coles, O Tuungafasi, A Ta'avao, P Tuipulotu M Todd, B Weber, TJ Perenara, R Ioane

Did you know

Fly-half Handre Pollard's 14 points against Italy took him to top spot in South Africa's RWC scoring charts with 115, overtaking Percy Montgomery's tally of 111.

Quote of the day

"I've had to iron the boys' shirts. I had to iron four or five before the opening ceremony."

- Darcy Graham, the youngest member of Scotland's squad, is kept grounded - and busy - by his team-mates.

Rugby World Cup Podcast: 'It's beginning to look like Scotland was the blip'

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