Opinion: Referees make their mark, big guns show their class - what we learned from Rugby World Cup week one

OPINION: At the end of it all, the first weekend of the Rugby World Cup mostly confirmed what we already knew.

France and Ireland stand tall as the teams to beat, while South Africa could match the All Blacks' proudest record and defend their 2019 title. 

Meanwhile, any fears of referees having the biggest say of the tournament might just come to pass, if England's win over Argentina is anything to go by.

Here's what we learned from the opening week of France 2023:  

Big guns (still) have big muscles

Apart from the All Blacks and Argentina, the other nations (tier 1) who have historically succeeded at the World Cup did just that.  

Somewhat a 'normal service resumed' type situation after the chaos of the warm-up games where there were a few surprises.  

France, England, South Africa, Wales and Australia all recorded opening victories, leaving the likes of Argentina and Scotland already in must-win territory to ensure they're not absent when the quarterfinals come around.  

Before their game, the Scots felt like a longshot to advance from Pool B at the expense of one of Ireland and South Africa, but now it feels a little like a fete de complicit.  

France celebrate Damian Penaud's try against the All Blacks.
France celebrate Damian Penaud's try against the All Blacks. Photo credit: Getty Images

Argentina's game against Japan could now sort Pool D out, especially if England can repeat the performance they gave against the Pumas in their remaining games.  

Having watched the opening weekend, it's still utter madness that two of Ireland, France, NZ and South Africa are still going home before the semis.

France are hot, so too are Ireland 

The pre-tournament favourites underlined those tags with impressive first up displays.  

Sure, Ireland ran riot against Romania but they're in really good shape, regardless of the opposition. You don't score 80 odd points without doing a lot right and the Irish are focussed, in form and ready to make their deepest run at a World Cup.

France meantime didn't even need to get out of third gear against the All Blacks and won by 14. That's intimidating and should worry everyone else.  

The Stade de France factor was also on full display on Saturday morning, and it will play a part at the business end of the tournament.  

The hosts are backed by a wonderfully colourful and vocal fan base who will be their 16th man on the pitch when the going inevitably gets tough in the knockout stages.

Springboks genuine chance to go back-to-back 

No one's doubting South Africa's imposing squad depth but it's hard to win two World Cups in a row.  

The 'Boks were good without being great against Scotland. They out muscled the Scots in the end and never really looked in danger.  

South Africa's Faf de Klerk.
South Africa's Faf de Klerk. Photo credit: Getty Images

South Africa's the ultimate World Cup team, they know exactly what they have to do to win and that's what was on full display this morning.  

I don't think they'll blow anyone off the pitch at this tournament, but their suffocation style is so effective when there's pressure on and they've been there and done it all before so don't be surprised at all if Siya Kolisi joins Richie McCaw as the only man to hoist the Cup aloft twice.

England aren't as bad as everyone says they are, and Wales are marginally better than everyone says they are

England should be absolutely thrilled with their backs-against-the wall victory over Argentina.  

I've never particularly rated George Ford but he delivered a masterclass in a game England so easily could've flunked, especially after the red card to flanker Tom Curry.  

England could easily make the semi-finals thanks to the lopsided nature of the draw and they could play Wales on the way, after the Red Dragons proved there is some fire in the belly before they almost bottled it against Fiji.  

Wales have been widely written off and, while I saw nothing today to suggest they can win the Cup, they showed more against the Fijians than we've seen all year and their pool game against Australia will definitely be worth a watch.

Officials will have a say in a big game somewhere, somehow 

It was feared before the tournament started the officials would play a big role in the outcome of games and we've already had hints of it without anything being so bad it costs a team a victory.  

England's Tom Curry can feel a little unlucky about his red card for his head clash while Wales somehow kept 15 players on the field in the second half despite a litany of cynical penalties.  

Memo to all teams if they hadn't already clicked on to this one - for goodness' sake, don't put yourself at the mercy of the officials or you could find your tournament's over.

Tom Bartlett is Newshub's sports editor