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England dispel Rugby WCup jitters as Ireland hail Sexton

World Rugby investigates fan chaos in Marseille

PARIS: England overcame a potentially dangerous Rugby World Cup opener against Argentina on Saturday thanks to the prolific boot of George Ford as Ireland welcomed back their dynamo Johnny Sexton. England had recorded just four wins in 13 matches heading into the clash in Marseille and Argentina had stunned them in November. It started badly for the 2003 champions after Tom Curry was red-carded for a clumsy clash of heads with Argentine full-back Juan Cruz Mallia in just the third minute, becoming the first England player in history to be sent off at a World Cup.

But Ford stepped up to take a scrappy game by the scruff of the neck, kicking every single one of England’s points, including three drop-goals and six penalties, in a 27-10 victory to lift the pre-tournament tension in the Red Rose camp. Ford is standing in for Owen Farrell, who is serving a ban for a dangerous tackle that rules him out of this game and the next against Japan, but on this evidence Farrell will have a fight on his hands to get the No 10 jersey back. “We have had a bit of a rocky build-up to this World Cup but I think in the last 10 days there has been a different feeling to the place.

It is only game one and we will look to build next week,” Ford told ITV. England coach Steve Borthwick said: “There was a sense I had from the players they had been written off a bit too early. They are a quality group that are going to keep on improving and moving forward.” Hundreds of spectators missed the kickoff in Marseille after they were delayed at the entrances to the Stade Velodrome, AFP reporters saw. Organizers said in a statement: “We are working with all stakeholders to establish the facts and implement measures to prevent such delays for the remaining Rugby World Cup 2023 matches at the venue.”

‘Perfect start’ Ireland, the world’s number one ranked side, were able to select Sexton—so often their inspiration—for the first time following a six-month injury absence as they took on minnows Romania in the Pool B curtain-raiser. Sexton’s errant kick handed Gabriel Rupanu the first try for Romania, but Ireland then flattened them with 12 tries in response to romp home 82-8 in Bordeaux. Sexton grabbed 24 points, including two tries, to become Ireland’s record World Cup points scorer. “I’m delighted just to get some minutes under my belt,” Sexton said.

“We know there’s a much tougher task coming on Saturday against Tonga.” Like England, Australia have had a rocky build-up to the tournament but coach Eddie Jones earned his first win in six games with a 35-15 bonus-point victory over battling Georgia. Full-back Ben Donaldson scored 25 points in just his fourth Test appearance to leave former England and Japan coach Jones hailing a “perfect” start for the two-time champions. “World Cups are about taking each step,” Jones said. “If we were to plan a perfect World Cup preparation, we said at the end of the round one we want to sit there on five points and that’s what we’ve got.”  In the other game on day two of the marathon seven-week tournament, Italy romped to a 52-8 win against Namibia in host nation France’s Pool A.

Chaos in Marseille

Meanwhile, Rugby’s global governing body says it is investigating reports of chaotic scenes among fans attempting to enter the Stade Velodrome in Marseille ahead of England’s 27-10 victory over Argentina. The incident brought back uncomfortable memories of the organizational fiasco in Paris last year ahead of the 2022 Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool.

“We are aware of delays experienced by fans entering Stade de Marseille for the Rugby World Cup 2023 Pool D match between England and Argentina match this evening,” World Rugby said in a statement late on Saturday night. “While fans were able to take their seats, fan experience is paramount, and we are working with all stakeholders to establish the facts and implement measures to prevent such delays for the remaining Rugby World Cup 2023 matches at the venue.”

In May last year, the Champions League final at the Stade de France was delayed by 37 minutes as fans struggled to get into the national stadium after police funneled them into overcrowded bottlenecks as they approached. Police then fired tear gas towards thousands of mainly Liverpool supporters locked behind metal fences outside the stadium. Ahead of the Rugby World Cup, France’s interior minister Gerald Darmanin and Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera told reporters they were “confident” and had “learned lessons” from the football showpiece. But some fans struggling to get into the Stade Velodrome on Saturday night claimed on social media that they feared for their safety. – AFP

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