PARIS (AP) — New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa all flexed their muscles at the Rugby World Cup to rack up the points against underdog opponents in the second round of games in France.
New Zealand went first, running 11 tries past Namibia for a 71-3 grilling that put the three-time champion All Blacks back on track after losing a blockbuster opening game of the tournament to host France.
Top-ranked Ireland looked every bit the best in the world by mauling Tonga 59-16 to extend its national record to 15 straight wins and, more importantly, underline its status as a title favorite.
And South Africa put away Romania 76-0 with 12 tries in all, a show of power and pace from the defending champion Springboks.
But it didn't all go the way of the top dogs as Fiji, everyone's favorite Rugby World Cup underdog, threw up the biggest surprise so far with a 22-15 win over two-time champion Australia.
There was a sense that Fiji might do it and the 22-15 victory was cheered by fans in Saint-Etienne and all over the rugby world.
Four teams played their first games after getting a rest for the opening round.
Samoa arrived to overwhelm tournament debutant Chile, but only after a half-time dressing down from coach Seilala Mapusua sparked the Samoans into life with 24 unanswered points in the second half.
Tonga and Portugal had losing starts, although Portugal - at its first Rugby World Cup in 16 years - was an energetic and persistent threat to Wales and their game was much closer for long periods of play than the 28-8 final result. The Portuguese players erupted in delight with their try from a brilliant trick lineout move.
Host France, which like the Irish has real expectations of a first Rugby World Cup title, won again, doing enough against a spirited Uruguay making its first appearance of this tournament.
An England team that was written off before the World Cup and fiercely criticized is defying those critics by starting with two solid wins. This time, the English ground past Japan 34-12 in a game prop Joe Marler will likely remember.
The 33-year-old front-row forward has played 84 tests for his country without getting over for a try but he unwittingly helped with a crucial score against Japan when a pass bounced off his head and fell to England captain Courtney Lawes to dot down.
“It’s my only assist, isn’t it?" Marler joked.
AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby