World rugby wrap, Nov 20: Rugby World Cup pools taking shape

With the happenings of the past three weekends, perhaps it’s time to have a look at the Rugby World Cup crystal ball. Based on current form and results, if the Rugby World Cup pools were to be played now, the form guide in the four pools will look something like the following.

Rugby World Cup Pools

In Pool A, no prizes for thinking that Ireland will win the lot. They will start with their two toughest games against Scotland and hosts Japan, then wind down with a couple of easier games against Russia and Samoa before the quarterfinals. The key game in Pool A is likely to be the final one when Japan plays Scotland, probably for the second spot in the pool.

In the quarterfinals, Ireland would meet the runner-up of Pool B, which is likely to be loser of the heavyweight clash between New Zealand and South Africa. It will be a tough game in either case. But if Ireland is in good nick, they won’t fear anyone.

Pool B is likely to be rounds of fairly routine matches, with even Italy unlikely to upset the apple cart. Namibia and the repechage winner, most likely Canada, certainly won’t.

Pool C looks less daunting for Eddie Jones’ England then it did a few months ago. Two titanic battles with South Africa (a 12-11 win) and New Zealand (a 15-16 loss), coupled with events across the channel (where France lost to South Africa but beat Argentina), mean that the pecking order in Pool C should be: England, France and Argentina. Tonga and the USA should prove only troublesome flies to swat away.

Pool D was always Australia’s to lose. And lose they did with Wales’ 9-6 win over the Wallabies last weekend. Georgia and Fiji will be tricky and tough but very beatable, while Uruguay should prove no bother for anyone. So having overcome the psychological hoodoo against Australia, Wales should win this group.

Thus, after the Rugby World Cup pools, the quarterfinals should look like this:

  • QF 1: England vs Australia
  • QF 2: New Zealand vs Scotland/Japan
  • QF 3: Wales vs France
  • QF 4: Ireland vs South Africa

QF 1 would be a classic grudge match, and a perfect chance for England to avenge their 33-13 humiliation at home in the 2015 Rugby World Cup pools stage. The teams have also split one RWC final each, while England have won their other two RWC quarterfinal meetings.

QF 2 is the only clear cut tie, which the All Blacks should win at a canter.

QF3 would be only the second meeting between Wales and France at the Rugby World Cup. They last met in the 2011 semifinal when an early sending off for captain Sam Warburton saw the Welsh lose agonisingly 8-9.

QF 4 Ireland and South Africa have never met at the Rugby World Cup. The Irish had never beaten the Springboks in South Africa until Joe Schmidt took over, and did so in 2016. The Irish have never gone past the quarterfinals either; so this match will have more than the usual import.

The semi-finals then, are likely to see England vs New Zealand and Wales vs Ireland. But as we have seen before, despite rugby’s predictability, some degree of unpredictability still prevails.

But if I were a betting man, this would be the quartet I would be putting my money on.

November series ‘final’?

If the November rugby internationals were an actual tournament, the final we would all want to see now would be Wales vs Ireland – the two unbeaten teams so far.

That’s provided, of course, that both teams win their final games this northern autumn. Wales, who have so far beaten Scotland, Australia and Tonga, will finish up against South Africa. The Welsh have never won all their autumn internationals. So beating South Africa, which is a feat in itself, will also make a bit of history.

Ireland, in truth, climaxed their season last weekend by beating the All Blacks, after warm-up wins over Italy and Argentina.  Nevertheless, it was a nail biting meeting, with outstanding performance by Peter O’Mahony who was named ‘Man of the Match’.

Watch video highlights below of Ireland’s historic 16-9 win over the All Blacks:

Their final game against the United States is somewhat of a downer, with all due respect to the Eagles (see below). But coach Joe Schmidt will also want to build his strength in depth, a strategy that is already bearing fruit, seeing as to how he was without at least three first-choice players and his team still didn’t skip a beat.

But any meeting of Wales and Ireland will have to wait until March 16, the final round of the Six Nations next year.

And it is a match that could happen again at the RWC 2019 semifinals.

Blast for the past

New Zealand lose so rarely at rugby that when they do, the reaction can sometimes be a bit over the top. One latest idea, in the aftermath of Ireland’s 16-9 win in pulsating match on Saturday, was the suggestion that the selectors should bring back Ma’a Nonu.

Really? While Nonu was a real champion of his time — double World Cup winner, in fact — surely to bring him back is a backward step? Nonu is now 36, and would be the oldest All Black in the modern era if he were to be brought back in.

Not that age should be an issue, of course. To modify a popular saying, if you’re good enough, you’re young enough.

And if Nonu does play well next season for the Blues in Super Rugby, the calls will only grow louder.

What’s Conrad Smith up to, by the way? And isn’t Dan Carter still running around?

It’s just one loss, New Zealand! No need to panic. Australia have lost more than they have won this year, and even they haven’t resorted to players of the past. Oh, wait.

Tier 2 watch

Two of the leading lights of the second tier had better performances this past weekend. Fiji, who were hammered by Scotland 54-17 the previous week, came back with a bang with a 68-7 walloping of Uruguay, while Japan led England 15-10 at halftime before losing gallantly at 35-15.

Leading the way for the Flying Fijians was former 7s star Eroni Sau (on his Test debut) and backrower Peceli Yato Each scored three tries in their team’s 10-try haul. Three other former sevens stars, Metuisela Talebula, Josua Tuisova and Semi Kunatani also got in the act. Fly-half Ben Volavola scored the other try and kicked nine conversions.

Uruguay scored their sole try through scrum-half Santiago Arata and will hope things go better the next time the two teams meet: in Pool D at the Rugby World Cup pools stage next September.

Japan looked like pulling off another major upset against England, but that optimism was short lived as Eddie Jones men got their act together in time. After also losing their previous match 31-69 to the All Blacks, the Brave Blossoms will aim to finish their autumn on a high when they face Russia in Gloucester on Saturday. The Russians lost to the Welsh club side Dragons 38-24 and shouldn’t prove too much of an obstacle for the Japanese.

USA Rugby make history

In other tier 2 ties, the US Eagles defeated Romania 31-5 in Bucharest and Spain defeated Namibia 43-13, while South American sides Chile and Paraguay lost to the Maori All Blacks (73-0) and a South American XV 73-22 respectively.

The USA Rugby win was significant, as it was their second consecutive win this month, coming after the historic 30-29 win over Samoa the previous weekend, and took them to their highest-ever ranking of 15th on the World Rugby rankings.

The big surprise of the day though was Georgia beating 27-19. For the second week in a row, the Samoans lost a reasonable half time lead to throw the game away.

Two weekends ago, Samoa led the US Eagles 26-20 but lost the second half 10-3 for a 30-29 loss. Last weekend, they led the Georgians 19-10 at the break but lost the second half 17-0.

It’s clear that fitness and conditioning will have to be new coach Steve Jackson’s top priority over the next 10 months or so.

Repechage watch

It was good while it lasted, but the German campaign to enter the Rugby World Cup pools for the first time is over.

Germany, who surprisingly beat Hong Kong 26-9 in the first round of the repechage, lost 10-29 to Canada on Saturday. Canada’s win almost certainly means the Canucks have qualified for their ninth successive Rugby World Cup.

Hong Kong, who beat Kenya 42-17 on Saturday will now have to beat Canada while scoring four tries. And also make sure the Canadians lose by more than seven points or do not score four tries or more. Two very tough asks.

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  1. Great and exciting view of the competition. I am a sports fan and like discussion articles like this.

    About pool, D. Is my feeling extraordinary that Fiji can make an upset in this pool? Special because their first match is against Australia and the first match in all sports is always mentally tricky. Winning there can change to group D a lot in my opinion.

    But I would love to see your guess be correct about England  – Australia. It would be a massive emotion in that game!

    Thanks for a great post! Looking forward and see more.

    • On paper, Fiji are a very strong team with very good individual players. Unfortunately, they cannot compete with the bigger countries simply because of money. They will not be able to gather the team together for long training camps the way New Zealand, England, Australia etc can. The same is true for teams such as Samoa, Tonga and Georgia.
      These countries also tend to have their best talent poached by the richer countries.
      So while many neutrals would love to see them succeed, the reality is that the obstacles are very high for the smaller nations.

  2. Wow!!! I have my fantasy sports website. I have to do more on it. I have to update it. I’m here in the United States. I’m going to be watching one of the best football games of the season.

  3. Thank you for putting together such a informative article. I’m not that familiar with Rugby because I’m more into soccer and sometimes American football. However, I like the sport and I follow it from time to time, I also check out games on YouTube every week. With the matches that you included, you give me ideas to look for on YouTube.

    Who do you think is the best team out there? and the TOP 3 players? I would like to watch the best of rugby 🙂

    • Despite their defeat, the best team out there is still New Zealand, I believe. The All Blacks lost, I feel, because the Irish were playing at home and are relatively fresh, while the Kiwis are at the end of a very long season. 

      But Ireland are not far behind at all and are clearly the No. 2 team. But there is then a trio just behind who will get very close come the World Cup: England, Wales and South Africa. Next are Australia, France, Argentina and Scotland. 

      The best three players, in my opinion, are Brodie Retallick of New Zealand, Jonny Sexton of Ireland and David Pocock of Australia. However, their excellence is more technical than eye catching.

      Among the most visually exciting players are Damien McKenzie, Stuart Hogg and Jordan Larmour. 

  4. Hi

    Thanks for a realy clear article.  It was helpful to get your information regarding the pools and some insight regarding the challenges for certain teams.

    I wonder how your predictions will stack up!

    In Australia this week, the newds has been covering the horrific accident in a schoolboys’ match where a member of each team broke their neck as a result of a pretty standard tackle on one of them by the other.  This is sparking debate about the game, its rules and whether anything should be done.

    I wondered if you have any views on this?



    • Yes, I too hope my predictions come true!

      Heard about the schoolboys issue. Very sad. Rugby has always been a dangerous sport but, increasingly, kids are bulking up very early, through weights and nutrition, and the differences in development among these teenagers accentuate the disparity in size, strength and power, making the game even more risky. In some cases it is like boys playing against men.

      One suggestion that I agree with is that rugby at school level should be split according to weight as well as age, as I believe is already happening in New Zealand. This has to have a large degree of discretion involved, because while some kids may indeed be bigger and heavier than their peers, it is not always safe to put them with older boys if it is obvious they are still “soft” and underdeveloped. Trained people should make the call. 

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