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World rugby roundup, Nov 16: the world rugby rankings bunfight

As the top two teams in the world rugby rankings get ready to face off this weekend, New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster this week said this about Kiwi-born Irish centre Bundee Aki: “He looks like an Irishman now, doesn’t he?

Big mistake.

It’s true that Aki doesn’t look like, say, Jonathan Sexton or Robbie Henshaw, but his looks alone should not disqualify him from being considered Irish. Rugby rules on eligibility revolve around birthplace but also heritage and, most controversially, residency. So if those are the rules, Aki qualifies to play for Ireland as he has lived there long enough.

Pot calling kettle All Black

Joe Schmidt correctly responded by saying that New Zealand fields players who were born in other countries too. Men such as Jerome Kaino sketch of a black pot in World rugby rankings article(American Samoa), Chris Masoe (Samoa) and Joe Rokocoko (Fiji) were All Blacks who gave their all when playing for their adopted nation, and were indeed considered Kiwis.

Schmidt could also have cited a couple of players Aki will face tomorrow: Ofa Tu’ungafasi, who was born in Tonga, and Nepo Laulala, born in Samoa; as well as current squad member Waisake Naholo, who was born in Fiji.

Foster’s mistake was to mention the visual – that Aki doesn’t look Irish.

What does that mean? It is possible that people can look nothing like the majority of the population of the country they migrated to.

Don’t go there, essentiallysketch of a black kettle in World rugby rankings article

This same offence was committed by many people in the wake of France’s win last year at the FIFA World Cup, with many mentioning that the win was an African one because many of the players were “African” in appearance. The reality is that most of the black French players in the team were born and bred in France and therefore, if you believed in the concept of the nation state, were French.

When you think about it, before the 1980s, when the browning of the All Blacks really began, Bundee Aki would not have looked much like your typical New Zealand international either.

Contests to savour in world rugby rankings

Back to the rugby and the perpetual jostling for world rugby rankings.

Another massive weekend ahead, with several monumental contests before us.

Top of the pile is of course Number 1 versus Number 2, when New Zealand are hosted by Ireland.

Acres of newsprint and gigabytes of data have been expended in previewing this match and we shall not add to it here except to say that it is not just a battle for bragging rights but also a fight for psychological supremacy before the next Rugby World Cup.

This, as we know, has been a crucial advantage prior to all past Rugby World Cups so both teams will be gagging to attain that. But tomorrow’s match is also a head to head between the current All Blacks coach and his assistant — Steve Hansen and Foster — and the man most likely to take over, in many eyes: Joe Schmidt. Their tactical duel will be intriguing.

Blockbuster matches

The blockbuster matches that will also have an impact on world rugby rankings include Scotland vs South Africa and France vs Argentina.  Recent Scottish form suggests an upset would not be that big a surprise.

France vs Argentina is a fixture that usually produces a lot of blood and thunder, and this one should prove no different. Both teams have come off tight losses, especially the French who lost to the Springboks in the last play of the match.  So redemption will be the key word.

Bigger scorelines expected

Two other defeated teams from last week, England and Australia, both in very tight affairs and high in world rugby rankings, will take out their frustrations this weekend against opponents they should be able to beat in any circumstances.

Eddie Jones will pit his England team against Japan, his previous team. He has jokingly said that he wants them smashed. It may not happen physically, but it should happen on the scoreboard.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, despite having a soft spot for Italy (where he had began his coaching career with the Petrarca club), will ensure Australia face Italy on Saturday in a harder frame of mind.

Wales, after finally beating Australia for the first time in 14 matches last week, can take it easy this week. However, the Welsh will be playing Tonga, who warmed up with a 49-38 win over the French Barbarians last weekend and can be dangerous when least expected.

Interesting Tier 2 battles

The weekend’s action begins tonight when the Welsh (club side) Dragons take on Russia. The Russians had a surprise win last week over Namibia – so another victory will hold them in good stead as they build towards the RWC 2019.

The US Eagles will be taking on hosts Romania, with a hope to build on last week’s historic 30-29 win over Samoa. This will be the first outing this November for the Romanians, whose A team defeated Kenya 36-5 two weeks ago.

Uruguay rugby ballThere are a few other Tier 2 clashes.

For example, Namibia play Spain and will hope to bounce back from the defeat to Russia. The Uruguay vs Fiji in Hartpury, England, will provide a taste of their meeting in Pool D at RWC 2019.

Both are coming off chastening losses, with Uruguay losing 21-5 to Irish Ulster, and the Flying Fijians had their wings clipped by Scotland in a 54-17 hammering.

Another Match of the Day?

The most intriguing clash of the weekend, to me, is Georgia vs Samoa in Tbilisi. This would in any other circumstances be a heavyweight battle of power and strength and big hits. But with both also coming off defeats – Samoa to the US for the first time, and Georgia to Italy — this will have more spice than usual.

In the final two matches, the Maori All Blacks should continue their amble through South America with a win over this week’s hosts, Chile. Elsewhere in the continent, Paraguay entertain a South American XV.

Enjoy your weekend!

14 Comments

  1. Hey there! Thanks for sharing this interesting post about the rugby games going down this weekend. Sounds exciting! I am surprised about the comments made about players who play for a different country they are born in. I thought that people could be and are recruited from other countries to play. So now I’m wondering by ‘All black’ you’re talking about the New Zealand team or a different team?

    Hope this makes sense,

    Marlinda

    • By All Blacks I mean the New Zealand rugby team.
      The eligibility rules for international rugby can be confusing. To play for a country you must be born in that country, or have parents or grandparents from that country, or have lived in that country for at least three years. You cannot have played for any other country, of course.

  2. Hi 

    Exciting times Rugby season, I see that you are really excited also and thank you for putting this article together.

    Love your insight. the teams that I am looking forward to watching are The All Blacks, Paraguay, Chili, Fiji, South Africa and England.  

    It would be interesting to see the outcome.

    Many thanks

    Jennifer

  3. This is a great post and reminder for all rugby fans 🙂 I personally LOVE watching this sport because it’s a mix of soccer and football. I remember that once I went to upstate to play a game with my college team and at the hotel where we stayed, there was a rugby team. In my mind, I was like “They will destroy me…”. Thankfully we didn’t play them 🙂 They would have won any 50-50 ball. I will look it over the weekend to watch the France vs Argentina match!

    • Ha ha, yes, don’t mess with rugby players. Actually, I’m just joking. They wouldn’t have bullied you. Rugby players generally play hard but fair. That is the rugby way.
      Yes, France vs Argentina should be interesting and a bit spicy!

  4. Wow, your site is super unique. I love the fact that you’re immersed into the information, as I reader through your article I couldn’t help but picture myself as a huge Rugby fan.

    As someone who dabbled in Rugby during my military days I can relate to your content, it’s well written and I can imagine your readers get great value.

    Great work, keep it up.

    • Thanks Davan. Rugby in the military would have been tough. Enjoy the games this weekend.

  5. I am a soccer lover, Lol,but i am intrigued by rugby and love your detailed article ,i have learnt a lot and will be looking forward to this world cup with more information up my sleeve,i am rooting for the springboks but may the best team win, i will also be looking forward to the haka from New Zealand at the beginning of their game,just delightful.

    • Yes, the haka is one of the most popular spectacles in sport.
      I think the Springboks will win tonight. They’re becoming a very good team.
      I like soccer a lot too, but prefer rugby. Thanks

  6. good to be in the season of the games.  

    In my opinion,  it doe not matter where a player is born and which ationality he claims.  The most important thing is has he live long in the adopted nation to qualify him for the adoption or in the first place if the rims permits him then all mouths should be shut.  

    Let everyone have a feel of his game and have a good time on the pitch….  I’m anticipating the Georgia vs Samoa Game.

    • The eligibility rules for international rugby used to be quite relaxed and involved residence only, as you suggest. But people were switching sides too often so they made it tighter.
      So now, to play for a country you must be born in that country, or have parents or grandparents from that country, or have lived in that country for at least three years. You cannot have played for any other country, of course.
      Yes, the Georgia vs Samoa game could be very interesting. I expect it to be brutal and physical, not one for the runners!

  7. Rugby is a really interesting sport, and very brutal. Way more than football could ever be. I don’t watch rugby at all, but I have been thinking about watching new sports. So maybe I’ll give it a shot. I don’t even know any rugby teams sadly. 

    What teams should I start to look out for? 

    • HI Ty, welcome to the sport of rugby. The easiest team to watch is New Zealand as they play attractive rugby and usually win. You could start with them. Also, watch a video on the rules so you know what a bit about the laws etc. Try this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOJejnPI0p0
      You could also start by watching 7s rugby, which is easier to understand.
      Good luck!

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