Round 1 & (Almost) 2 Retrospective, Round 3 & 4 Predictions.
Today is a rare day where no rugby is taking place. With all but 2 matches of round 2 played (France vs USA and NZ Canada due tomorrow to wrap up the round), it’s time to take stock of where we’ve got to so far, where the teams sit, and what we have to look forwards to.
Pool A has seen one of the great games of the tournament so far, and somewhat of an upset as hosts Japan overturned one of the top 4 teams in the world (Ireland, of course). With all Round 2 games played, Japan currently sit pretty atop of the group, although they were unable to get a bonus point against Ireland – too much to ask for, surely.
Ireland will be licking their wounds, but with a bonus point win against Scotland and a losing bonus point against Japan, they have got the two hardest games of the group out of the way and will be expecting to roll over both Samoa and Russia in short order. They look set to end the group on 16 points. Qualification seems almost certain, it’s just a matter of top or second. There is a sense of Ireland being underwhelming, though, and it’s hard to see them progressing too far into the tournament.
Scotland had a rough first game out against Ireland, but fared better today against Samoa. The level of performance will remain a concern though. Scotland are really struggling in Japan. Like Ireland, they will expect, very reasonably, to roll right over the Russians for a Bonus Point win. This will put them on 10 points heading into the final game of the group vs Japan.
Japan meanwhile face Samoa, who will be struggling with a 4 day turnaround. Japan usually have the measure of Samoa and it’s hard to see any other result than them winning. However, as Japan have taught us at two successive RWCs – never underestimate the underdog. A win leaves Japan on 13 points or 14 points, depending on the bonus point, heading into the final group round.
This leaves us with the ultimate showdown for the final game of pool A: Japan vs Scotland. The 4 day turnaround between Russia and Japan will be something that will hurt the Scottish, particularly since some key players will have to play both games, and Japan will no doubt seek to run Scotland off their feet. With Scotland probably on 10 points and Japan on 13 or 14, it’s going to be interesting to see the permutations at work.. The pressure is firmly on Scotland. It’s possible that Scotland beat Japan, fail to secure a Bonus point, and Japan either go through on a Losing Bonus Point or on points difference. Either way, Scotland will have no choice but to roll the dice and go for it – their best bet is a bonus point win and to deny the Japanese the bonus point, & anything outside of that looks risky. On the Japanese side, a win leaves them top of the group, and possibly a more favourable QF draw. We are in for a cracker of a match I think.
Don’t be fooled by that table. With 1 game left to play of Round 2, we can expect New Zealand to rack up a Bonus Point win over Canada, leaving them 2nd on 9 points. Italy meanwhile have played the easiest two games they are going to get this RWC. They face South Africa on Friday, and New Zealand after that. With the Saffers far stronger than they were when Italy managed to beat them a couple of years ago, I can’t see Italy picking up much more than a Losing Bonus Point from their last two matches, leaving Italy finishing the group on 10, 11 or 12 points
New Zealand meanwhile will be pleased with beating the Boks. This was the closest challenge they had in the group. With that out of the way, they ought to win games against Canada, Namibia and Italy. I think they would reasonable expect Bonus Point wins against Canada and Namibia, and probably against Italy. To finish the group on 18 or 19 points.
While South Africa will be disappointed to have recorded a loss, they now only have Italy and Canada left to face. They can expect to beat Canada with a Bonus Point, and at likely record the win against Italy. To finish on 14 .
Italy vs South Africa is probably the most interesting game left in this group – the only chance to upset the established order. In which case, Italy could go through. Unlikely, but you never know. I suspect the SA game is the one the Italians have been targeting, so, watch this space.
The so called “Group of death”. England are top after 2 games, with France vs USA left to play to see out Round 2. France ought to tidily beat the US, leaving them in all likelihood on 9 points. But France being France, predictions are impossible.
France have looked tidy at times, and will expect to win against Tonga with a Bonus Point. A BP win will leave them (assuming a BP win against the US) on 14 points heading into the final weekend.
England so far have secured two Bonus Point wins and are in good condition ahead of their game against Argentina, but have their two hardest games left to play. Emphatically winning this one will likely secure the top spot and take it out of France’s hands. Bonus point or not, a win puts England on 14 or 15 points heading into the final weekend. If Argentina lose to England, they can at most squeeze out 6 points from the rest of the tournament – a Losing Bonus Point against England, and a Bonus Point win against the USA. This would leave them on 12 points. In other words, if they don’t win against England, they are out and the group is done – the final pool game will just to be to determine who finishes top.
As a warning to England; before the Japan Ireland game, Ireland were similarly ranked to England. Japan were similarly ranked to Argentina. An upset is clearly possible, and England will have to be “on it”, particularly as Argentina are now fighting for their RWC survival. If England lose, then it’s all on the final weekend….
With two games gone, Pool D has been one of the most entertaining pools. We had Uruguay beat Fiji in a game of passion and heart which will live in the memory for years. We had Wales beat Australia in a game equal to, perhaps more entertaining than, the Ireland Japan game. Australia themselves were lucky to beat Fiji, and Fiji are unlucky to be bottom of the group.
They now have matches against Georgia and Wales, and even in the unlikely event they win both of them with bonus points, 12 points will not get them out of the group. As such, with the 3rd favourites falling away, for all the drama in the group, it’s impossible to see any teams other than Wales or Australia getting out of it.
Australia have been poor so far, but their two hardest games are behind them. As such, they’re in a fairly similar position to Ireland; Wins against Uruguay and Georgia will likely only paper the cracks until the QFs, and it’s hard to see them progressing further. They need to improve, and quickly, but will struggle to get meaning out of the two games they have left to play in the pool. Expect them to finish on 16 points.
Wales have been in the first game decent, in the second game exceptional. They’ve also apparently gone from being a team that don’t score all that many, but barely cough up any points, to being a team who seem to be playing much faster and loser, both scoring and conceding more as a result. Perhaps….gambling joke…. they’re learning to roll the dice a bit more? They can expect to top the group with wins against Fiji and Uruguay, adding 9-10 point onto thier total for 18-19 points overall. In the unlikely event they lose to Fiji, they can still expect to finish the group with at least 14 points, which would bring them in second behind Australia. It’d be a shock of unprecedented portions for Wales to lose to Uruguay & I think Welsh fans can breath a sigh of relief knowing that they can still safely taunt English fans about getting out of the group.
So there we have it folks, the RWC so far.