2015 Rugby World Cup – Knockout
Well, not too bad on the predictions for the pool stage. We had Wales v England and Ireland v France wrong which affected the quarter-final lineups, and Canda v Romania wrong which affected 4th and 5th place in pool D. However, we did predict that Japan and Georgia would finish 3rd in their pools ahead of Samoa and Tonga, even if nobody saw the seismic upset of Japan beating South Africa; which leads neatly into the quarter-finals. Unfortunately I am for a whitewash in favour of the southern hemisphere.
South Africa v Wales
The Springbox do seem to have learned from their defeat in the pool. As usual they have a monstrous tight 5 and, if they can resist the temptation to recall Victor Matfield, in De Jager and Etzebeth they have two young, very big and energetic locks. It is hard to see the Welsh scrum, which has been pushed around by all by Uruguay being up to the challenge, and if Wales have any chance at all, they will have to have a day of days at the breakdown, where South Africa are not always the smartest. South Africa have the advantage in terms of rest days, added to which Wales have several players still recovering from injury. So I just cannot see Wales managing to get enough ball in this, and will go for South Africa by 10.
New Zealand v France
Strangely this could be the quarter-final where the northern hemisphere has the best chance of a win. New Zealand have looked a bit underdone so far, although this could be a deliberately slow build up in what was the easiest of the pools by a considerable margin. Their scrum was shunted around by Tonga, and without the injured Tony Woodcock and against a much more powerful scrummaging unit in the French, they could concede significant points from scrum penalties. Whilst experience is on New Zealand's side, age is not, and in Kaino, Carter, Nonu, Conrad Smith and McCaw, they will be fielding 5 players between 32 and 34, all of whom have been off the pace in the pace, which could explain the poor record on yellow cards too. The French can, of course, point to great upsets over New Zealand in the past, but it is still a New Zealand with only 3 defeats since the last World Cup, and with Retallick and Read in the pack, Aaron Smith at scrum-half, and dangerous back 3, they have enough genuinely world class players to overcome the geriatric midfield. New Zealand by 15.
Ireland v Argentina
The cruel injury blows to Ireland in the quarter-final and the suspension to Sean O'Brien make this a step too far for Ireland even though the replacements in the game against France did a good job. It will certainly help if Sexton recovers in time, but they have lost 3 absolute giants in the pack, and this is precisely where Argentina thrive. The pressure they put on New Zealand drew 2 yellow cards and for 60 minutes in that game they were the better team. Argentina have also looked very sharp behind the scrum. Nicholas Sanchez has looked the best all round fly-half in the tournament and they have enough talent to overcome the suspension of Marcelo Bosch at 13. Ireland will fight hard, but there is a ruthlessness about this Pumas side and I see this as Argentina by 7.
Australia v Scotland
Everything seems to be going in Australia's favour. Somehow they survived that period of sustained pressure against Wales when they were down to 13 and now Hooper will be back to join his hunting mate, Pocock. Scotland, by contrast, hav to make do with Johnny Gray and Ross Ford from their pack, after a dual tip tackle against Samoa. This is a heavy blow for a side without the strength in depth of the other quarter-finalists, I see constant on the Scotland set piece in a one-sided match. Australia by 20, maybe a bit more.
2015 Rugby World Cup – Pool Stage
Preview: This is a look at the pool stages, with an assessment of the likely outcomes, and some hoped for upsets.
Pool A: Australia, England, Wales, Fiji, Uruguay
Seeing how this pool lines up, the obvious question is why the draw had to be made on 3 December 2012, nearly 3 years before the tournament. In contrast, FIFA made the final draw for the 2014 World Cup in December 2013. The tming of the rugby draw seems unnecessarily early and likely to throw up the kind of lopsided groups we now have.
On latest world rankings about a week before the tournament licks off, pool A has 3 of the top 5 and 4 of the top 9. the "pool of death" does indeed seem apt.
Matches between Australia, England and Wales must surely be close, and any combination of 2 from these 3 to progress would not be a surprise. Australia's scrum has manned up and ought to win enough good ball at the set piece to unleash the dangerous back division. Both Michael Hooper and David Pocock are capable of dominating the breakdown, and we may see them play together. The same is true of sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric for Wales, though they are less likely to appear together, barring injuries in the back row. So England have reason to be nervous about the tackle area and this could be their undoing. But I feel England are unlikely to lose both these games at Twickenham, such is the power they have in tight 5, and they have a good chance of winning both.
But I am going for history to repeat itself and tipping Australia to play to their full ability in a World Cup and win the group.
Here is a mischievous thought: complete the following sequence of upsets which have so far occurred every 8 years in Rugby World Cups. 1991: Wales lose to Western Samoa; 1999 Wales lose to Samoa; 2007 Wales lose to Fiji; what happens in 2015 when Wales play Fiji?
Prediction: 1. Australia, 2. England, 3 Wales, 4 Fiji, 5. Uruguay
Pool B: South Africa, Samoa, Scotland, Japan, USA
This looks to be the most open of the groups, excepting that South Africa will win it comfortably. Scotland's improvement in the build up to the World Cup makes them favourites for the second place, but romantics will be hoping that Samoa can rediscover past glories and conjure an upset. Scotland v Samoa at St. James' Park, Newcastle on 10 Oct, will likely settle the fight for second place.
The minnows in this pool are no shrking violets. Japan has become a proper rugby nation and will host the event in 2019, and the USA has put more resources into the game, so it is feasible to imagine that one of these could make the knockout; the odds on one of these getting through the pool may make for an attractive long shot. In my opinion it would be great for the game if the 2019 hosts, Japan could reach the quarter-finals in this World Cup.
Prediction: 1. South Africa, 2. Scotland, 3. Japan, 4. Samoa, 5. USA
Pool C: New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Georgia, Namibia
By contrast, this pool looks to be boringly predictable. New Zealand,as the world's number 1 will win the pool easily and you can only fear for Namibia, the lowest ranked team in the competition, when they meet at the Olympic stadium. Tonga versus Georgia could be the closest and most interesting match and this kicks off the pool in Gloucester on 19 Sep. That will be a hugely physical encounter, and I am going for the Georgians to pull off a minor upset.
Go for more than 15 tries for New Zealand in the Namibia match. I would back Julian Savea to be top try scorer, but selection for this particular match could make or break those odds.
Prediction: 1. New Zealand, 2 Argentina, 3. Georgia, 4. Tonga, 5. Namibia
Pool D: France, Ireland, Italy, Canada, Romania
On the face of it, this looks straight forward for France and Ireland to qualify, although picking the correct order is not so easy. Form over the past 1 or 2 years suggests that Ireland will win the pool, but their World Cup record is poor and French tend to be bring their A game to World Cup tournaments. Ireland's build up losses to Wales (at home) and England (away) have not helped their ranking, and will not help confidence, and you feel they may be overly dependent on their half-backs staying fit and fresh.
Also, don't write off Italy. They showed better form in the last warm up game away in Wales and in the last couple of years have recorded wins over France and Ireland in the 6 Nations tournament; they willl not fear either. Italy's problem may be over reliance on Parise, and converting pressure into points. Their chances of achieving a win in one of these two key games to make it through the pool, may be better than the odds suggest.
Prediction: 1. France, 2. Ireland, 3. Italy, 4 Canada, 5. Romania
This would lead to the following quarter-finals:
- South Africa v England
- New Zealand v Ireland
- France v Argentina
- Australia v Scotland
On this scenario, I would expect England to win a highly attritional game against South Africa to play New Zealand in the semi-final, and France to line-up against Australia in the other semi-final. My head tells me to expect only the second all southern hemisphere final, New Zealand against Australia. New Zealand would justifiably go into that match as favourites, but I have this nagging feeling that Australia's form is building well at the right time, and both of Australia's previous 2 World Cup wins have been in England and Wales, whereas New Zealand have still not managed a win away from home. Hence becuase of this, and because I prefer the longer odds, I will be backing an Australia win.