Preview – THE FINAL
All logic points to a win for New Zealand. Consistency, experience and flair are there in abundance and they would win this match up probably 9 times out of 10. Indeed they have only lost 3 matches since the last final 4 years, to South Africa, England and most recently to Australia. For their part, Australia have lacked consistency. They were excellent against a poor England, struggled against Wales, "lost" to Scotland, and beat Argentina more comfortably on the scoreboard than the play in that match merited. But they are stubborn, with a gritty defence and tend to grind out tournament wins in the northern hemisphere. So against all logic, I am going for Australia by 5. It can't happen, can it?
Outcome 3rd / th Match
South Africa 24 Argentina 11
More or less as expected. Sanchez managed to hold off Pollard on the points leaderboard, but Habana butchered his chances. Was this some subliminal respect for Lomu? Although this is really a dead rubber, both sides can take a lot from this tournament, Argentina have been a joy to watch and South Africa have recovered very well after that dreadful start against Japan and even ran New Zealand to within 2 points. They lost theri skipper, De Villiers early on, but with the exception of Matfield, Du Preez and Bruger, most of this squad are young enough to have another World Cup in them.
Preview 3rd / 4th Match
It's tough on Argentina to have this game on the Friday night, having less recovery time than South Africa, and with several key player out injured: Inhff, Creevy, Heranadez, Senatore to name but 3. Sanchez will look to secure the golden boot as the tournament's leading points scorer. On South Africa's side, Habana needs try to pull clear of jonah Lomu as the World Cup's leading try scorer in history. South Africa will be less disrupted than Argentina and should win this by 15
Outcomes Semi-Finals 24-25 October
Australia 29 Argentina 15
This was a hugely enjoyable game to watch, unfortunately influenced by some rash play early on from Argentina and a an overly harsh yellow card for Argentinian lock, Lavanini, for a 'no hands' tackle which was nowhere near dangerous. These two factors gave a keen and sprightly Argentinian team no chance. Australia scored four tries, two of which came from delicious long passes from Foley and Giteau respectively, and one following a mazy run by Mitchell through a tiring Puma defence. Pocock's freakish ability at the breakdown stood out throughout the game as did the constant flow of claret from about half the protagonists. Argentina have played to a level above their expectation in this tournament and have been the most consistently entertaining team to watch. They leave with heads held high and tears flowing.
New Zealand 20 South Africa 18
This was an odd game, although probably the conditions played a significant part in that. In terms of what happened, the grubber kicks beat the box kicks. Neither side seemed keen to keep ball in hand for very long and New Zealand had the better kicking strategy, keeping South Africa pinned down in their own territory for long periods of time. It was an approach designed to minimise errors, much more risk averse than we normally see from New Zealand, which makes the brainless yellow card from Kaino all the more strange; it could have lost New Zealand the game, but the grubber kicks managed to keep South Africa at bay. Habana equalled Kaino in brainlessness (if that is a word) and handed the initiative back to New Zealand. South Africa also contrived to lose more lineouts on their own throw than they normally manage in a season, for which Sam Whitelock deserves credit. The arrival off the bench of Victor Matifeld, perhaps the top lineout exponent of all time, did not improve matters. He arrived looking like an extra from "The Mummy" – has ever a player been held together by more strapping and gaffer tape? Probably the right side won in an attritional, tense but somewhat dull match.
Preview Semi-Finals 24-25 October
New Zealand v South Africa
South Africa have recovered well after the shock of their first pool match, and without being spectacular against Wales, they have certainly shown they are hard to beat. Unfortunately they are up against New Zealand and nothing they have done so far suggests that South Afirca can win this one. Burger against McCaw at the breakdown and Vermeulen against Read in the loose will both be awesome clashes, but New Zealand just execute on everything that much better. It should be another strong game for their wide men. New Zealand by 18.
Australia v Argentina
Let's get this straight up front; Argentina deserve to win this and be in the final. This is not just a reaction to the shenanigans of referreing errors in Australia's wholly undeserved win over Scotland, but simply put, Argentina have played consistently the most enjoyable attacking rugby of the tournament. While New Zealand have been awesome in patches, notably against the French, Argentina have dazzled from their first pool game in which they outplayed New Zealand for 60 minutes. But there seems to be an inevitability to an New Zealand v Australia final, so I am going for Australia by 3. It is to be hoped that Wayne Barnes stands the prossure better than Craig Joubert.
Outcomes Quarter-Finals 17-18 October
Sad to day the predictions were correct and we will have all southern hemisphere semi-finals. In Australia's case, they really should be on their way home after a shockingly poor performance from them and their new best mate, referee Craig Joubert.
Australia 35 Scotland 34
Oh dear! I suppose it had to happen. It has been such a terrific World Cup so far, there just had to be a game where the wrong team one because of the refereeing. I have long been a fan of Craig Joubert, but there were 3 calls in this game which were marginal and all harshly went in favour of Australia. Firstly: the yellow card for Maitland: there have been plenty of instances where these kind of knock-ons have not resulted in a yellow card. It was a tight situation close to the touchline and it was an unlikely scoring opportunity (if you want a contrast, look back at David Campese's deliberate knock-on in the 1991 World Cup final to see the epitome of what this sanction is supposed to stop). Secondly: the late hit by Mitchell on Hogg after he kicked ahead with about 5 minutes to go. it looked late in real time; it looked even later in the replay and not even a penalty was given here. It was more a yellow card than Maitland's offence. This would almost certainly have closed out the game in Scotland's favour given the wet conditions and the fact that Scotland would have been playing in Australia territory. Finally: the award of the penalty at the end. As Greg Laidlaw said after the match 'why dod that not go to the TMO? – Everything else does!. The ball pin-balled around in the rain and it was picked up by a Scot in front of the last Scottinsh player to play the ball. But in between he was played onside s the ball was played by an Australian arm; a totally wrong decision. Beyond harsh to be on the wrong of all these calls, and Australia go through undeservedly to the semi-final. We can only wish for an Argentina win in that match.
Ireland 20 Argentina 43
As expected, this wsa a game too far for Ireland, missing so many key players. After a fairly dreadful start, Ireland fought back exceptionally well and, mid second half, it seemed that they would win, as the momentum had shifted significantly up front and Argentina's lead was only 3 points. But, Argentina never lost faith in their running game, despite their long held reputation for preference for an arm-wrestle of a match in the forwards. Their back line was always dangerous and the running lines were excellent. The 23 point win certainly flattered Argentina, but they have played the most consistently watchable rugby of tournament, with the possible exception of Japan, and thoroughly deserve to advance to a second semi-final
New Zealand 62 France 13
Wow – simply the best exhibition of 15-man rugby of the tournament. A lot of below par individual performances from the pool were put in context by this win, and most of the old guys turned up. Carter and Nonu in particular had terrific matches and Read looked at scary best. There seemed more to this trouncing than mere revenge for some past World Cup defeats. Some of the verbal exchanges in the build up to this match were quite unpleasant and it clear that New Zealand were delighted to inflict psychological pain in addition to the win. It is the end for the inconsistent Michalak and for Pape. France have plenty of depth to recruit from and, as usual with them, the missing ingredient is often the attitude to accompany the obvious talent. It will take a new broom at the helm to ensure a quick bounce back.
South Africa 23 Wales 19
A typically predictable attritional game which either side could have one. Wales have continued to match up extremely well in their games despite the disruption of injuries. The back row did very well at the breakdown although the scrum struggled once again. Wales can go away with some clear messages. They need to rebuild the tight 5, but can be sure that they have star quality at scrum-half and fly-half. Thier play out wide has been disappointing with both Cuthbert and North having poor tournaments. South Africa move on to almost certain defeat in the semi-final. They are fairly good at what they do, but ambition is extremely limited and this ought not to be enough to trouble New Zealand.
Preview Quarter-Finals 17-18 October
Unfortunately I am going 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 side with only 3 defeats since the last World Cup, and with Retallick and Read in the pack, Aaron Smith at scrum-half, and a 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.
Outcomes 11 Oct Games
Japan 28 USA 18
Japan rounded off a marvellous World Cup with their third win; the only time a team with 3 wins in the pool has failed to progress to the quarter finals. The steady kicking of Goromaru saw them through when it looked as if the USA were staging a comeback. Next time around, Japan will be hosting the tournament and it is great for the game that they will do so on the back of this inspiring set of performances.
France 9 Ireland 24
This was so much a better match than Australia v Wales in the weekend battles to top pools A and D. Ireland did remarkably well to stay ahead of France, given the injury toll that mounted up throughout the game. No blame should be attached to France for the injury toll, as all of them looked to be genuinely unlucky. Ireland were carried home by the fantastic support we have come to expect from their fans and deserve to have preferably draw in the quarter-final. Henderson and Madigan had top games as replacements and much credit goes to Conor Murray for game management and a try at a key moment to kill the game, as well as Sean O'Brien for sterling work at the breakdown. He was that rarity in this World Cup; a worthy official Man of the Match. Michalak for France was at his ineffectual worst during the early phases of the game when France had a chance to take an early lead.
Italy 32 Romania 22
This result shows the gap between the European top tier and the second division is not so big. Romania won the second half and finished extremely strongly. Italy secured automatic qualification for the next World Cup in what has been a quite predictable tournament for them; not really strong enough to push on to the quarter-finals, but good enough to beat the minnows.
Argentina 64 Namibia 19
9 tries, each to a different player for Argentina. Namibia's tackling was sub standard and this may have been the weakest performance in the World Cup. Argentina looked fluent in attack despite having rung the changes for this game, and they have some tricky selection choices for the quarter-final. It is very likely that Juan Martin Hernandez could drop out of the XV, and there are few teams who could afford such a luxury.
Preview 11 Oct Games
Argentina v Namibia
A clear win for Argentina over a spirited Nambia is to be expected. Some of the Pumas key players are being rested for this one, so it may not be a complete romp, and Namibia should restrict the damage to about 30 points. Look for Juan Martin Hernandez to spark the back line for Argentina.
Italy v Romania
Romania will want to put down a marker in the pecking order of European rugby but this game has probably come a little too early after their heroic comeback against Canada. Italy shoowed improvement against Ireland and, assuming they come out with simialr intent here, will win by 18 points.
France v Ireland
'Le Crunch'; although both teams are already through, there is a very different path to be taken for the winners, namely avoiding New Zealand in the next game and playing Argentina instead. It is going to be very tight. Neither side has really had a tough match yet, but neither has shown real flair in beating modest opposition. Ireland have a slightly better points difference, but failed to impress against a gutsy Italian effort last time out. France may have the better set piece, although Ireland will probably edge the battle at the breakdown, and the back row contest will likely decide this one. Sexton is a better game manager than Michalak, but France may less reliant on a single perosn in this respect. France by 3.
Japan v USA
Unfortunately there is only pride to play for here. Japan have been wonderful and have already secured third place in the pool. Their performances here will help them build towards a resolute campaign when they host the World Cup in 2019. Japan by 15 points in this one.
Outcomes 10 Oct Games
England 60 Uruguay 3
Never really hit 4th gear, but hatricks for Easter and Nowell delivered some modest satisfaction. George Ford had an ordinary game especially with the boot and Jonathan Joseph showed glimpses of his brilliance when he came off the bench, also a sense of regret that he had not been fit earlier in the tournament. Uruguay tackled manfully throughout, but with only 4 professionals in their squad, were always outgunned in this group. England finished with a better points difference than Wales and know that had they taken the kick at goal at the end of the Wales game, they would have qualified from this pool.
Australia 15 Wales 6
Grim; no tries. If there was a line break in this match I must have blinked and missed it. Australia bossed the scrum which is how they won despite spending a large chunk of the second in breach of the rules at the breakdown and maul, and defeneding grimly with 13 against 15. Wales were sufficiently witless to fail to score every possible way during that period. Dan Biggar missed a very kickable penalty to trail by 3 at half time. If he had got that, the Welsh attack in the second half might have been more composed. South Africa will not be quaking in their boots; nor possbly even Scotland.
Samoa 33 Scotland 36
What a great game in the best pool! If Samoa could have forced a late penalty to draw the game, everything would be perfectly set, leaving Japan needing a bonus try over the USA to pip Scotland for second place. But Scotland scraped over the line via the calmness of Greg Laidlaw, depsite being outscored 4 tries to 3. Samoa picked up a deserved 2 bonus points in their best performance of this World Cup, but will finish 4th in the pool and therefore will need to go through qualifying for Japan 2019.
Preview 10 Oct Games
Samoa v Scotland
You have to think that Scotland will win and progress to the quarter-final, but neutrals will be hoping for Samoa to dig deep and produce a performance of which their teams of the 1990s would be proud. A win for Samoa would probably see Japan reach the knockout which would be fully deserved; they have been a breath of fresh air and reminded everyone that upsets are possible in rugby and can indeed be inspirational. Scotland by 15.
Australia v Wales
A key match-up, despite the fact that both have already qualified. The winners will get a quarter-final against Scotland (or Wales); the losers face South Africa with the prospect of New Zealand in the semi-finals. Anyone with ambition to win the World Cup must therefore aspire to win this pool. So this why much of the talk about fielding weakened sides was always complete nonsense and has been borne out as such by the annoucement of the starting line-ups. Both sides have selected full strength sides, allowing for suspensions and injuries. It is hard to see where Wales came get on top; their scrum has been pushed around and the strenght they have at the breakdown will be nullfied by Pocock. The Welsh selection of Tipuric will help in this respect but not enough. Australia by 20.
England v Uruguay
Looking past the futility of this game, England will want to go out on a positive note if only as an apology to fans, and could put on a show here, agianst an amateur team that must be tired. The selection, from 10 to 14 of players between 21 and 23 is, even with Joseph on the bench, is a glimpse of how the next few years could look. I would have liked to see Jamie George, England's only hooker in the squad worthy of the name, start, but at least he is on the bench. I expect to see the scrum and lineout improve when he comes on. England by 70.
Outcome 9 Oct Game
New Zealand 47 Tonga 9
This was harder than expected for New Zealand; 14-3 at half-time was harsh on Tonga iwth a lot of pressure on New Zealand's scrum and Kieran Read in the sin bin. Eventually superior fitness told and New Zealand ran in 7 tries. Milner-Skudder looked to be the best of the backs and Ben Smith also had his liveliest performance so far. The worry persists that Carter, Nonu and Conrad Smith are all 33 and look a bit short of spark. Persoanally I prefer to see Barrett and Sonny-Bill Williams in the mix in midfield; New Zealand seem better for it when they play. Tonga leave the tournament with heads held high, but frustrated to have lost to Gerogia in the match for automatic qualification for the next World Cup.
Preview 9 Oct Game
New Zealand v Tonga
New Zealand will maintain their record of being the only team in World Cup history with a 100% record in the pool stages of World Cups. Look out for Milner-Skudder to leap up the try stats; his form has looked impressive so far and this is last of the easy games before the knockout gets underway, so I am going from New Zelaand by 50. New Zealand will then play either France or Ireland and no prizes for guessing which of those they prefer, given some of the memorable history they have in the World Cup in matches against France.
Outcomes 7 Oct Games
Namibia 16 Georgia 17
Gorgodze won the battle of the captains and scored another try to boot in a dour and bad-tempered match featuring 4 tellow cards. This was so nearly an upset, and Namibia were hampered by the loss of Burger after 10 minutes. Their bonus point ensures they leave this World Cup without a zero in the points, leaving it to Uruguay and USA vying for last place. Georgia have the bonus of qualifying for the next World Cup unless hell freezes over and New Zealand lose to Tonga.
South Africa 64 USA 0
This was a return to the right hammerings of previous World Cups. The USA started positively enough, but once they began to go rather rapidly backwards at scrum time, there trickle of points became an avalanche. Bryan Habana's 3 tries took him level with Jonah Lomu on the all time World Cup tries list with 15. South Africa are now playing as if they need to punish the entire world for their loss to Japan, and if they continue to build momentum they will be a real threat deep into the tournament. If Wales and Australia needed any further evidence of why it is crucial to win pool A and avoid South Africa in the quarter-final, look no further than match.
Preview 7 Oct Games
South Africa v USA
Now the South Africans have their mojo back, this should be routine bonus point win for them. They clearly mean business as the selection of such a strong starting XV testifies. The USA have been sprightly despite being the weakest team in the group and will be disappointed if they are unable to be competitive. South Africa by 35.
Namibia v Georgia
This could easily be billed as Burger v Gorgodze and both captains certainly wear their hearts on their sleeves. Georgia should have too much for Namibia and win by 15, which will give them automatic qualification for the next World Cup.
Outcomes 6 Oct Games
Fiji 47 Uruguay 15
A 7 try romp for Fiji, but at least Uruguay scored a cople themselves, their first World Cup tries since 2003. The game was rather scruffy and bad-tempered but in between spats, Fiji put together their usual flowing 7s-inspired moves. Uruguay's scrum half, Ormaechea, picked up the first red card of this World Cup, for a second yellow card infringement. Fiji exit with pride, having contributed much to this overly difficult group; Nadolo backed up his reputation as possibly the hardest winger to stop in world rugby, and Nakarawa has been the outstanding lock of the pool stage, a great athlete as clearly demonstrated by his try in this match.
Canada 15 Romania 17
This was the biggest comeback win in World Cup history after Romania traield 15-0 on 50 minutes. They should probably have been further behind by half time, but a rugged defence kept them in the game. In the second half their pack rumbled it up well and tries from rolling mauls got them to within a point before a penalty from a scrum collapse gave them winning kick. For Canada Van der Merwe got his 4th try of the tournament in which he has been outstanding.
Previews 6 Oct Games
Canada v Romania
There will be a few dead rubbers over the remainder of the group games, but make no mistake, these teams will be going flat out today for the bragging rights. Both sides have performed creditably so far, especially Canada who will win this one by around 15 points. Van der Merwe on the wing has been a real star and will probably make an all-star team of the pool stage. His 4th on the try list with 3, and second in terms of metres gained with 328.
Fiji v Uruguay
Finally Fiji get their chance of big win against the plucky amateurs from Uruguay. Nobody can deny that Fiji are worthy of success after a very tough World Cup in which they have contributed much. It is unfortunate for them that only the top 3 from each pool automatically qualify for the next World Cup and so it looks as if all 3 South Pacific Islands teams will be going through qualifying next time around. Fiji by 25 here.
Outcomes 4 Oct Games
Ireland 16 Italy 9
A somewhat laboured performance from Ireland against a feisty Italian side, this was basically quite a dull game. Perhaps it was the return of Parisse that inspired Italy to their best performance of the tournament. With a bit more composure in the last 10 minutes, against 14 men, Italy could have caused a real upset here. If this is the best Ireland have got, France will not be losing too much sleep in the build up to their decider in the final pool game. The losers of that will play New Zealand in the quarter final.
Argentina 45 Tonga 16
Ok, so we predicted 25 points and it was 29 points, and Nicholas Sanchez was indeed named man of the match. The game was actually quite a bit closer than the scoreline might suggest. There was a period after half time when Tonga only trailed by 7 and fly-half Kurt Morath had missed 4 reasonably straight forward kicks at goal. Furthermore, Tonga won several penalties against the much vaunted Argentina scrum, so they may feel a little hard done by on the final scoreboard. Argentina played in front of a watching Diego Maradona and Agustin Pichot who were having great time. The Pumas have a strong all-round game with a top goal kicker in Sanchez and will worry either France or Ireland in the quarter-final.
Preview 4 Oct Games
Argentina v Tonga
Argentina have played some of the most enterprising attacking rugby in the World Cup so far. Their midfield handling has been slick, even tricky; look out for Sanchez at 10. Tonga will not be able to live with this and Argentina ought to get a bonus point win by 25 points,
Ireland v Italy
Italy's bravery will not be enough and this could be the last hurrah for veteran warrior, Sergio Parisse. Ireland have looked good so far in a soft group and their test only really starts next weekend in the match against France to see who can avoid New Zealand in the quarter-final. The possibility of injury to Murray or Sexton at 9 and 10 is Ireland's biggest worry. Without them they would be well-drilled but rather mechanical. This should also be a 25 point win to Ireland.
Outcomes 3 Oct Games
England 13 Australia 33
England's worst nightmare played out in the full glare of world's rugby media. Australia were better almost everywhere and look to be a real threat to go to the final at least. You don't always expect the side with the dominant scurm and the canny fly-half to be Australia or England to be reduced to living off scraps served up by a slippery back 3, but this is how it was. With 15 minutes to go, England reduced the deficit to 7 ponits and there was enough time on the clock for their to be hope of a comeback. But then Farrell was pinged for an off-the-ball tackle with 10 minutes on the clock, and a combination of the 3 points to extend the lead to 10, and the yellow card to reduce England to 10 men, killed the game. England disintegtated in the final minutes, especially in the scrum as Australia put a further 10 points on the board. In one of the most ridiculous acts of this World Cup, England's Joe Launchbury was named man of the match. In truth England's defeat does not detract from the quarter-finals, given that Wales and Australia both go through, and it will be New Zealand, as clearly the best side in the world, to face down 7 other rather evenly matched contenders for the title.
South Africa 34 Scotland 16
it was not quite the bonus point win predicted, but the real South Africa showed up here. From 1 to 8, the pack bristled with large muscular intent and Scotland could not handle it, Lood De Jager was a worthy man of the match, and was of the enduring moments of the match was his "sorry sir" apology to referee Nigel Owens; the 6' 9" lock could hardly have looked more sheepish. Du Preez distributed well, Pollard kicked efficiently, and the wingers each picked up well taken tries. The significance of this result is likely to be seen in the attitude of the sides in the Australia v Wales pool match, as neither side will want to meet South Africa in the last 8; Scotland would be a far more beatable prospect.
Samoa 5 Japan 26
Marvellous from Japan, shambolic from Samoa. There was simply no comprehension of how to keep on the right side of the referee, and the game was effectively lost by Samoa when they had 2 players in the sin bin at the same time in the first half, conceding a penalty try in that period. Japan's running game ambition was undimmed and they thoroughly deserved to record a second win in this group. Unfortunately a third win against the USA is unlikely to be enough to see them through to the quarter-final, unless Samoa can wake up and beat Scotland. Michael Leitch deserves plenty of credit for the way he has skippered this Japan side who have been a credit to rugby.
Preview 3 Oct Games
Samoa v Japan
The final chance for both sides to have a chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals. Neutrals will be shouting for Japan, which will be an odd situation for popular Samoa. Expect this to be close. Japan have had a decent rest and will be up for this, and I take them to draw inspiration from their win over South Africa and sneak another win.
South Africa v Scotland
A full strength Scotland would give this a real go, but I suspect that missing Finn Russell, Mark Bennett and Ross Ford this will be a step too far. South Africa have taken their medicine and showed against Samoa that they are still a team to have a significant influence on this tournament. Etzebeth and De Jager make a daunting pair of locks and I expect to see liberal use of the rolling maul and South Africa just achieve a bonus point in a 4-try win.
England v Australia
The nightmare for England is a whistle-happy referee who sees that Hooper and Pocock are bossing the breakdown and there is a very strong chance that this could be what happens. England's tight 5 will go well and Parling and Youngs seem to have sorted out the vagaries of the lineout calling and throwing. Neither side has measured up to their ranking at this point and clearly for England this is last chance. Australia have less reason to be nervous as they still have Wales to come. A win for England tonight and for Australia over Wales will see the bonus point system really come into force, which favours England. But despite England's strong showings against Australia at Twickenham in recent years I have this nagging doubt that they will do it tonight, so I am backing the draw at 26-1.
Outcome 2 Oct Game
New Zealand 43 Georgia 10
Once again a supposedly one-sided match which went way below the spread; we should have learned by now! But when New Zealand ran in 4 tries in the first 22 minutes, this did look as if it would live up to scoring expectations. Julian Savea did indeed get his hatrick but there were just too mnay handling errors from New Zealand. The moment of the night was surely when the immense Mamuka Gorgodze was named 'man of the match' which produced a smile to light up the Milennium Stadium. If he were a kiwi, perhaps he would displace McCaw or Read from the team! He has to be in an all star team of the tournament to date.
Preview 2 Oct Game
New Zealand v Georgia
It looks to be a strong New Zealand side and a weak Georgian side, which is worrying. Can Gorgodze rally his troops to resist for a respectable scoreline? It seems unlikely and the bookies have Julian Savea at absurdly short odds to score a hatrick of tries. To be honest, it could be any number of players to get on the scoresheet, especially if the Georgians get a bit over-zealous and the yellow cards start to flow. Should be New Zealand by 65.
Outcomes 1 Oct Games
France 41 Canada 18
So it was 23 point win rather than the 25 points we called here at WorldCupStory. Overall, it was much as expected with France easing to a safe if uninspired win. Michalak set a new mark for points scored by a French player in the World Cup.
Wales 23 Fiji 13
After about 50 minutes, it looked as if Fiji really could win this game. They had closed the gap from 11 at half time to 4 points, despite missing 2 simple penalties. England fans were getting interested. Not surprisingly they looked fitter than Wales at this point due to the 5-day turn around that Wales had to negotiate and Fiji responded by approaching this as a game of 7s. The strategy was probably right but the execution let them down at key moments and Wales managed the game well in the final 10 minutes to see out a tight win. Nakarawa continues to astonish at lock for Fiji; surely the player of the tournament so far.
Preview 1 Oct Games
Wales v Fiji
It is tough on Wales to have this game so soon after the immense clash with England, especially with the catelogue of injuries. Wales have stuck with most of the still-fit players from the England game so there has to be a question about how they might last the final 20 minutes. The Welsh cause is helped by the suspension to Nadolo and this ultimately may make the difference. Wales to win but without the bonus point, which will make England regret their daft decision making all the more.
France v Canada
I hear many people talking up France as title contenders but they have not faced a proper challenge yet, and this is more of the same. Canada have been sprightly but will be outmatched here. I still don't trust Michalak as a decision maker, but that should not prevent France winning by 25.
Outcome 29 Sep Game
Tonga 35 Namibia 21
A bonus point win for Tonga but, as predicted, a stirling effort from Namibia and Burger in particular. This game will unfortunately go down as an also-ran, as neither side will come close to qualifying for the knockout phase, but is a great example of better rugby being played by the lesser ranked teams in this competition compared to World Cups of previous years.
Preview 29 Sep Game
Tonga v Namibia
This game will see Tonga get a first win on the board after the disappointment of their defeat Georgia. Namibia will be brave and have maybe the finest warrior in this World Cup in Jacques Burger, who must have the most scars and the most badly mishapen nose of any of the players. So Tonga may not have it all their own way, but should win by 20.
Outcomes 27 Sep Games
Ireland 44 Romania 10
Solid performance from Ireland and some exciting running by Zebo in particular, who was very unlucky to see his his touchdown in the corner ruled out for the slightest of foot in touch offences. The minnows continue to perform better than in past World Cups, and Romania stayed the course in this contest surprisingly well.
Scotland 39 USA 16
This was far from as comfortable as the final score line suggests. The USA led 13-6 at hakf time and rattled the Scots with a series of big hits. But Scotland came out a different team in the second half and achieved the bonus try with plenty to spare. Next up for Scotland, South Africa, in a big clash which may well determine which team wins the group.
Australia 65 Uruguay 3
The nearst we have had to a right hammering so far. Australia B had a nice canter against Uruguay who look certain to end this tournament as statistically the worst side. This was an opportunity for some Australians to lay down a marker for selection in more vital games; Drew Mitchell and Sean McMahon were among those to advance their cause; Quade Cooper stood out as one who did not.
Preview Sep 27 Games
Australia v Uruguay
Even with a B side on the field Australia will put more than 50 points over Uruguay The timing of Australia's fixtures seems to have fallen very nicely for them; an initial encounter with Fiji which was a proper physical challenge to get them up to speed, followed by this, where they can rotate players to get enough rest before the England match next weekend. A final game against Wales will see Australia knowing exactly what they to do to progress from the group.
Scotland v USA
Scotland have looked well drilled so far and should be too strong for USA, the weakest side in the pool. This may come down to how hard Scotland want to push as opposed to saving gas in the tank for South Africa, who are up next. A comfortable win for Scotland, perhaps by 25.
Ireland v Romania
We are probably looking at 50 points here. Ireland may be the best drilled side in the tournament and Romania will surely be outmatched. Getting the bonus point wrapped up early and avoiding injuries will be crucial for Ireland.
Outcome Sep 26 Games
England 25 Wales 28
A classic smash and grab for Wales, as England failed to capitalise on dominance up front by upsetting the referee consistently at the breakdown. A few of the 'hands in the ruck' decisions looked rather baffling, as players had either let go of the ball when knocked off their feet (Dan Cole) or were never anywhere near the ball (Anthony Watson). It is a bit irrelevant as experience tells you to work out how to play the referee and England clearly failed to do that. One has to credit Wales for their resilience despite injuries, and Warren Gatland for his long-term planning by turning the 2013 British Lions tour to Australia into an exercise in building vital big match experience for his Wales side. Even without leigh Halfpenny and Jonathan Davies, 5 of this Wales team started in the 3rd Lions test in Sydney; only Geoff Parling did so on the England side.
South Africa 46 Samoa 6
We got the reaction from South Africa we expected, with a thoroughly professional bounce-back win over a tough Samoan side. They combined pateience and power to take the game away from Samoa in the final quarter; a lesson England would do well to heed. JP Petersen was the main beneficiary, scoring a hatrick of tries to bound up the scoring charts.
Italy 23 Canada 18
Well played Canada for running Italy close and having chances to win the game. As we suspected, this is a struggling Italian team, desperately in need of freahs blood after a generation iof star names is coming to the end of illustrious careers. Hats off to Mauro Bergamasco for equalling Brain Lima's record of playing in 5 World Cup tournaments.
Preview Sep 26 Games
Italy v Canada
I doubt this match will get much media air time, given the context of the other two fixtures on Saturday. Italy need to win to keep to set up a shot at an upset win over Ireland for a place in the quarter-final, and I expect they will get it, in a tight, dull encounter by about 10 points. Italy are suffering from the end of a generation of the stars; Parisse is injured, we are down to one Bergamasco, and Castrogiovanni's best days are behind him (although I would not tell him that!). So, despite relatively recent wins over France and Ireland, it is tough to see Italy making it to the knockout.
South Africa v Samoa
This match is beautifully set up now, a defeat for either of these teams will make passage to the quarter-finals extremely tricky. You have to expect a vigorous response from South Africa and it may suit them that it is Samoa up next, as both sides have a similarly robust style of play, and the South Africans do this better. Can Samoa throw the ball around the way Japan did? This is likely to be the key. South Africa by 18 points.
England v Wales
This should be a blockbuster encounter. Both sides have some problems; Wales through injuries to key backs and rather thin cover in the squad now, and England seem to be experimenting at a time when stability is vital. I like the selection of Farrell, as his game management and defence are top drawer, and if Sam Burgess can overcome his inexperience in Union and play to his potential, we may look back on these selections as inspired and declare Stuart Lancaster a genius. Refereeing the scrum and the tackle area may determine the winner here. England usually go well in the scrum, but have beena bit shaky in recent matches, and Wales would normally have the more effective ferrets at the breakdown, but may regret leaving Justin Tipuric on the bench. Fascinating. England by 5.
Outcome Sep 25 Game
Argentina 54 Georgia 9
This is the flipside of having the most inspirational captain in the tournament; when he gets a yellow card, the side falls apart. It was certainly competitive up to half-time, but early in the second period, Mamuka Gorgodze was sent to the sin bin for slowing the ball down at the ruck, and Georgia conceded 3 tries while he was off the field; game over. Argentina took their chance well and Sanchez has been the standout stand-off in the tournament to date. It would have been good for development to see Georgia make a better fist of this after they promised so muhc in beating Tonga, and this group is now as good as done, with New Zealand in first and Argentina in second place.
Preview Sep 25 Game
Argentina v Georgia
This should be an interesting match between the second an third best teams in pool C. Argentina played really well for the first 60 minutes against New Zealand and Georgia showed how much they love a rumble in beating Tonga. Argentina should have a bit too much quality in midfield for Georgia, but in number 8, Mamuka Gorgodze, the Georgians have maybe the most inspiring captain in the tournament; he is not a man you want to let down. Scrum time will be immense and unless Georgia disrupt Argentina's set piece to an unexpected level, I am going for Argentina by 15 points, mainly via the boot of fly-half, Sanchez.
Outcome Sep 24 Game
New Zealand 58 Namibia 14
"Frustrating" was the word used by New Zealand coach, Steve Hansen, and that seems spot on. A 44-win is rather anaemic given the rugby status of these two countries, but it is another example of how the lower ranked teams have closed the gap. Milner-Skudder put in a man of the match performance, scoring 2 of the 9 tries, but it is unlikely that any of the selection questions for the bigger matches have been solved.
Preview Sep 24 Game
New Zealand v Namibia
This will be the most one-sided match at the 2015 World Cup, between the team ranked 1 and the team ranked 20. Expect a cricket score, so to speak. The spread of 76 points looks low to me, given scores in years gone by of >140 points. The competition for places in the New Zealand starting lineup will surely entice players to put on a performance, and anyone in the back line must be a decent shout for a hatrick. Two players bang in form who could profit today are Beauden Barrett and Sonny Bill Williams.
Outcomes 23 Sep Games
France 38 Romania 11
Routine for France, but Romania looked better than expected. Fofana was the pick of the bunch for France, and Parra handled the kicking duties competently, but it felt that France were underdone, despite the bonus point secured. Romania may fancy their chances of beating Italy on this performance; throw Georgia into the mix and the contest for 6th – 8th in a European league would be a close encounter.
Australia 28 Fiji 13
This was a strange match. After the early stage which was evenly contested, Australia seized control and ran in a couple of very straight forward rolling maul tries, scored by David Pocock. It looked likely to be a comfortable win by perhaps 40 points. But then the Australian play became aimless and designed to do little more than run down the clock, and gradually Fiji came into the game just as you expected them to run out of steam; indeed Fiji finsihed much the stronger side and would have deserved the late scroe they so nearly got. Fijian lock Nakarawa was immense in all aspects of play. So, a bonus point missed for Australia, but apparently neither captain no coach cared, or even knew tournament rules: "mate, we are just here to win footy matches". Is this really the professional era?
Scotland 45 Japan 10
For about 55 minutes it looked as if the dream could repeat; Japan had played all the decent rugby and were within 2 points of Scotland, but then they just seemed to run out of gas. This defensive cover appeared stretched every time Scotland had the ball and holes started to pop up all over the ptich. Perhaps Scotland also raised their game at this point, as several of their backs looked quite impressive during the final 30 minutes (Laidlaw, Russell, Bennett, Hogg). In reality this was a very tight game for 55 minutes, but Japan needed a longer rest from the South Africa match.
Preview 23 Sep Games
Scotland v Japan
Would love to see Japan do it again, but they have to be both exhausted and somewhat deflated after the elation of Saturday night's craziness. So I have to go for Scotland by a modest margin; perhaps by 10. I expect the Scots to keep it tight and Japan to throw it around. Laidlaw (Scotland scrum-half) playing on his home pitch in Gloucester, could make the difference in this one.
Australia v Fiji
It is really the same problem here; Fiji surely need more recovery time to be at their best, and they surely need to be at their best to give Australia a scare. Rather like England v Fiji, I feel Australia will win comfortably in the end by about 30 points, extending a modest half time lead as the Fijians run out of gas in the second half. I hope I am wrong, but this seems to be the obvious flaw in having pools with an odd number of teams.
France v Romania
Romania would have to be one of the least talked about sides. Real stalwarts, having appeared every World Cup, they just do not seem to have moved forward in the professional era and few of their players play top level club rugby. Even with France resting a few stars (Dusautoir, Basteraud, Spedding) and missing Huget through injury, they have just too much all through the XV for Romania to cope. Morgan Parra is one of the most under-rated scrum-halfs around and looks to be the only recognised kicker in the starting lineup, so is worth a punt for points or a place in a fantasy team, depending what you are into. Picamoles plays again after a man of the match outing against the Italians, and the resting of Michalak will surely bring greater structure and less uncertainty to the game plan. France by 45.
Outcomes 20 Sep Games
New Zealand 26 Argentina 16
New Zealand won this by dominating the final 20 minutes, specifically after Sonny Bill Williams entered the fray. Prior to that Argentina were the better side from 1 to 15 and thoroughly deserved to be ahead at that point. Was this just rust from New Zealand? They seemed bereft of ideas and several players (Carter, Nonu, Conrad Smith to name but 3) would appear to have their best days behind them, Williams and Beauden Barrett must surely start the knockout games to add pace and creativity to the back line. Argentina will play worse than this and beat decent sides, but they did tire towards the end and lack stregth from the bench.
Wales 54 Uruguay 9
Credit to Uruguay for sticking at it, but this was a dull match. Wales seemed intent to practise their rolling maul against a pack some 50kg lighter, whereas perhaps it might have been better to put the backs through some moves; certainly it would have made for more of a spectacle. Justin Tipuric was the standout forward and Scott Williams made the most incisive breaks from the backs, even if it was Corey Allen who scored the first half hatrick. A bit too much interference from the TMO again, a point noted by Romaine Poite, who told him to stop it!
Samoa 25 USA 16
As expected, a routine victory for Samoa but a decent contest, slightly marred by overly fussy refereeing. Nanai-Williams was rightly man of the match and looked a threat coming in from fullback throughout the game. Lots olf niggly technical stoppages and often you felt it would have been better to play advantage. Still seems to be 4 teams going for the top 2 places in this pool, after yesterday's mega-upset.
Previews for 20 Sep Games
Samoa v USA
We wrote in the "2015 Preview" that pool B was the most interesting and open group; how much more so after Japan's shock win over South Africa? USA are strong for the lowest ranked team in the pool, and cannot be entirely discounted, but Samoa ought to be a bit too good all round in this one. It's not just have big powerful forwards, they have shrewd half-backs in Fotoali'i and Pisi to control the game. Probably not a spectacular scoreline here, but somewhere around 20 points to Samoa is likely.
Wales v Uruguay
You have to feel for Uruguay as the minnows in this tough pool. Expect a wide winning margin here of more than 50 points as Wales put the ball through the hands of their backs. Scott Williams and Alex Cuthbert may particularly enjoy the day.
New Zealand v Argentina
An early clash between the top 2 in pool C will see New Zealand win with a bonus point and it looks to be their strongest side in this one. Argentina may see this as the toughest possible workout without any expecation of getting even a losing bonus point. The outing should set them up well for the ost meaningful clash as their next game is against Georgia, essentially the battle for second place. New Zealand ought to win this by 30 points,
Outcomes – 19 Sep Games
OH MY GOD – I cannot believe what I have just watched. Japan, what a performance! Eddie Jones, I take it all back, I love you like a brother. I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E
Has there ever been a biigger upset in any sport? Japan 34 South Africa 32. It is hard to breathe, speak, see. I just wish I were in Brighton tonight. What bravery not to kick for goal for the draw but to take the lineout with a 3-point deficit and the clock on 80 minutes and then a re-set scrum, several phases…try in the corner! Their Kiwi skipper Michael Leitch was rightly ecstatic.
Eddie Jones has just said "this is a great day for Japanese rugby"! I would remove the word 'Japanese' from that remark. WHAT A GREAT DAY FOR RUGBY.
And Georgia won too!
All too much, I just have to go to bed now……………
Outcome: France 32 Italy 10
In the preview we postulated that if the real France turned up, the winning margin would be over 20 points and it was. But this was probably more due to the indiscipline of the Italians than the arrival of the true French rugby spirit. They simply conceded too many penalties and not even Freddie Michalak can miss them all! This was a routine win, but the French will need to fnd more to see off Ireland, which is key as the runners-up will face New Zealand in the last 8.
Outcome: Ireland 50 Canada 7
Very much as expected here. The Paul O'Connell yellow was a rather sloppy on this part, but Ireland looked far too powerful upfront for Canada. The WorldCupStory prediction committee is pleased to have called correctly that the Kearney brothers would both score. After watching the first pair of matches in pool D, Ireland are looking more likely than France to top the group. The difference could be at number 10, where Sexton looks the world class player and kicker he undoubtedly is, and Michalak does not fill anyone with confidence, especially from the kicking tee.
Outcome: Tonga 10 Georgia 17
As predicted, this one was very much an arm wrestle. The Georgian defence was magnificent and the tackle count off the charts, led by the wonderful Gorgodze, who also scored under the posts (or against the post really). Nothing against Tonga, but it is good for the development of the game to see an ermerging and popular side, such as Georgia, win this one. Tonga were a little unlucky; the first half disallowed try was a well worked move and the pass was barely forward if at all. Despite this result, it is hard to see that either side will progress to the quarter-finals, but it does put more interest into the Georgia v Argentina clash for second place.
Previews for 19 Sep Games:
Tonga v Georgia
This will be played at the wonderfully atmospheric Kingsholm, Gloucester's home ground. They breed them big in Tonga and they breed them big in Georgia, so this could be a mighty clash up front. Tonga will be favourites, but Georgia may have the support as they have been fondly regarded since their World Cup debut in 2003. Skipper Mamuka Gorgodze is top player at Toulon who always wears hie heart on his sleeve, and Vasil Lobzhanidze will become the youngest ever World Cup starter, still only 18.
Expect a Tongan win, but it ought to be competitive. Yellow cards and even red cards wold not be a surprise, as neither of these sides will take a backward step. Tonga hold the record for the number of red cards in World Cup history, with 3
Ireland v Canada
This will be a straight forward win for Ireland, and more than 40 points is likely. Canada have always been prepared to mix it (see "Battle of Boet Erasmus" in the 1995 "years" section, which involved 3 red cards) so they will give it a big shot. Ireland will want a bonus point win with minimal fuss, and avoidance of injuries, especially to Sexton and Murray.
Look out for tries from the Kearney brothers, and Sexton to kick the goals. The Ireland back row are world class; O'Mahony is stand out in terms of work rate and both O'Brien and Heaslip should get plenty of carries.
South Africa v Japan
South Afirca have been on a poor run in the last few months and managed to lose to Argentina in the Championship. Pundits have rearely mentioned them as real contenders, but simply put, they should win pool B comfortably and have the power to beat anyone in an arm wrestle of a match. But they do lack subtlety in their running game.
It would be good for the game if Japan go well here. They will be (overdue) hosts in the next World Cup and to go into that tournament with some real World Cup pedigree will be a boost.
But it is hard to see Japan running South Africa close, even though Eddie Jones, their coach, says that they can win if they can boss the scrum. Much improved though Japan have been, they are not going to out-scrum South Africa.
Expected some awesome rolling mauls from the Boks; JB de Villiers and Brian Habana will be dangerous when the ball goes through the hands; 50-point win.
France v Italy
Everyone has been writing down France and Ireland for the quarter-finals from this pool and merely debating which one will top the group. it is an important distinction as the runner-up will face New Zealand in the last 8. But don't forget Italy. In recent years they have beaten both France and Ireland in the 6 nations, and the gap between Italy and other 6 nations sides has certainly closed. Italy also put up a good performance away in Wales in their last match.
The problem for Italy is that France do tend to show up for the World Cup, as 3 finals in 7 tournaments shows. The bookies seem to be suggesting it will be France by about 16 points, but if the real France show up, it will be over 20. But for Italy there is hope; France have selected super-erratic Freddie Michalak at fly-half.
Outcome: England 35 Fiji 11
Banana skin avoided – somehow. It was neither side-stepped nor dodged as that would imply far too much intricate foodwork from an England team that knows it has to improve significantly for the next 2 games. Both sides struggled to cope with a wet ball and the abiding memory of the match was of handling errors. Key highlights:
- Bonus point 4th try achieved after the 80 was up was a huge filip for England and yet be crucial in a tight group
- Turnovers (11 v 4) were a big concern for England; both at the ruck and against the head at scrum time
- Youngs threw one very corrked ball the lineout (second lineout) but was otherwise OK. One over the back to Tom Wood was a clever training ground routine
- Far too many referrals to the TMO. There was no need to go upstairs for Nadolo's try, it was clear. Fiji were unlucky that what have been a brilliantly individual try from Matawalu in the corner, it was correct that the ball was lost going over the line
- England's bench went well, helping to dominate the final 15 minutes in which England scored twice.
The editorial team at WorldCupStory is happy with prediction. It was a 10-point game at half time and the 3 try prediction for the second half was only off by a single score. Fiji remained competitive for longer than expected which kept the score down; and England lost their way for a large chunk of the second half.
Preview: England v Fiji (18 Sep)
Despite all the noise, mainly from the Welsh and Australian camps about what a banana skin this game is for England, I just don't see it. We all love Fiji, but the fact that they have several dangerous players is not a surprise to anyone. Fiji will be well prepared but that pales into insignificance in comparison with England's preparation. Unless the nerves really kick in, I again it would be a surprise, England will execute a game plan that will comfortably see them past Fiji. I would say the bookies spread is on the cautious side, and would not be surprised to see a 30-point wiining margin.
- 10 points by half time
- 3 converted second half tries
This is 31 points already, and while that sounds a big margin, a 10-point lead at 40 minutes is not a huge margin, and with a more experienced bench to be emptied in the second half, 3 tries in the last 30 minutes can look conservative. Expect:
- Lots of Ben Morgan and Joe Marler carries
- Johnny May to score
- But a shaky lineout until Jamie Geoge comes off the bench
So, I am going for England to be leading Fiji comfortably on 50 minutes; when the changes will be made and the Tongans (Vunipolas) will kick start a high scoring last 30 minutes.