Almanac Rugby – RWC 2015: Week 3 preview

As ‘Land of my fathers’ reverberated around the home of (English) rugby and the local fans slinked home in their chariots the World Cup had another upset on Saturday night in south-west London as Wales beat England 28-25. The fans of the red rose may have been remembering bad luck comes in threes. Well in the case of England of it came by not taking a three-pointer in the third game at Twickenham during this tournament, making their third pool game crucial to their hopes of advancing to the knockout stage a home World Cup. Michael Leitch got it right for Japan going for broke to beat South Africa in the group B opener but Chris Robshaw elected to follow the Brave Blossoms’ skipper’s move and it came unstuck. The chance to pass up a penalty to draw level means the Quins captain will need to hope his side can beat Australia on the weekend.

 

KICK IN TOUCH

Throughout the World Cup in England, and Wales, our wrap will touch on each team, with the order showing their current ladder position in the group. Most sides have played at least two games now.

 

Group A

Australia – Came through their early quick back-up okay. After labouring to a win over Fiji in which David Pocock stared with two tries and helped nab five turnovers they duly dispatched Uruguay with three players (Drew Mitchell, Sean McMahon and Ben McCalman) snaring doubles in that game. Quade Cooper returned to World Cup benchmark getting a yellow card and missing six conversions. Thus Bernard Foley enhanced his opportunities without playing any part in this game. Still hard to get a read on Michael Cheika’s side given their opponents.

Wales – Dan Biggar’s late penalty and the drama at the end of the match in London exploded after the game as the Welsh celebrated and their Kiwi coach Warren Gatland now holds a 6-5 career record over England since he took charge as head coach. Despite the triumph there is concern for Gatland and co as they had two players (Liam Williams and Scott Williams) carried off on stretchers. Injuries aside Wales are in a good position to qualify for the quarter finals.

England – In this column last week we said Brad Barritt would keep his spot for England. We got that part right but it was surprising to see Sam Burgess start and play at 12. The former Souths man did some good things but had nowhere near the impact of his substitute appearance against Fiji. England’s midfield combination and uncertainty over who plays number 10 could bring them undone. I’d expect George Ford not Owen Farrell to start at ten against Australia. If Farrell starts and throws the ball around too much the likes of Adam Ashley-Cooper, rested against Uruguay, could make them pay.

Fiji – The ten minutes either side of halftime ended up a costly period for Fiji as they fell to their second defeat of the tournament on Wednesday in Cardiff against Australia.

Uruguay – Had chances to really make Australia pay in Birmingham, especially in the first half but often lost possession immediately after the Wallabies made mistakes.

 

Group B

Scotland – In Gloucester a double to centre Mark Bennett and a superior kicking game helped Scotland overcome the possession and territorial advantage which Japan had before the Bravehearts kept up their 100% record (including bonus points) with a strong win against the USA in Leeds. Former Gloucester flanker Alasdair Strokosch was great in defence as the USA did make some good in-roads on attack to lead 13-6 at the break before Scotland raced away late in the game to win 39-16 on the back of five second half tries.

South Africa – After losing to Japan in game one they have lost a centre with Jean de Villiers calling time on his career in the wake of the Boks’ 46-6 victory over Samoa in Birmingham. Quitting due to a broken jaw it means Heyneke Meyer doesn’t have to make the choice to drop him which he probably should have. However Meyer is still left with some other choices in key positions. The performance of Handre Pollard at ten should be enough to confirm his place as Meyer’s preferred option in that spot unless the 47 year-old coach does anything else funky. The looming clash with Scotland should be a fun watch.

Samoa – Outplayed in every facet against South Africa in a major case of been the side that gets the ‘poking the bear’ reaction but go to Milton Keynes with a chance to stay in the hunt in the pool by beating Japan. They will be hoping South Africa win in Newcastle over Scotland.

Japan – After the win in Brighton maybe a come-down was inevitable but the manner of the defeat after they drew to within two points of Scotland (12-10) early in the second half wasn’t great. It may have been a bridge to far for Eddie Jones’ side.

USA – The Eagles weren’t able to continue their great start at Elland Road and once Scotland made some half-time replacements Mike Tolkin’s side, to a degree, squandered a chance to produce a ‘Brighton level’ upset like Japan had earlier in the tournament.

 

Group C

New Zealand – It wasn’t error-free and we didn’t learn anything earth-shattering but the All Blacks 44-point triumph over Namibia was crucial in that there were no major injuries or suspensions incurred. Julian Savea is gradually returning to his barn-storming form of 2014 when he scored 11 international tries but the fact there is still talk he is not guaranteed a starting spot confirms the depth of this side.

Argentina – Scoring six tries in the second half against Georgia in their 54-9 win sets up the Argentinians well in advance of their game against an in-consistent Tonga outfit.

Georgia – Georgia were right in the game only 14-9 down at half-time at Kingsholm against Argentina. However once they conceded three tries in the period the Toulon number eight Mamuka Gorgodze was in the sin-bin after an infringement at the breakdown it was all over. They have got Namibia, who are not hopeless, next in Exeter. If they harbour hopes of third in the group a win is a minimum.

Tonga – One of the quirks of the tournament draw means Tonga, who started on September 19 with a loss to Georgia in Gloucester and won’t play for ten days until they meet Namibia in Exeter. Not sure what they have done in the time off. Maybe they took in a few castle tours in the royal county or went straight to Exeter to see the cathedral?

Namibia – Compared to a fellow ‘minnow’ like Romania missed 27 tackles in losing to France Namibia were okay against the Sam Cane-led Abs. Sure they missed 23 tackles but they did force six turnovers and pulled off some great front-on hits as well as displaying an ability to slow the delivery from the ruck when New Zealand was on attack. Johan Deysel’s try might have had them dancing in the streets of Windhoek (I’m not sure I wasn’t there) and it was well executed.

 

Group D

Ireland – The Irish scored early and often to see off Romania 44-10 and played very well given coach Joe Schmidt made a dozen changes for the second game of the tournament. Like Scotland they have full points (ten) from their first two games.

France – Picked up their first bonus point beating Romania and have now used all 31 players in their squad. However in beating the Oaks they took an age to get there and conceded nine turnovers in the first stanza. Even allowing for the squad changes they made that’s a problem that will need to be rectified before the quarter finals as other top sides would make life difficult for them.

Italy – After six consecutive defeats Italy returned to the winners circle beating Canada 23-18 but had to survive a tense contact in Leeds as the Canucks lead 15-13 with 22 minutes to go.

Canada – They play France on Thursday after running Italy close but a quick back-up after a mentally-draining encounter might be troublesome for Kieran Crowley’s side. They improved markedly on game one and Scarlets back DTH Van Der Merwe dotted down again for the men in red and white so they do have some try-scoring flair.

Romania – Minnow or not Welshman Lynn Howells will want his side to execute better on attack to capitalise on chances they got such as in the game against France when they play Canada next. Like Uruguay against Australia Romania missed some chances when the more favoured side lost possession in their own half.

 

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