Rugby World Cup 2019: Australia Are Genuine Contenders

Australia managed just four wins last year as well as suffering a humiliating defeat to Argentina on the Gold Coast, England thrashing them at Twickenham and Ireland claiming a history making 2-1 series win. They only won one game in November and that was against a very underpowered Italy in Padua.

If that wasn’t bad enough the media storm created by Israel Folau and his contract being revoked following homophobic comments will not have made life any easier for head coach Michael Cheika.

Despite all this Australia are still definitely capable of winning the World Cup.

One significant advantage are their pool opponents, now Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay should not pose a real threat to Australia and despite the abilities of these teams the biggest threat Australia will face is Wales.

Now Wales are in good form, 14 wins on the bounce including Ireland, England, South Africa and Australia but the last time Wales beat Australia away from home was way back in 1987 at the very first World Cup.

Now looking at Wales away form recently they aren’t quite the same team on the road, Wales struggled against France and Italy in the Six Nations, both times escaping by the skin of their teeth. Australia will fancy their chances there.

Australia will also have the chance to unleash arguably the best half back combination of recent Australian history in Will Genia and Quade Cooper both of whom have been in excellent form for the Melbourne Rebels.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.06.24.15.28.29-Quade Cooper, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60479171

Australia are so much better when Genia is playing, his speed from the base and tactical play is better than any other Australian scrum-half. Cooper is a genius, he attacks well and has a good mix to his play with clever kicks, an elusive turn of pace and an outrageous step. His game has also developed to incorporate him in link plays.

This half back mix could cause any team problems, that is Cooper can get his head in the right place and work hard.

One of the most celebrated part of Australia’s current team is the back row and that devilish mixture of Michael Hooper and David Pocock. Both world class openside operators deployed together to not just dominate but monopolise control of the breakdown.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.06.17.15.31.45-Michael Hooper run-0003, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60432829

The breakdown will be a key area at the World Cup no matter what team you play. If Australia get quick ball there will be hell to pay for the opposition Marika Koroibete, Jack Maddocks and Jordan Petaia are dangerous players and getting the ball in space crafted by a creative Wallabies midfield is what these players dream of.

If Australia can top their pool there is every chance they can win the World Cup. Dark horse is not the traditional Australian tag but one they will definitely be happy with after the horror show of 2018.

Potential XV for Gatland’s 2021 Tour

The British & Irish Lions will be coached by Warren Gatland for a third successive time when they tour South Africa. The tour is still two years away and there is a lot of rugby to be played between then and now including the Rugby World Cup and two Six Nations championships and both Ireland and Wales will definitely have new head coaches after the World Cup and Eddie Jones’ future following the World Cup is unclear.

We take a very early look at who could start the first test in South Africa two years from now.

  1. Mako Vunipola (England)

Arguably the best loosehead prop in the world and a key part of the extremely successful Saracens side. Works hard in the loose and over the last couple of seasons has greatly improved his set piece. He will be 30 when the tour rolls around.

2. Jamie George (England)

He has taken full advantage of Dylan Hartley’s absence this season and cemented himself as England’s first choice and will probably retain the shirt for the World Cup. Another powerhouse in the loose. He will also be 30 for the next tour.

3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

A very good prop. Excellent in the set piece and useful in the loose. Ireland and Leinster rely so heavily on him and he performed well in New Zealand two years ago. He is the youngest of this front row and will be 28 with his best prop years ahead of him for 2021.

4. Maro Itoje (England)

This man still has the chants of “Oh Maro Itoje” ringing in his ears from that famous night in Wellington. Undoubtedly world class and a potential captain for both his country, England and he is still improving all the time. He will be in his prime at 26 for the next tour.

USO - Saracens - 20151213 - Maro Itoje
USO – Saracens – 20151213 – Maro Itoje

5. James Ryan (Ireland)

He has been the standout performer in the Champions Cup and greatly impressed on the international stage having emerged as a key man for Ireland. His age gives him the edge over the older Alun Wyn Jones. He will be just 24.

6. Peter O’Mahony (Captain, Ireland)

Our pick to captain our potential side. A key cog in Munster’s excellent European campaign as they went all the way to the semi-final before being knocked out by Saracens. Physical and inspirational. He will be the other side of 30, at 31 years of age in two years time.

7. Tom Curry (England)

England’s standout man during the Six Nations and he has continued that form for his club, Sale Sharks. Very good at the breakdown both winning turnovers for his side and slowing the ball down for the opposition. And he certainly has age on his side, the youngest pick so far he will be just 22.

8. Billy Vunipola (England)

A fourth Saracen in Anglo-Irish pack. Vunipola carries very well using his powerful leg drive and big frame. A competent defender and an explosive force from the base of the scrum. He will be two years younger than his brother and 28 for the South Africa tour.

9. Conor Murray (Ireland)

An all court scrum-half, the best box kicking scrum-half in the world and has the height and strength that Gatland values. He has become a leader for Munster and should be a valuable deputy to his fellow Munsterman O’Mahony in South Africa. He will be 32.

10. Owen Farrell (England)

It’s no contest, Farrell has proved over the past few years that he is a class act. A metronome off the tee, a good defensive leader and has the big game experience with both Saracens and England to make him world class. He will still be under 30 at 29 years of age in South Africa.

USO - Saracens - 20151213 - Owen Farrell
By Clément Bucco-Lechat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46847661

11. Liam Williams (Wales)

The first Welshman on the list. Liam Williams has come on leaps and bounds since joining Saracens (are you starting to spot a theme?) unflappable in the air and quick enough to trouble defenders when he counter attacks. He will be 30 when Warren Gatland names his team.

12. Huw Jones (Scotland)

The Scottish centre is more of a natural 13 but could definitely slot in at 12. He’s a powerful runner and has the upper body strength to beat any weak, high tackles. Having that power and explosiveness allow him to open holes in midfield. He will be 27 for the next tournament and therefore gets in ahead of that will be a 31 year old Hadleigh Parkes.

13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)

One of Wales’ best players during their current 14 match unbeaten run, he was also key for the Lions in New Zealand. No doubt one of the British Isles most potent, attacking threats, he has the pace and defends well enough to fill the 13 jersey. He will be 33.

14. Jonny May (England)

Out and out pace. He has matured greatly over the past two to three years and his finishing ability make him a match winner. May has become better in the air and improved his positioning. He would be given plenty of opportunities with the Jones-Davies combination inside him. He will be 31.

15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Injury robbed the brilliant Scot from playing on the 2017 tour. Still very much one of Scotland’s biggest stars and most exciting players. Pace and a wicked step make him a pushing attacker and he competes out lethal back three. He has been around a while but will be just 28 for the 2021 tour.

There we have it England lead the way with seven players, five of them being Saracens. Ireland have four players and Scotland and Wales have two each.

Who would you have in your team? Let us know in the comments section.

England: Five Players Who May Have Played Their Way Into World Cup Contention

England fielded a very inexperienced team with just 11 International caps between them as they ran out 51-43 winners at Twickenham against Pat Lam’s star studded Barbarians.

We take a look at the players we think have given Eddie Jones something to think about following a good performance at the weekend.

  1. Marcus Smith (Harlequins)

The 20 year old turned down a chance to play at the under-20 World Championships to play in the Quilter Cup game and he most certainly took his chance. Smith not only kicked flawlessly but picked up a try of his own and the Man of the Match award.

This boy can play. He showed his fast feet and awareness on many occasion to cause opposite number, 31 year old, 21 cap All Black Colin Slade some serious problems.

With Owen Farrell, George Ford and Danny Cipriani all in the mix for England selection it’s probably too soon for the Harlequins starlet but an assured performance at Twickenham is a big step in the right direction for his development as a future England regular.

2. Joe Marchant (Harlequins)

The Harlequins centre has been on the peripheries of the England discussion for years with his skills not dissimilar to those of Bath centre, Jonathan Joseph.

Marchant has some very impressive skills, his one handed pick up in the second half receiving the acknowledgment of the Twickenham crowd who let out a purr of appreciation for such a skill. He was also very keen to attack the outside shoulders.

A few very nice line breaks and good interplay with his centre partner, Johnny Williams, certainly in the mix for England who do look slightly light on centres compared to other positions.

3. Ben Curry (Sale Sharks)

Did much the same as his twin brother Tom was doing for England during the Six Nations. He was a nuisance at the breakdown and even for veterans like Steven Luatua and Francois Louw.

Curry was also a huge physical presence in defence and made some thundering tackles and hits, it was a very good open side flanker’s performance from Curry who goes about his work quietly and efficiently.

Ben Curry could join his brother in the England squad although with Sam Underhill also back playing it will be tough.

4. Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints)

The young scrum-half has stuck behind a brilliant Cobus Reinach at Franklins Gardens this year but he showed Chris Boyd exactly what he could do against the Barbarians.

He distributed excellently dictating the pace and giving Marcus Smith the perfect platform to play off thanks to a strong performance from the forwards. He kicked well from the breakdown and looked very lively with the ball in hand.

Certainly one for the future, there are lots of good scrum-halves around at the minute an outside bet for the training squad.

5. Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins)

Another Harlequin who stood out for England. Dombrandt has been tearing up the Premiership all season with his surprising pace for a man of his size and his powerful runs.

He showed that against the Barbarians as he notched up a brace of tries with his abrasive powerful running. He was not shy of the ball and the occasion certainly didn’t overwhelm the blindside flanker.

The back row is a very competitive area for England and with experienced operators at six like Chris Robshaw and Mark Wilson will make it very difficult to get Alex Dombrandt anywhere near the squad that eventually flies to Japan.

Danny Cipriani Can Win England the World Cup

Danny Cipriani has had an exceptional season for Gloucester and proved that by scooping two of the end of the season awards.

The only thing that has eluded the talented ten is the England call-up his form is just crying out for with his only appearances under Eddie Jones coming last summer in England’s tour to South Africa. Cipriani playing a starring role in the consolation victory in the third test.

With Eddie Jones likely to take just two tens to Japan and with Owen Farrell a bonafide starter for England is there space for a gamebreaking visionary like Cipriani?

Past selections would suggest that George Ford is firmly in England’s plans despite a frankly abysmal season for his club, Leicester Tigers compared to Cipriani’s high flying Gloucester finishing in third.

Danny_Cipriani_2009
By Chris Brown – Danny Cipriani, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7434808

Unlike Ford Danny Cipriani can still control a game is his forwards are in reverse. Danny Cipriani is able to control a game without needing the quick ball George Ford thrives off.

Another attribute Cipriani is blessed with is his vision, he sees things most players wouldn’t even imagine, and not only does he see them he has the talent to exploit the situation opening doors that counterpart Ford didn’t even know existed.

This is not to say Cipriani should start for England. Owen Farrell is England’s fly-half all day, every day but when Farrell can’t do it there needs to be someone who can and that has to be Cipriani.

Cipriani breaks the mould and coming into a high pressure game with say 20 minutes to go he is the man that could produce that sprinkle of stardust to win England games. This remarkable ability could be the difference between England crashing out in the semi-final or finally a glorious repeat of 2003.

Three Players That Deserve an England Recall

With the sun having set on a great European season as Saracens downed Leinster and with awards season already upon us and the World Cup just up ahead this is the time to stake your claim for a spot in your international team’s colours.

For England a settled core group of players will already be packing their bags for Japan but with Eddie Jones being Eddie Jones there are bound to be a few surprises when he names his squad for England’s summer exploits against Wales (twice), Ireland and Italy.

Here are three surprises we would love to see on Eddie’s team sheet.

  1. Danny Cipriani

What a season this man has had for Johan Ackermann’s Gloucester as they have found their way into the play-offs. His excellent form has seen him bag himself the RPA Player of the Year award.

Cipriani is one of those players that tries things other players wouldn’t dare, he’s not just on a different page but a different planet to England’s incumbent fly-half, Owen Farrell. That’s not to say he should start ahead of the Saracens playmaker but Cipriani would make a good game breaker off the bench.

The ability to see things others don’t set him apart and his outrageous talent mean he’s more than capable of executing the improbable at the most unlikely of times. Surely after the season he’s had he will have George Ford looking over his shoulder.

2. Alex Goode

The Saracens fullback has done it again. He’s won European Player of the Year and another Champions Cup with Mark McCall’s Saracens. Alex Goode is one of the Premiership’s best fullbacks but not England’s apparently.

640px-USO_-_Saracens_-_20151213_-_Alex_Goode
By Clément Bucco-Lechat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46847541

It’s true he’s had his chances in the past and not made the most of them but with his brilliant kicking game, defensive stability and counter attacking vision he is everything you could want in a fullback and far more experienced there than Elliot Daly and if his Champions Cup form is anything to go by more than capable of competing at the highest level he will have stiff competition at 15 though with a fit again Anthony Watson firing and Mike Brown still very much in the mix.

3. Don Armand

England seem to have finally found an openside flanker in Tom Curry and a very worthy deputy in Sam Underhill but blindside is yet to be nailed down, Brad Shields, Chris Robshaw, Mark Wilson have all donned the shirt but none of them have made it their own.

Armand has once again been one of Exeter’s most consistent performers over the course of another table topping season. It is a crime that he is stuck on just one appearance for England in the 2018 Six Nations he could be a real asset for England out in Japan if he is offered that all important recall.

Armand has the ability to make the six shirt his own and offer some balance to a back row that is likely to include Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola.

We think with these three stars Eddie Jones could definitely have a shot in Japan later this year. Who do you think deserves an England recall? Let us know in the comments!

Total Recall for Argentina’s European Stars as World Cup Looms

Argentina will be able to select their European based players for the World Cup and with their group rivals being England and France these players could not only arrive with their considerable talent but also inside information on their teammates.

Here we look at the three main contenders to return to the blue and white stripes of their homeland when the World Cup kicks off.

  1. Santiago Cordero

This man was a magician in 2015 tearing up the opposition with his incisive breaks, elusive swerves and out and out pace. Since then he has been doing much the same and has been a real fan favourite at Sandy Park for Premiership leaders, Exeter Chiefs.

Argentina will be keen to get this man back in the team and on the ball. Cordero is a dangerous man, give him an inch and he’ll take a mile. His trickery is no longer the secret it was to most of the world back in 2015.

2. Facundo Isa

The Toulon back row is best known for his barnstorming carries. Isa has such power, you have to brave man to try and take this man high. Isa is equally at home powering over players as using his deceptive pace to blast through a weak inside shoulder.

His versatility and ability to play across the back row is also a huge benefit for a World Cup squad, Isa could be a very important part of Argentina’s World Cup jigsaw.

3. Nicolas Sanchez

The all-time leading point scorer for Argentina has never missed a squad but is currently plying his trade for Parisian club, Stade Francais who he joined after last year’s Rugby Championship. His definitely Argentina’s most important playmaker and this makes him very valuable for Argentina.

Sanchez is arguably Argentina’s best player and his presence will lift Argentina to new heights. His kicking game and pace put him on a par with some of Europe’s best fly-halves, with Sanchez in their ranks they have every chance of reaching the quarter-finals for the fourth World Cup in a row.

Argentina’s u-turn gives them a fighting chance in the upcoming World Cup. These stars are certainly ones to watch out for when Argentina take on England, France, Tonga and the USA over the course of the next autumn.

Opinion: The Six Nations Posed More Questions Than Answers for ‘Invincible’ Wales

Wales are in rude health. They have 14 wins on the spin and this culminated in a Grand Slam as Warren Gatland announced that the World Cup will be his last as Wales head coach.

Wales were simply brilliant against Ireland in their final game and led by Alun Wyn Jones Wales swept aside the pre-tournament favourites. Wales also showed great character against England coming back from 10-3 down to bring England back down to earth following their first two games.

On the road Wales seemed to leave their fire breathing dragon at home. For the first half against France Wales simply didn’t turn up and France ran rings round Wales racking up a 19-0 lead before in the most French way possible capitulating and gift wrapping a brace of tries for the totem pole of a wing George North.

George_North
By Liamwarrender at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24426555

Wales would be hard pressed to find any other tier one international side be quite as forgiving as the unpredictable France.

Italy posed a serious challenge to Wales, Rome was alive as Italy dragged Wales to hell and back for the vast majority of the match before the superhero Scarlets centre Hadleigh Parkes popped up with a match winning try.

These away performances are of a concern as the World Cup is many miles away from the infamous ‘Wall of Noise’ and hymns and arias of the Principality Stadium. There won’t be in excess of 70,000 fans baying for English or Irish blood. Wales’ performances in Cardiff are far better than their away games which is why Wales may struggle in the far east.

Secondly Wales have a frankly awful record against the big three away from home. Under Warren Gatland this Wales side have always been there or thereabouts when it comes to the Six Nations but there is suggestion of mental frailty when it comes to travelling to the traditional ‘Big Three’ of the southern hemisphere.

Wales will face Australia in Japan. Wales are the only home nation not to have beaten Australia on Australia soil since the last World Cup. England won a series 3-0 there in 2016, Ireland won a series 2-1 there in 2017 and Scotland beat Australia 24-19 last time they were in down under last summer.

To find the last time Wales beat Australia outside Cardiff you have to go back to the 1987 World Cup and Rotorua when Wales beat Australia 22-21 to claim third place in the inaugural showpiece event.

This mental frailty could see them finish second in their group and a high pressure quarter-final game against the winner of Pool C which contains the likes of England, France and Argentina, all three experts at World Cup runs with 12 semi-final appearances between them, five finals and one World Cup.

A group runner-up has also never won the World Cup, a position Wales would fill if they fail to find their first win over Australia away from home in 32 years.

2011_Rugby_World_Cup_Australia_vs_New_Zealand_(7296136612)
By jeanfrancois beausejour from cannes, france – blacks australia 035CN6P5138 internet, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30851908

The final reason I believe Wales will struggle is the fact they have failed to score tries. Their defence was excellent in the Six Nations as they only conceded seven tries in their five games but they only scored ten the joint lowest scoring the same amount as Italy.

In comparison England scored 24 tries, Ireland were the next best with 14 and Scotland and France both conjured up 12 five-pointers. To beat the best you need to score tries and Wales are simply not scoring enough.

Tries win games. It is a well known fact you have to score five tries on average to beat New Zealand. Does a team that averaged two a game in the Six Nations really have the capacity to score five against the most successful team of the last decade?

These are the reasons despite Wales’ recent success they will not be successful at the World Cup.