Australia despite being in limbo at the moment still have one extremely powerful weapon in there slowly decreasing arsenal. That is the back row double act of Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
Having two specialist openside flankers allows you a certain dominance at the breakdown. Both Pocock and Hooper are very good on the floor.
After years of having searched for a high quality, top class seven two have come along at once for England, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.
Now in the back row it is fair to say that Billy Vunipola is almost certain to start at number eight for England in the World Cup the starting berth on the blindside is by no means nailed down which could open the door for England to copy the Australian model.
Using both expert pilferer Tom Curry and physical defender Sam Underhill could help lift England’s game to the next level and provide England’s backs with even quicker ball and possibly more chance and when you have the finishing ability of Henry Slade and Jonny May in your team the tries will come.
Tom Curry was England’s best player in the Six Nations. He offered himself up to carry, defended extremely well and was a nuisance at the breakdown, in essence he did the basics of being an openside flanker extremely well. At just 21 years of age the younger of the Curry twins (only be 90 minutes) has the potential to get even better and challenge the very best the game has to offer.
One performance thats sums up what Sam Underhill is all about is the excellent display he put on against New Zealand. Not only was his physical defence on full display, his breakdown expertise was put to good use and he turned Hurricanes star Beauden Barrett inside out (word has it Barrett is still searching for Underhill).
Coupling the insatiable appetite for turnovers of Tom Curry and the physical dominance of Sam Underhill could cause the very best back rows (Australia amongst them) some serious problems.
The Rugby World Cup is just months away and the pools have long been public knowledge. With more teams set to be chasing the favourites New Zealand than usual we take a look at which pool could be dubbed the perilous Group of Death.
Pool A contains hosts Japan as well as form team of last year Ireland, a vastly improved Scotland, a competitive Samoa and minnows Russia.
Japan’s heroics from 2015 are still very much in the mind and they pushed England hard at Twickenham back in November. They have some very good players in workhorse, Michael Leitch, veteran scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka and skilful centre Ryoto Nakamura.
Samoa are always physical and they possess their own array of international stars. Samoa will bring power and pace but much like their Pacific neighbours Fiji and Tonga they lack the finesse and poise to challenge the bigger boys of international rugby.
Russia are there for the ride, it’s taken a valiant effort to get there but realistically they aren’t going to trouble the runaway favourite two from this group, Ireland and Scotland.
There is just too much class from Ireland and Scotland for this to be called the Group of Death. Japan and Samoa might provide the odd moment of magic or a scare but unlikely to qualify for the last eight.
Pool B has favourites New Zealand, a very strong South Africa, a competitive Italy, Canada who have really struggled recently and African also rans, Namibia.
New Zealand and South Africa are the clear frontrunners. Canada may have been a challenging prospect two years ago but not now and Namibia aren’t going to beat them.
Italy have beaten South Africa before but if we are honest even at full strength Sergio Parisse and co. Aren’t likely to have enough to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Now here it’s a little more complex, it has the ridiculously inconsistent France, highly competitive Argentina, a rebooted England, sleeping giant USA and Pacific juggernaut Tonga.
USA did have their moment in the sun last summer as they beat Scotland. They are still far more of a force in sevens, their time in the expanded version of the game is yet to come but that result in June certainly suggests they could trouble England and Argentina and with the temperamental France we all know anything can happen.
Tonga, a good team. However Wales’ 74-24 win over them in November proved just how big the gap is between the Pacific island nations and the Six Nations giants. Like USA if they copy their cousins Fiji they could beat France.
France, they are among the three most likely to emerge from the group the question is will they have enough to beat England or Argentina? You never know.
England are favourites for the group and rightly so. They should come out of this relatively unscathed.
Argentina was much better in the Rugby Championship last time out and building into the World Cup they will be confident. They have reached the knockout stages in the last three World Cups, their game against France could decide who qualifies for the last eight with England.
Definitely a competitive pool.
Six Nations winners Wales, an Australia in disarray, the Flying Fijians, the rising force in Europe, Georgia are joined by South American minnows Uruguay.
Again this is complex. Fiji are exciting they have some real stars Nemani Nadolo, Viliame Mata, Leone Nakarawa, Semi Radradra and Peceli Yato are household names and tearing it up in Europe. They produce some breathtaking stuff and they knocked out Wales previously way back in 2007.
There is a clamouring for Georgia to join the premier international tier by being inducted into the Six Nations. They are known for their terrifying forwards and their famed scrum has seen having a Georgian prop as almost a requirement to win the Top 14 in France. Wales and Australia who are the two obvious leaders should brace themselves.
Uruguay like Namibia and Russia have done really well to get to the World Cup and they are much stronger than they once were gone are they days where New Zealand beat Namibia 142-0 or England beat Uruguay 111-13. They deserve to be there.
Will Fiji or Georgia beat Wales or Australia? It’s unlikely but Fiji definitely could beat Australia the mess they’re in and with Wales not the same prospect outside the cauldron of Cardiff could hand Fiji the chance and Georgia’s scrum could cause both problems. It’s unlikely though.
A competitive pool no doubt but unlike Pool C two clear frontrunners.
So there’s our verdict, Pool C as they have three teams that have the know how to reach the latter stages of the competition.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Following the proposal’s put forward detailing a 12 team World League, we thought we would take a look at how we would change the calendar without putting player welfare at risk, increasing travel for the larger southern hemisphere nations drastically or shutting out strong tier two nations such as Fiji and Georgia.
SANZAAR Tier Two Agreement
The November tests are great, they are some of the best games of the year and showcase the best talent the southern hemisphere has to offer in the great European amphitheatres of rugby.
I would have New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina all sign an agreement stating that one of their Internationals in the autumn would be against a European side outside the Six Nations.
Having New Zealand travel to Tbilisi or South Africa play in Bucharest would firstly be a great cash maker for these smaller nations by brining in large crowds and a chance for these nations to test themselves against the very best.
2. Six Nations Tier Two Agreement
This would basically mirror the SANZAAR agreement, in November the major Six Nations teams would agree to play at least one game against a southern hemisphere (including Japan and USA) team outside the Rugby Championship.
3. Six Fixed Destinations
For the next six non World Cup years 2020, 2021, 2022, 2024, 2025, 2026 I would have a deal where New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Japan and Fiji tied would host one of the Six Nations each year on a rotation basis.
The deal would also state that the destination be a nation that you haven’t played the previous autumn, this would further allow the smaller nations Italy, Japan and Fiji to play a larger array of the world’s best.
In Lions tour years, one destination would be compromised due to the Lions tour, in this case Samoa and Tonga would be added as a joint destination for a two test tour.
On top of this in Lions years any Lions nations visiting would play just two tests to try and reduce the amount of players away for the start of pre-season.
4. A Revamped Churchill Cup
A new Churchill Cup being played on rotation in the USA or Samoa/Tonga. This tournament would include twelve teams in four groups of three.
The teams would be USA, Tonga, Samoa, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Canada, Uruguay, England Saxons, Ireland Wolfhounds, Scotland A and New Zealand Maori.
The games would be played over the course of three weeks whilst the larger nations are playing test series with each team playing two group games then like in 7’s play offs to decide rankings. This tournament would run up until the same year as the three test tours.
In Lions years Samoa, Tonga, England Saxons, Ireland Wolfhounds, Scotland A and New Zealand Maori would sit have not take part and an abridged version would be played.
We think our proposals would help grow the game and give us some mouthwatering rugby to look forward to as well as a brand new competition. Tell us what you think in the comments, do you think these proposals are better than World Rugby’s?
Wales’ classic style under Warren Gatland has been based on power with big ball carriers crashing into the line and using brute force to win games which for a time was successful in the northern hemisphere.
There’s been a shift in style recently with a new fly-half pulling the strings Wales have very much become a far more diverse and threatening opponent as shown by a clean sweep in the autumn.
vs. France (Stade de France), Fri 1st February, 20:00
vs. Italy (Stadio Olimpico), Sat 9th February, 16:45
vs. England (Principality Stadium), Sat 23rd February, 16:45
vs. Scotland (BT Murrayfield), Sat 9th March, 14:15
vs. Ireland (Principality Stadium), Sat 16th March, 14:45
Despite having only two fixtures at home Wales arguably have the best chance of completing a Grand Slam. The favourites Ireland and World Rugby’s 4th ranked team England both face a trip to the cauldron of Cardiff.
If Wales can win their first game away to France they will be confident of toppling Italy and Scotland away and they will always back themselves at home.
Wales have not lost a game since round there of last years Six Nations. Their autumn was very impressive as they swept aside Scotland, Tonga and Australia as well as claiming an impressive 20-11 win over South Africa.
This followed their win over South Africa in Washington DC just five months before which they followed up with two comprehensive wins over Argentina.
Wales have injuries aplenty especially in their back row. Taulupe Faletau is a notable absentee and despite being named in the squad Ross Moriarty is unlikely to play against France, as well as Adam Beard a doubt for the first game.
Add into that injuries to Aaron Shingler, Ellis Jenkins and James Davies and Wales look very light indeed in the back row even with cover provided by Wasps Thomas Young and Cardiff’s Josh Turnbull.
Leigh Halfpenny will miss Wales’ opening two matches but should be fit in time to face England.
Wales have no uncapped players in the squad but one cap duo Jarrod Evans and Jonah Holmes feature. Lions star Alun Wyn Jones will captain from the engine room.
Jarrod Evans is among four fly-halves, Dan Bigger, Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell are all also in the squad. Gatland will have a selection headache there.
1 Rob EVANS 2 Ken OWENS 3 Tomas FRANCIS 4 Alun Wyn JONES (Captain)5 Jake BALL 6 Aaron WAINWRIGHT 7 Justin TIPURIC 8 Josh NAVIDI
9 Gareth DAVIES 10 Gareth ANSCOMBE 11 George NORTH 12 Hadleigh PARKES 13 Jonathan DAVIES 14 Jonah HOLMES 15 Liam WILLIAMS
16 Elliot DEE 17 Nicky SMITH 18 Samson LEE 19 Cory HILL 20 Thomas YOUNG 21 Aled DAVIES 22 Dan BIGGAR 23 Josh ADAMS
Italy have traditionally been the whipping boys of Europe. Football is very much a part of Italian culture and with just two top level clubs the player pool is small compared to the likes of England, Ireland and Wales.
Conor O’Shea has helped over the past few years and brought an identity to the national team, a renaissance for Bennetton in Europe and the Pro14 has also helped build Italy into a more cohesive unit. With a very strong under-20’s side too the future is bright for Italy.
vs. Scotland (BT Murrayfield), Sat 2nd February, 14:15
vs. Wales (Stadio Olimpico), Sat 9th February, 16:45
vs. Ireland (Stadio Olimpico), Sun 24th February, 15:00
vs. England (Twickenham Stadium), Sat 9th March, 16:45
vs. France (Stadio Olimpico), Sat 16th March, 12:30
Italy will feel positive about the upcoming Six Nations with favourites Ireland and a resurgent Wales having to travel to Rome.
They also have the France, arguably Italy’s best chance of a victory making the trip to the Italian capital.
This comes off the back of a very difficult November series for the Azzuri as they suffered heavy defeats to New Zealand in Rome and Ireland in Chicago, as well as a slightly narrower loss to a wounded Wallabies. They did however defeat Georgia in Firenze which silenced the clamours for Georgia to be included in Europe’s premier international competition.
Italy also will have taken confidence from one win over Japan in the summer to draw their summer series 1-1.
Italy have four notable omissions in their squad with Gloucester flanker Jake Polledri and exciting fullback Matteo Minnozi both out injured. Dean Budd and Giulio Bisegni were originally named but have been replaced recently by Marco Fuser and Marco Zanon.
Former Bath back rower, David Sisi and centre Marco Zanon come in as the only uncapped players. Sergio Parisse captains the side and he’ll have experienced hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini alongside him.
The only other overseas based player is powerful centre, Michele Campagnaro, he runs hard and tackles hard too.
1 Andrea LOVOTTI 2 Leonardo GHIRALDINI 3 Simone FERRARI 4 Federico RUZZA 5 Marco FUSER 6 Sebastian NEGRI 7 Maxime MBANDA 8 Sergio PARISSE (Captain)