Rugby World Cup 2019: Week One Picks (20th September-23rd September)

With the World Cup finally arriving this weekend on Friday we take a look at the first set of games and pick out the three we think are definitely worth a watch.

Pick One: France v Argentina, Pool C, Tokyo Stadium, 05:45 (UK Time), Saturday 21st September

This clash could very well decides who advances from Pool C with England also in this pool. The unpredictable France could very well turn up like they did against Scotland in Paris and blow the Pumas away although France have never travelled excessively well.

They have a strong squad and some really exciting backs behind a well oiled, large pack that won’t shy away from what will be an attritional and physical battle with Argentina’s forwards.

70503990_379340136076027_7228588581442696991_n
Credit: Instagram (@lospumasuar)

Argentina have selected some of their overseas stars which has allowed them to include their star fly-half Nicolas Sanchez and Saracens prop Juan Figallo further bolstering a largely Jaguares based squad that advanced all the way to the Super Rugby final.

Although Argentina lost all three of their Rugby Championship games they will be confident that if they play the way they know they can then France will be in serious trouble.

Players to Watch: Antoine Dupont (France), Nicolas Sanchez (Argentina)

Pick Two: New Zealand v South Africa, Pool B, International Stadium Yokohama, 10:45 (UK Time), Saturday 21st September

I mean there is very little to say about this clash that hasn’t already been said.

Two absolute heavyweights of world rugby, world number ones and current World Champions, New Zealand need no introduction and as for South Africa, who have won the cup twice themselves also need no superlatives to emphasise just how good they are as a team.

The most intriguing battle may come at fly-half if New Zealand revert to picking the wildly talented Beauden Barrett at 10 as he would then face off against possibly the most underrated fly-half in the world right now Handre Pollard.

67152433_172746923759322_6579588973333091149_n
Credit: Instagram (@handrepollard)

Then again if we focus on that individual battle it may take away from Brodie Retallick against Even Etzebteh, Dane Coles v Malcolm Marx, Aaron Smith versus Faf de Klerk, a Rieko Ioane S’busiso Nkosi footrace, Kieran Read challenge Duane Vermeulen and the list goes on.

This is going to be engrossing, enthralling and above all brutal. Neither of these teams ever take a backward step.

It would take a brave man to put money on either of these giants in the playground of International rugby. So rather than putting money on it just sit back and enjoy the best the southern hemisphere has to offer.

Players to Watch: Brodie Retallick (New Zealand), Siya Kolisi (South Africa)

Pick Three: Ireland v Scotland, Pool A, International Stadium Yokohama, 08:45 (UK Time), Sunday 22nd September

The big one from the hosts pool. Ireland current world number one despite being thrashed by England just a few weeks ago. They play their Six Nations rivals, Scotland.

Scotland are arguably one of the most exciting teams as shown by their extraordinary Calcutta Cup draw way back in March. Down 31-0 at half-time they then scored 38 points before George Ford scampered over to spare England’s blushes.

66179883_135582827648432_7848271383262664224_n
Credit: Instagram (@finnrussell92)

Finn Russell the mastermind behind this aided by his capable lieutenants Stuart Hogg and Ali Price in Scotland’s impressive armoury of backs.

Ireland more than have the pedigree to match and will fancy their chances against what is a fairly light pack north of the border. Johnny Sexton is key to Ireland’s chances with Joey Carbery injured and Jack Carty fairly new to the trial and tribulations of test match rugby if Ireland want to progress they are going to need the playmaker to be on top form.

Players to Watch: Johnny Sexton (Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

These are just three of the best there are of course other games this weekend with Japan in action against Russia on Friday, then on Saturday Australia kick off their campaign against Fiji, Sunday starts with Italy v Namibia before England get underway against Tonga which is followed by Wales first taste of the action as they play Georgia on Monday.

England’s Midfield Make-Up

England have an abundance of options for their pivotal 10,12,13 combination in the middle of the park with Eddie Jones selecting two fly-halves and four centres.

Here we look at three potential combinations Jones could pick for England in their tougher games they will face at the World Cup.

Option One: 10 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 12 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers) 13 Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)

This was England’s favoured combination during the most recent Six Nations with the captain pulling the strings.

This combination offers a lot of balance in the centres with the power from the Samoan born Tuilagi and the playmaking, attacking play of Henry Slade who has the ability to execute a deft chip or burn his man on the outside.

66352591_748648235555680_4277106878336418993_n
Credit: Instagram (sladey10)

It worked incredibly well against Ireland and France as Henry Slade played the best rugby he ever has for England and alongside an in-form Owen Farrell and a fit again Manu Tuilagi this combination is a formidable unit.

Option Two: 10 George Ford (Leicester Tigers) 12 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 13 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)

This would reinstate the partnership that Eddie Jones won back-to-back Six Nations titles and a tour to Australia with. Starting both specialist fly-halves George Ford and Owen Farrell.

George Ford is excellent in attack he plays flat to the line and with him playing so flat he can expose any rush defences England may come up against something teams like Wales have mastered and use it to suffocate the opposition.

54266371_2265364607011231_3569840271376183235_n
Credit: Instagram (george_fordy)

Having Tuilagi at outside centre gives England the powerful carrier in the backs that can get England on the front foot and provide Ben Youngs with the quick ball that is so important in the modern game.

Option Three: 10 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 12 Piers Francis (Northampton Saints) 13 Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)

Piers Francis has impressed over the summer so far really showing that he is deserving of his place in England’s final 31 man squad ahead of former rugby league star Ben Te’o.

Francis also has played at stand off in the past and offers a kicking option tactically which they used to unleash havoc on Ireland and France in the Six Nations as England cruised to wins.

32308036_140436260151330_1341227868889284608_n
Credit: Instagram (piersfrancis)

Jonathan Joseph has real pace and given space can punish defences with his outside arcing run that he has become known for. This combination is by far the most unknown quantity but this trio could be bedded in with England opening their Japan campaign against Tonga followed by a test against the fast improving USA.

Exciting Times for Eddie’s England

Eddie Jones cut his squad sending Mike Brown, Alex Dombrandt, Ben Spencer and Ben Te’o home ahead of England’s first warm-up against Wales and also the final match for England players to stake a claim to be named in the final 31 man group on Monday 12th August.

This England team is young, exciting and hungry for success. Although the Six Nations was mixed bag for England, from the immense high of the bonus point win at the Aviva Stadium to the hammer blow of losing to Wales after having held the lead at half-time, this team are going to pose some serious problems at the World Cup.

England have that warrior spirit embodied by captain, Owen Farrell along with Exeter livewire Jack Nowell and workhorse blindside flanker Mark Wilson.

23734433_1734670753218577_1445089231897624576_n
Credit: Instagram (@owenfaz)

England have powerful, bruising carriers in the Saracens trio of Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola and of course the scintillating centre, Manu Tuilagi.

England have incisive runners and deadly finishers with the playmaking Henry Slade, explosive Jonny May and exciting Elliot Daly.

In short England have it all. They can mount a serious challenge even with the challenges of France and Argentina in their pool.

They have the attacking prowess, their impressive 24 try haul in the Six Nations is testament to that, what we also saw in the Six Nations was England show us they have cohesive attacking moves in place. The kicking game that bamboozled Ireland’s makeshift fullback Robbie Henshaw and France’s stand in at 15 Yoann Huget.

44209754_1005657909620323_3198080415955389411_n
Credit: Instagram (@robhenshaw)

Then there was the startling power game exhibited against Italy where England unleashed a centre partnership of Te’o and Tuilagi tipping the scales at about 220 kilos (485 lbs) along with Bath Rugby’s X Factor winger, Joe Cokanasiga.

This coupled with an incredibly effective rush defence implemented by John Mitchell makes England strong. The rush defence of England suffocated Ireland into submission, it blew France away and snuffed out Italy’s probing attack at Twickenham.

Wales may have won the Six Nations and Ireland may have beaten New Zealand and be ranked second and third respectively but to regard this England side as anything other than possible champions would be foolish.

52895395_126774321778542_8953429870697000796_n
Credit: Instagram (@walesrugbyunion)

This Sunday England’s stars get their last chance to impress against Wales in front of 82,000, and make no mistake England will be going full throttle and that pedal will be well and truly pushed to the floor right up until the end of their World Cup journey.

Possible 23 to face Wales

1 Joe Marler (Harlequins) 2 Jack Singleton (Worcester) 3 Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins) 4 Courtney Lawes (Northampton) 5 Charlie Ewels (Bath) 6 Maro Itoje (Saracens) 7 Lewis Ludlam (Northampton) 8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

9 Willi Heinz (Gloucester) 10 Owen Farrell (Captain, Saracens) 11 Ruaridh McConnochie (Bath) 12 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester) 13 Jonathan Joseph 14 Anthony Watson (both Bath) 15 Elliot Daly (Saracens)

16 Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter) 17 Ellis Genge (Leicester) 18 Harry Williams (Exeter) 19 Joe Launchbury (Wasps) 20 Sam Underhill (Bath) 21 Ben Youngs (Leicester) 22 Piers Francis (Northampton) 23 Joe Marchant (Harlequins)

Which World Cup Pool is the ‘Group of Death’?

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

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.

Michael_Leitch_2018-1
By 江戸村のとくぞう – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74114242

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

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.

ST_vs_SF_-_Sergio_Parisse_2.jpg
By PierreSelim – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17171268

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.

Pool C

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.

National_Guard_sponsorship_of_USA_Rugby_(3308955511)
By The National Guard – National Guard sponsorship of USA RugbyUploaded by stemoc, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30882152

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.

Pool D

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.

Georgia_Rugby_RUGBY_union
By Paata Vardanashvili – https://www.flickr.com/photos/paata/434764326/ Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4593732

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.

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.

2017.06.24.15.28.29-Quade_Cooper_(35547533245)
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.

2017.06.17.15.31.45-Michael_Hooper_run-0003_(35240478871)
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.

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.