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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Can Japan Join International Elites?

Hosts, Japan are an intriguing prospect at this World Cup. Placed in a group with Celtic pair Ireland and Scotland, a woefully underpowered Samoa and likely whipping boys, Russia.

Japan made memories way back in 2015 with their incredible win over South Africa in Brighton a day everyone remembers. Michael Leitch and Ayumu Goromaru the heroes of the day and Leitch still a key man for the Brave Blossoms.

Can Japan finally make the knockout stages of a World Cup?

They certainly stand a chance, whilst Ireland a clear frontrunners even after being thrashed by England in record breaking fashion. They have the stardust of Johnny Sexton, the insatiable appetite for the contest of Peter O’Mahony and last but certainly not least the brilliant rugby mind of Joe Schmidt. They are a formidable unit and are odds on to top their group.

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Credit: Instagram (@japan_rugby)

Scotland are the other main contenders in the pool, could Japan beat Scotland? It’s a curious one. Scotland have the ability to be brilliant and free flowing with their plethora of talented backs such as Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell but they also have a tendency to crumble at times. They do not have the mental strength that comes from consistent results.

Japan face Scotland on 13th October in their final group match, Japan will have the upper hand in this game for two reasons, firstly Japan being hosts are at home in Yokohama and Scotland have not had their best games previously on their travels, secondly the turnarounds for the two teams Scotland will have faced a very physical battle with Samoa just four days previous to this fixture, Japan will also have played Samoa but will have had twice the time to recuperate and prepare.

Japan can target this game against Scotland as the one to win and progress to the knockout stages. If they do make the quarter-finals they will most likely face either current holders, New Zealand or a vastly improved South Africa.

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Credit: Instagram (@japan_rugby)

South Africa would be the favoured clash, following the off field incidents the Springboks may not be quite as settled as they were a few weeks ago plus there will be the added emotion of 2015, the spirit of Brighton.

If Japan can beat Scotland then anything is possible, this game is more than likely the clash to decide which team progresses to the quarter-finals along with Ireland, unless Scotland or Japan can topple the men in green. Get the 13th October in your diaries early it will be one hell of a game.

Potential Japan XV for 1st World Cup Game

1 Keita Inagaki 2 Shota Horie 3 Asaeli Ai Valu 4 Wimpie van der Walt 5 Luke Thompson 6 Michael Leitch (Captain) 7 Lappies Labuschagne 8 Amanaki Mafi

9 Fumiaki Tanaka 10 Yu Tamura 11 Kenki Fukuoka 12 Ryoto Nakamura 13 Timothy Lafaele 14 Kotaro Matsushima 15 Ryohei Yamanaka

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Scotland: Dark Horses at the World Cup?

Scotland had a very mixed Six Nations a loss to France were offset by an impressive win over Italy and that frantic draw against England. It was hard to gauge where Scotland are under Gregor Townsend as well with many of Scotland’s star players absent for at least some of the Six Nations.

Scotland face a fairly tricky pool with Ireland, hosts Japan, physical Samoa and minnows Russia.

Scotland do have the talent, Exeter bound Stuart Hogg is an excellent player, his broken field running, siege gunner boot and playmaking brain make him one of the best fullbacks currently playing international rugby.

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Credit: Instagram (stuarthogg21)

Alongside Hogg is Racing 92 playmaker, Finn Russell. Undeniably talented, his kicking out of hand is at times laser accurate, he is also quick for a fly-half and he has a talent for unlocking doors for his midfield at both Racing 92 and for Scotland.

The other outrageous talent in their backline is former Stormers centre, Huw Jones. This man single handedly dealt England a blow last year as Scotland made England look amateur at Murrayfield. His balanced running and upper body strength allow him to ride tackles and put Scotland on the front foot.

Credit: Instagram (@hrfjones)

In the forwards there is the younger of the Gray brothers, Jonny, a stoic leader and inspirational captain. His contribution to games is best summed up by one statistic from a Glasgow match last season in which the 25 year old made 41 successful tackles and missed none. 41 tackles in one match, that requires some engine.

Openside flanker, Hamish Watson is another one of Scotland’s diamonds in the rough. Watson combines all the traditional attributes of an openside with carrying of a number eight and the work rate of a blindside. There is marked difference to Scotland when the 25-cap Edinburgh back rower is playing.

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Credit: Instagram(hamishwatson07)

Now Scotland’s biggest test in the group stage will undoubtedly be the 22nd September meeting with Six Nations rivals, Ireland in Yokohama. Last time out Ireland beat Scotland 13-22 in the Six Nations outscoring Scotland three tries to one, although the Sam Johnson try was a very well worked one.

Ireland won for two reasons, an extreme effort from the Irish duo of Peter O’Mahony (man of the match) and Jack Conan who secured Ireland safe ball whilst causing Scotland’s ruck and maul all kinds of problems. The second was that in the opening quarter they caught Scotland cold, Conor Murray and Jacob Stockdale giving Ireland a 12-3 lead inside 17 minutes before fly-half, Jonny Sexton hobbled off in the 24th minute to be replaced by the excitable Joey Carbery.

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Credit: Instagram (@joeycarbery)

Scotland’s next biggest challenge will be their last game when they play Japan on 13th October again in Yokohama. This will be a challenge for two reasons, Japan are hosts and it comes just four days after Scotland’s tie with Russia whereas Japan will have had eight days to recover from their match with Samoa.

Scotland should be wise to the challenge Japan pose, England struggled to put away Japan at Twickenham way back at the end of last year until the second half, in the end English power prevailed. Japan though will be determined to make this the year they finally make it out of the pool stages in front of a home crowd which would be almost as shocking as their brutal dismantling of South Africa in Brighton four years ago.

Whilst Samoa will pose a physical challenge Scotland are firm favourites and against Russia it’s more of a question of by how much than who will win.

How Scotland Could Line-Up Against Ireland in Yokohama

1 Allan Dell (Irish) 2 Stuart McInally 3 Simon Berghan (both Edinburgh) 4 Sam Skinner (Exeter) 5 Jonny Gray 6 Ryan Wilson (both Glasgow) 7 Hamish Watson (Edinburgh) 8 Josh Strauss (Bulls)

9 Ali Price (Glasgow) 10 Finn Russell (Racing 92) 11 Sean Maitland (Saracens) 12 Sam Johnson 13 Huw Jones (both Glasgow) 14 Darcy Graham (Edinburgh) 15 Stuart Hogg (Exeter)

16 Fraser Brown (Glasgow) 17 Jamie Bhatti 18 WP Nel 19 Ben Toolis 20 John Barclay (all Edinburgh) 20 Greig Laidlaw (Clermont) 22 Adam Hastings (Glasgow) 23 Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh)

Rugby World Cup 2019: Ireland Squad (Forwards)

Ireland have announced their 44 man training group ahead of their World Cup preparations with two debutants, former Sale Sharks fullback Mike Haley and Munster’s South African import Jean Kleyn also included amongst the more familiar names such as the retiring Rory Best and 2018 World Player of the Year Jonny Sexton.

Rory Best will captain the team from hooker and he is joined by Niall Scannell, Rob Herring and long time deputy Sean Cronin. With Best and Cronin likely to go Joe Schmidt will have a tough time choosing between the two hookers the other side of 30, Niall Scannell, 27 and Rob Herring, 29.

Scannell has the advantage in caps with his 14 doubling the seven earned by Rob Herring and he is highly regarded by Munster head coach Johan Van Graan.

By the side of Best we expect there to be five options. Tadhg Furlong is arguably the best tighthead prop in the world. His Leinster teammate Cian Healy is also excellent and one of the best scrummagers going. Munster pair David Kilcoyne and John Ryan are the form back-ups to provide extra power late on. Then there is a debate to be had about where they will need the extra option.

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By Warwick Gastinger – Rugby World Cup DSCN4902, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43622805

Jack McGrath is heavily experienced with 54 Ireland caps but with he has to contend with the highly rated 23 year old Andrew Porter and the less fancied Finlay Bealham. Porter would benefit from the high octane environment of a World Cup.

If we are totally honest in the engine room there is one man above all others, James Ryan. Just 22 years old but by far the best lock that Ireland have.

To offset the youthful exuberance is the totem pole-like Leinster second row, Devin Toner. He is closely followed by the in-form lock, Tadhg Beirne who has impressed at Thomond Park this season putting in some massive performances in the Champions Cup.

Jean Kleyn has done well to make the squad but he’s not in the same class as supposed Ireland mainstay Iain Henderson and Ultan Dillane. Henderson has 30 more caps than Dillane and provides a very safe pair of hands at the lineout similar to Dillane in many ways.

In the back row Ireland have plenty of options, the main one being Munster’s, Peter O’Mahony. CJ Stander is also a key component to the back row with his carrying a very important part of Ireland’s attacking game, with that in mind Jack Conan is also fast becoming indispensable to Joe Schmidt’s side.

Josh van der Flier is the natural successor to Sean O’Brien and he has that natural openside feel to his game as he has shown countless times not just for Ireland but also his province, Leinster.

Tommy O’Donnell, Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy have all had some great performances in the green of Ireland, O’Donnell’s long range try over Italy in the Six Nations a fond memory for the Munster back row. Murphy has the most caps with 27, just six more than Ruddock and 15 more than his fellow clubman.

Our Picks

On the Plane: Rory Best (Ulster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), James Ryan (Leinster)

In the Departure Lounge: Cian Healy (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster), Devin Toner (Leinster)

Checking In: Jack Conan, Sean Cronin (both Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), David Kilcoyne, John Ryan (both Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster)

Packing: Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Jordi Murphy (Ulster), Andrew Porter (Leinster), Niall Scannell (Munster)

At Home: Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane (both Connacht), Rob Herring (Ulster), Jean Kleyn, Tommy O’Donnell (both Munster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.