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.

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)

Wales Warm-Up Could Give England Outsiders a Chance to Prove a Point

England’s first test of the summer against Wales is a golden opportunity for England to try out their fringe players and give the outsiders a chance to press a claim for inclusion in Eddie’s final squad of 31 that will play in Japan.

  1. Joe Marler

The Harlequins man returns from international retirement and the match against Wales is the perfect place to start staking a claim for that starting berth in Japan whilst current holder Mako Vunipola is out injured. It will also be interesting to see how long Marler lasts playing at test match level intensity.

2. Jack Singleton

England are likely to take three hookers to Japan and with Dylan Hartley not considered Singleton is likely to travel, he will need some minutes under his belt before arriving in Japan. Playing at a stadium like Twickenham against a team like Wales is the perfect audition.

3. Kyle Sinckler

More of a first choice name. He has been very good for England since the Lions tour but there are still questions over his temperament, if he can keep his cool in the red hot atmosphere of an England v Wales fixture he can probably keep a cool head anywhere.

4. Joe Launchbury

The athletic lock will need to lay down a marker to the other three established locks of the group (Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes). If he can play some of his best rugby combining his relentless work with the athleticism that sets him apart he will be on that plane.

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Credit: Instagram (@joe_launch)

5. Charlie Ewels

An outside bet for this position. Ewels is a talented man and his opportunities for England have been few and far between but definitely a player that could prove a point. He is a strong leader and a very good lineout technician.

6. Alex Dombrandt

The young back row had an excellent season for the London based Harlequins, he also played really well in England’s annual runout against the Barbarians. He showed his pace and power in a typical all-action blindside flanker’s performance.

7. Lewis Ludlam

The openside has been involved in all the World Cup camps and is the dark horse to make the final cut. Northampton have really got the best out of him this season and for him to be pushing standout players like Tom Curry and Sam Underhill for a place is a real testament to the form he was in.

8. Mark Wilson

Whilst Wilson is preferred at six with just one specialist number eight in the squad it makes sense to try out another option there and Mark Wilson is the only other player than Billy Vunipola that has played there at international level. It’s good to have all bases covered heading into a World Cup.

9. Ben Spencer

The Saracens man is still extremely light on international minutes and with Spencer and Heinz both likely to be deputising for Ben Youngs in Japan much like Jack Singleton, being part of the squad and playing in these high intensity matches are so important.

10. Danny Cipriani

It’s about time. Danny is back in the England squad. Everyone wants to see him start, we all know what Owen Farrell and George Ford can do. Now let’s sit back and enjoy watching Danny Cipriani wearing the white of England.

11. Ruaridh McConnochie

One of the signings of the season for Bath Rugby. The former sevens man has certainly made his mark even edging out another international in Semesa Rokoduguni in starting for his club. McConnochie’s pace is one thing, he also is good in the air and is explosively powerful.

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Credit: Instagram (@ruaridhmcc)

12. Manu Tuilagi

It will be exciting to see what havoc this man can cause playing off Cipriani. England have a few options in the centre but Tuilagi is by far the most powerful. This is game where power will be important.

13. Jonathan Joseph

He hasn’t played much for Bath so it would be good to see if he is test match ready. If he is ready he offers a different approach to both of England’s leading men Tuilagi and Slade. He has electric pace and is one of the best in his position defensively.

14. Anthony Watson

Like his club mate Joseph has had very little game time this season and hasn’t played for England since the 2018 Six Nations. Watson is equally at home at fullback but if Watson is up to the levels Eddie Jones expects then England’s back three can add this Lion into the mix.

15. Mike Brown

Leapfrogged by Elliot Daly as England’s leading fullback but still has so much to offer and could be key for England’s chances. A safe pair of hands in the air and his cannon of a boot make him England’s Mr Reliable which is far more complimentary than the Mr Angry tag he has been lumbers with in the past.

 

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.

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.

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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.