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

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.

Bath Rugby v Wasps: Three Key Battles

Both Bath Rugby and Wasps have had disappointing seasons compared with both clubs successful histories and strong squads.

The teams sit in 7th (Wasps) and 8th (Bath) just one point apart and both still hope to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup and could even make the play-offs.

Here are three head-to-head’s we think could decide the contest.

  1. Anthony Watson v Willie le Roux

There’s no doubt about these two are world class. The return of Anthony Watson was one of the very few positives to come out of Bath’s 6-3 loss to Sale Sharks.

Watson’s electric feet would cause any defender problems, not only does he have pace to burn but is an evasive runner, he can step off both feet and he is certainly among England’s best finishers and he needs a big performance over the next couple of weeks to force himself into Eddie Jones’ World Cup plans.

The South African fullback is such a presence for the Coventry based club both on and off the field, like Watson is a very good attacking player. Le Roux is also a very good kicker and can be a vital part of Wasps exit strategy.

2. Dave Attwood v Joe Launchbury

The Bath lock is set to leave the Recreation Ground and head for the Ashton Gate at the end of the season and he is up against one of the most athletic locks in England’s top flight.

Attwood is much more than just a lineout option, he is often among Bath’s top carriers, he makes the hard yards using his pure power and raw aggression to get Bath on the front foot. If Bath win you can guarantee this man will have had a big game.

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By Graham Wilson from United Kingdom – Dave AttwoodUploaded by Kafuffle, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23096311

Joe Launchbury unlucky to be around at the same time as so many other brilliant English second rows. The towering Launchbury is everywhere in a match, he hits rucks, carries hard and tackles effectively. The all-action Wasp is a key part of what is becoming a very settled pack.

3. Ruaridh McConnochie v Marcus Watson

The second Watson on this list will take up his place on the right wing for Wasps, opposite him will be arguably Bath’s form wing in McConnochie.

Marcus Watson has had a good season and will certainly be a man Bath need to keep an eye on. Any loose kicks and Watson much like his brother is more than capable of punishing defenders. If he gets in behind nobody will catch the fleet footed Wasp.

McConnochie has played across the back three for Bath Rugby this season and has been excellent. I can’t recall watching McConnochie have a bad game this season and that has been a saving grace that has had Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni missing for very large portions of the season.

A key battle in the race for the top half. Will these battles within the war decide the contest? Let us know in the comments section!

Crusaders v Hurricanes: Three Key Battles

This weekend presents us with one of the most enticing Super Rugby clashes as the champions, Crusaders take on the exciting Hurricanes.

Crusaders are favourites playing at home and with the Hurricanes missing star All Black, Beauden Barrett who only returned to training on Monday.

  1. Jordan Taufua v Reed Prinsep

Two very talented players match up in this crunch tie. Jordan Taufua is set to be New Zealand’s next import to England with Leicester Tigers snapping up the flanker.

Taufua’s most high profile appearance to date was when the Barbarians played South Africa at Wembley in 2016, the game ending in a 31-31 draw.

For Reed Prinsep this will be somewhat a homecoming considering he played his NPC rugby for Canterbury. Prinsep is less experienced than Taufua at Super Rugby level but certainly has the pace and physicality to match the rampaging Crusader.

2. Richie Mo’unga v Fletcher Smith

The Crusaders fly-half was the in-form player at the end of last season as he guided his team to a second successive title under Scott Robertson. Mo’unga’s kicking skills and game management earned him his first All Black call-up.

For Fletcher Smith this will be a tough one, the 23 year old has just one Super Rugby appearance to his name and Beuaden Barrett’s boots are big ones to fill for the youngster.

It will be interesting to see if the young ten can hold his own against one of the best players in the league in this high pressure, high stakes game.

3. Matt Todd v Dane Coles

Not a positional battle but the two captains will be going head to head. Matt Todd is one of the less celebrated Crusaders players who has been pivotal for his franchises success. He is a traditional open side, strong at the breakdown and a master on the floor. Todd leads by example and he’ll need to inspire his team to beat a very competent Hurricanes outfit.

This is some test of Coles leadership, the hooker is brilliant. Just exceptional at his best, he runs well, tackles physically and leads exceptionally.

It will be interesting to see which captain plays to the referee early on as that could effect how the game is played.

This will be a close one and definitely one of the biggest games this season. Two franchises that are sure to have play-off ambitions for the end of the season.