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

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.

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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.

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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.

Six Nations Will be Open Affair

Ireland are clearly the frontrunners heading into the Six Nations as they capped a successful 2018 by beating the All Blacks following their 2-1 tour win in Australia over the summer.

Guided by fly-half Johnny Sexton they have the firepower in the forwards with Tadhg Furlong leading the charge, then they have the lethal finishing ability of Jacob Stockdale out wide.

It will be no walk in the park though, Wales look like a different team to the boring, one dimensional Welsh team we have come to associate with two time Lions boss, Warren Gatland.

Gareth Anscombe has changed the game, his attacking ability makes the talented Wales backline tick.

Ireland and England both face the trip to Cardiff’s cauldron like arena and following an unbeaten autumn Wales will fancy their chances.

England look rejuvenated their excellent win over Australia and bullish victory over South Africa showed that Eddie Jones’ side still have that hard edge. They also ran the mighty New Zealand very close.

Not to mention they did all this without frontline stars like Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Nathan Hughes, Joe Launchbury and Dan Cole.

England do arguably face the toughest task in terms of fixtures with both the Ireland and Wales ties away from the fortress of Twickenham. They are also set to bear the burden of injury again with Bath trio Sam Underhill, Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph unlikely to play any part in the competition.

Scotland are still strong, France look to have some rhythm back and Italy seem to have found an identity but it’s unlikely that they’ll challenge the other three this year.

The likelihood of a Grand Slam is low as it will be difficult for Ireland to win in Cardiff, England won’t fancy their chances in Dublin and last time Wales beat England was in the 2015 World Cup.

The countdown to the World Cup is on and with September approaching, this Six Nations is crucial step towards Tokyo and the William Webb Ellis Trophy.

Road to Tokyo: New Zealand Forwards Evaluation

Still very much the team to beat heading into 2019 we take a look at who’s booked their ticket to Japan and who will watching from afar. Here’s our look at New Zealand’s options.

This year has seen the meteoric rise of the frighteningly talented Karl Tu’inukuafe, out of nowhere he has made himself Steve Hansen’s first choice. At 25 years old he has his best prop years ahead of him. Alongside him there is veteran the 106 cap Owen Franks. Franks has been a stalwart for New Zealand for a long time.

Joe Moody is another player that has been around a long time and we know from history that experience counts at a World Cup. On the tighthead side behind Franks there are three very strong options with Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen all capped and with Hansen likely to take five props it will be a tough decision deciding which one to take although November suggests Tu’ungafasi is leading the charge. Add into the mix the uncapped duo of Tim Perry and Angus Ta’avao and it’s an area of strength for New Zealand.

In between the props things are a little clearer, Codie Taylor and Dane Coles are by far and away the best hookers in New Zealand. They offer so much more than anyone else.

New Zealand will probably need a third option in case one of their frontline options gets injured. The Chiefs Nathan Harris seems the obvious option but there could be a case made for the Highlanders Liam Coltman after a strong season for him in Super Rugby. Some tough calls lie ahead for the selectors.

Second row, New Zealand have the best pairing in the world in their ranks with Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock. They have to go. Then there is the less glamorous Barret brother, Scott who had an immense title winning season with the Crusaders and has been a revelation for the All Blacks this year.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.08.19.20.22.55-Sam Whitelock, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61951964

Behind them there maybe space for one more lock, there are a couple of viable options, Patrick Tuipulotu, he offers a lot in the loose and is a very capable lineout option which could be key with quick turnarounds Retallick won’t be able to play every game. The other option is Jackson Hemopo who has three caps. A more physical presence than Tuipulotu but less experienced.

One area that will be interesting is the back row, some very big calls to be made here. Despite growing calls from the public to drop him Kieran Read is likely to be captain in Japan.

Sam Cane is still very much a valuable weapon for New Zealand, the traditional ‘fetcher’ and leads the charge despite pressures from the outstanding Ardie Savea and Matt Todd. Todd has been great for the Crusaders but with spaces limited in the back row and Savea’s versatility could see him forced out.

Shannon Frizell is the bolter coming out on nowhere and would be a worthy addition to the All Blacks, he has the pace and power to make a serious difference and bring a new dynamic to New Zealand. Liam Squire will be looking over his shoulder at the 24 year old coming into 2019. The final man in contention is Akira Ioane, uncapped and raw but definitely talented, must be something in the water at the Ioane household, with his brother Rieko being one of the best wings in the world.

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Taken by http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com

There is also the presence of Vaea Fifita who has been in and around the New Zealand squad all season but with the restriction of just 31 players he could be one of the unlucky ones.

In summary

On the Plane: Kieran Read, Owen Franks, Brodie Rettalick, Sam Whitelock, Karl Tu’inakuafe, Codie Taylor

In the Departure Lounge: Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Scott Barrett, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane

Checking In: Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Matt Todd

Packing: Nepo Laulala, Nathan Harris, Patrick Tuipulotu

Booking Elsewhere: Angus Ta’avao, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Tim Perry, Liam Coltman, Jackson Hemopo, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Vaea Fifita

Make or Break for Eddie’s England

Eddie Jones faces a tough few weeks ahead as his England side face four games against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia.

This will be England’s final chance to test themselves against the southern hemisphere before the World Cup in Japan. This year more than the previous years feels particularly important for Eddie Jones’ England.

With a lengthy injury list and only one win in their last six tests (excluding Barbarians match) re-establishing a winning mentality is key.

England are missing Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Ellis Genge, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Dan Robson, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Nathan Hughes, Sam Simmonds, Alex Lozowski, Marland Yarde, Matt Mullan, Beno Obano, Jack Clifford, Nick Isiekwe, Chris Robshaw, Jake Cooper-Wooley, Dan Cole, Jack Willis and Harry Mallinder are all unavailable for at least England’s opener against South Africa.

This puts a lot of pressure on some of England’s experienced stars and this is something that co-captains Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell will have to manage on the field in what is sure to be a physical battle against a reinvigorated South Africa.

England’s back row is of particular concern with the uncapped Zach Mercer expected to make his first start on Saturday alongside the inexperienced Tom Curry, Brad Shields or Mark Wilson.

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By Charlie – Flickr: IMG_2629, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27944996

Not only will this be an experience issue, whilst Zach Mercer is an enthusiastic and entertaining player his frame is far smaller than that of the giant Billy Vunipola, so tactics may have to be adjusted to best utilise the pace and handling of the Bath number eight.

On top of that England are pretty bare in the prop departments down to their fifth choice at loosehead with Exeter duo Alec Hepburn and Ben Moon the options for Saturday. England will also have to make do without Leicester Tigers veteran Dan Cole which will be a considerable hurdle for England as South Africa’s front row will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing an undercooked, less experienced front row in the scrum.

There are some positives for Eddie Jones, Ben Te’o has come through what limited rugby he has played unscathed as has Manu Tuilagi which will provide some much needed size to the midfield.

Chris Ashton is also back in the mix, and no matter what you think about this man’s behaviour off the field he is England’s best finisher even if his celebratory Ash Splash can be infuriating to watch.

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By Andy Kearns from Northampton, England – Chris Ashton, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10978563

England need at least three wins this autumn to be considered a contender a year away from the World Cup Eddie Jones so desperately wants. South Africa at Twickenham is going to a blockbuster test to get England started on the road to Tokyo.

Rugby360’s England XV based on 25-man squad named earlier this week

1 Alec HEPBURN (2) 2 Dylan HARTLEY (CC) (93) 3 Harry WILLIAMS (11)4 Maro ITOJE (28) 5 George KRUIS (25) 6 Brad SHIELDS (2) 7 Tom CURRY (4) 8 Zach MERCER (Uncapped)

9 Ben YOUNGS (77) 10 Owen FARRELL (CC) (61) 11 Jonny MAY (37) 12 Ben TE’O (13) 13 Manu TUILAGI (26) 14 Chris ASHTON (39) 15 Elliot DALY (21)

Italic number in (brackets) denotes caps. Lions tests not included.

(CC) denotes co-captain

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