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

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)

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.