More Blood to Come
The group stages are now over, let the knock outs commence
Article by Andy Barnham Photography by Chris Yates
The group stages of the Rugby World Cup are now over and eight countries have survived to the knock out stages. There have been tears and shocks, not least of which was the exit of the hosts, England. Credit to Japan for the slaying of South Africa (Japan’s odds of winning were 349-1) but who then fell foul of scheduling and are the first team to win three games and yet still fail to progress. Neutral fans will be hoping for more investment into the minnow countries who are slowly closing the gap between themselves and the more established regimes. More than once they pushed the Tier 1 nations until the final quarter of the game at which stage gaps appeared in tired defences. World Rugby’s £50 million investment to the Tier 2 nations in the last three years has led to better competition and a fantastic tournament; hopefully more will be done before 2019 and Japan. So where do the home nations now stand?
Pool A w/ Australia (L), Wales (L), Fiji (W) and Uruguay (W)
Odds of winning: Maybe next time
World ranking: 8th (was 6th)
Record: Champions (1), Quarter Finals (3), Runners- up (2), Fourth (1)
The hosts have left the building. England never hit their stride and buckled under the weight of expectation. Previous concerns of the midfield pairings and the lack of a No7 were brutally exposed behind a forwards pack who continued to pedal backwards. Shambolic selection played into the hands of the opposition, many squad members starting only one game and some none at all, only making appearances off the bench. Had England drawn against Wales by potentially kicking a penalty in the dying minutes, they would have progressed; the margins in the international arena are that brutal. Winners in 2003, finalists in 2007, quarter finalists in 2011 and only one 6 Nations title since 2003; there is a clear pattern. Fans will be hoping the pattern changes, soon.
Pool D w/ France (W), Italy (W), Canada (W) and Romania (W)
Odds of winning: 8/1
World ranking: 5th (was 4th)
Record: Quarter Finals (5), Quarter Final play off (1), Pool Stage (1)
Fixtures: Sunday 18th Oct vs Argentina
Easing through the group Ireland have peaked on schedule, performing magnificently to frustrate and befuddle France in their final group game. Pulling clear in the last 20 minutes, Ireland’s match day squad all contributed meaningfully in subduing Les Bleus, even after the loss of their two main talismans. In topping the group they avoid the All Blacks and, if they beat Argentina, will face the winners of Australia vs Scotland. Argentina have shown themselves to be very dangerous and have added a potent backline in addition to their traditional forward power. Ireland will be hoping for a clean bill of health and for the citing commissioner to miss an Irish punch that eluded game officials during play.
Pool A w/ Australia (L), England (W), Fiji (W) and Uruguay (W)
Odds of winning: 33/1
World ranking: 3rd (was 2nd)
Record: Third (1), Fourth (1), Quarter Finals (2), Ninth (2), Eleventh (1)
Fixtures: Saturday 17th Oct vs South Africa
Unable to break their Australian hoodoo, even when the men from Down Under were fielding only 13 men, Wales finish second in the group having beaten England at Twickenham. Having competed in two tumultuous matches in a row, Wales must lift themselves and face hard running South Africa next. There will be no subtly between Wales’ Warrenball and the Springboks though Wales have been galvanised as their injury toll continues to mount. Fans will hope that the green and gold brick wall facing them next will be run through at no extra cost to themselves.
Pool B w/ South Africa (L), Samoa (W), Japan (W) and USA (W)
Odds of winning: Was 100/1. As of 13th Sept 75/1
World ranking: 9th
Record: Fourth (1), Sixth (3), Eighth (2), Ninth (1)
Fixtures: Sunday 18th Oct vs Australia
After a close win against a physical and free running Samoa, Scotland have a week to recover before they face Australia. After the Australian attack against England and their defence against Wales, it will take a mighty effort from Scotland to keep going in the Rugby World Cup. However for a country that registered only three 6 Nations wins since the last World Cup, Scotland’s positive rugby is now reaping the rewards they deserve and they will be eager to make sure their party lasts as long as it can.