By Olly Santini
After Japan’s enthralling defeat of Scotland on Sunday, and the drama surrounding Typhoon Hagibis in the last week, the pool stages at this year’s Rugby World Cup have come to an end, and we now know the quarter-final line-up.
The largest typhoon to hit Japan this year, Hagibis has claimed 33 lives so far, with a further twenty people missing. When it hit the main Japanese island of Honshu on Saturday morning, it delivered gusts of 134mph, and shortly afterwards an earthquake of magnitude 5.7 hit Tokyo. Only three games were lost in the end, with the most important of them being England v France, the Pool C decider. The 0-0 scoreline that was allocated to it meant England qualified in first place, which based on the previous three games looks like a fair result.
Italy v New Zealand was also lost, denying Italy a chance of advancing. There were no real complaints about the outcome, but there was substantial disappointment from the Italians, notably from Sergio Parisse and Leonardo Ghiraldini. Both were denied final appearances in their long careers for their country, with the latter having recovered from injury for months in preparation for a 20-minute swansong for the bench, only to be moved to tears when news of the cancellation reached the Azzurri camp. Canada v Namibia was also cancelled, and although the game had no importance for the outcome of the World Cup, Canada were denied a chance to get their first win of the 2019 edition, and Namibia their first ever World Cup win.
Pre-tournament favourites New Zealand topped Pool B as expected – their opening weekend game against South Africa always looked like being the match that would decide first and second place. Italy looked impressive after two games (albeit against Canada and Namibia), but South Africa put pay to their hopes of reaching the knockout stages for the first time with a dominant 49-3 win over the Azzurri. Namibia put in a brave performance against New Zealand, trailing 10-9 after 35 minutes, before succumbing to a not so flattering 71-9 loss.
Typhoon Hagibis denied Pool C its decider, with England and France progressing in first and second respectively. Argentina were a notable casualty of the pool stages, losing by two points to France on the opening weekend, before being put aside 39-10 by England two weeks later. England won all of their three games easily, their closest game being against Argentina. France stuttered through their games, scraping past Argentina, USA and Tonga unconvincingly. Tonga put in some good performances, only going down by two points to France and losing 28-12 to Argentina having been 28-0 down after 20 minutes, before finally getting a win against winless USA.
Pool D always looked like being a two-horse race between Australia and Wales, with Fiji given an outside chance of causing an upset. Instead, it was Fiji who were spectacularly upset by Uruguay, practically ending their chances of progression. Wales, the more in-form team pre-tournament managed to topple Australia 29-25 to build a two-game winning streak against the Aussies, having previously ended their 13-game win streak against them in Cardiff in November. Fiji put in good performances against Australia and Wales, but ended up running out of steam in both, and Georgia put up a good fight against Australia but never looked like troubling their much stronger opponents.
Ireland, and especially Scotland, were expected to be pushed by Japan, but no one could have predicted the dominant manner in which Japan beat both, and took command of their pool. Japan’s fast-paced coast-to-coast play, almost taking a page out of League’s book, was too much for all of their opponents, and they finished with 19 points, and became Asia’s first ever representatives in the Quarter Finals.
Ireland’s dominant defeat of Scotland on opening weekend secured their second-place finish and passage to the last eight, although their performances since then have left a lot to be desired. Scotland had a bitterly disappointing tournament, failing to show up for their match against Ireland and for all but twenty minutes of their loss to Japan. It is now the second time in three World Cups that they’ve failed to make it out of their pool. Samoa also had a wretched time; in a tournament setting records for discipline, they received seven cards (6 yellow, one red), four more than anyone else.
England v Australia, Saturday 19 October 08:15 BST
If England are to win: their powerful pack will need to dominate the gain line, especially in defence, and allow Farrell, and Ford if selected, to make sure the game is played in the right areas.
If Australia are to win: Australia’s key players will need to have a big day. Pocock and Hooper will need to better Underhill and Curry, and Samu Kerevi will have to boss the midfield to make up for Australia’s lack of a solid playmaker at ten.
Prediction: England by 15
New Zealand v Ireland, Saturday 19 October 11:15 BST
If New Zealand are to win: New Zealand’s pack will need to contain or match Ireland’s, allowing the All Blacks backline continuous front-foot ball which will prove too much for Ireland’s defence.
If Ireland are to win: Ireland will need to rediscover their form from a year ago, when they were Grand Slam champions and beat the All Blacks in Dublin. They still have all the same players, but will need to rely heavily on their half-backs to control the tempo and territory.
Prediction: New Zealand by 8
Wales v France, Sunday 20 October 08:15 BST
If Wales are to win: The Welsh defence of 2018 and this year’s Six Nations will need to return, and Wales will need to offer more in attack. Against Uruguay Wales looked very flat in the first half with Patchell at the helm, and Biggar isn’t known for his attacking creativity.
If France are to win: France’s young and fiercely talented stars will need to have big games, and keep a cool head. The expected starting half-back pairing of Ntamack and Dupont will need to maintain an element of control over the game, as well as trying to pick apart Wales defence and release their powerful outside backs.
Prediction: Wales by 12
Japan v South Africa, Sunday 20 October 11:15 BST
If Japan are to win: Japan must continue their breathless style of play that wore out Ireland and Scotland. Their defence must also be as ruthless as it was for the last hour of the Ireland game, where they kept them scoreless.
If South Africa are to win: The Springboks will simply have too much for the Japanese if they play a solid and sensible game. They simply have too much power up front and too much class in the back line. Japan are capable of winning, but if South Africa can play to a certain level, then it shouldn’t be possible.
Prediction: South Africa by 18
Image by George Olcott via Flickr