The 2019 men’s rugby union world cup is well under way with host nation Japan defeating Russia in the first game of this eagerly awaited tournament. There are 20 teams participating divided into 4 Pools of 5.
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C||Pool D|
| New Zealand
Some observers think this world cup is the most wide open as there is no clear cut favourite as the top teams are evenly matched.
Defending champions New Zealand (the All Blacks) look to be slight favourites but their form has been patchy following a set of unusual results in the latest Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship, where South Africa (Springboks) were the surprising winners ahead of Australia (Wallabies).
But those set backs could have given – perennial favourites – the All Blacks, the kick-up-the-backside they needed to get over any pre-world cup complacency. The All Blacks’ first match on Saturday was a victory over former world cup winners South Africa 23-13.
Losing to the All Blacks could be a blessing in disguise for the Springboks and they could turn things round should both teams meet again in the final – as many observers have predicted. The All Blacks tries came from South African mistakes. You just cannot give the All Blacks as much as 11 mistakes and not get punished..
England probably has the strongest squad of all the top teams. Their head coach Eddie Jones is a wily old Australian veteran who has a solid record managing other nations at previous world cups, including Japan in 2015. England’s 35-3 win over Tonga looked a bruising encounter despite the wide margin of victory.
England are drawn in Pool C , the group of death and includes top tier rugby nations France and Argentina. But the English should still win this group. Given the competitiveness of the packs in Pool C, I cannot see any of these teams making the final due to the eventual tired and battered bodies.
Injuries is bound to have an impact on the tournament due to the physical nature of the sport these days. The tackling by most teams will be ferocious and immense. So expect players – not currently in the various squads – to be jetted in at short notice and they could be the game changers to their teams’ fortunes.
I have been a Welsh fan for decades. There are fewer better places to be on a Saturday night than Cardiff whenever Wales beats England during the 5 nations tournament. Wales has never made a World Cup final since its inauguration in 1987 as they have this knack of falling at the quarterfinal stage far too often.
I would love Wales to at least to make the final for the first time. But the Welsh must beat Australia and finish top of Pool D in order to possibly meet a below par France in the quarter finals.
The Welsh assistant coach, Rob Howley, has been sent home in disgrace following a betting investigation. Now, Howley has been a key member of Welsh teams at previous world cups either in a playing or coaching capacity and his absence could hurt the teams attacking prowess against the bigger teams.
Wales looked good in their victory over Georgia but that was to be expected and the real test for the Welsh is on the horizon.
The Australians are blessed with an array of talented back row forwards and they will be crucial to the Wallabies going as far as the semi finals. Their pool match against Wales this Sunday is the game I am most looking forward to in the group stage of this tournament.
Ireland is currently ranked as the number 1 side in rugby and should sail through Pool A to the quarterfinals where their quest to go further could be hindered by a resurgent and physical South African team under their new coach Rassie Erasmus. The Irish had demolished a dismal Scottish side on Sunday.
The world cup always has the odd shock and we would expect the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to give the top tier nations tough matches. We have already seen Fiji run the Australian team close in their first game.
But no one would have expected the Uruguayan team to have defeated Fiji 30-27! The tournament organisers and neutrals would be have been delighted at such a surprising result which is great for the sport.
Japan will put up a good fight in their group but I cannot see them going through to the quarterfinals. Having lost to Ireland on Sunday, Scotland will be under severe pressure to ensure they overcome Samoa and Japan to reach the last eight. Samoa can ill afford to have players sin-binned when they play Scotland and Japan. I take Samoa to sneak through Pool A ahead of an already depleted Scottish team.
They won’t be a dry eye in rugby circles if Samoa or Tonga could make the quarter finals as they have lost developing players to top tier nations over the years. These smaller nations face a huge obstacles in terms of fair salary payments. When Samoa played England in 2017 at Twickenham the English were paid roughly £22,000 each (incl. training fees, image rights and performance bonuses) while the Samoan players each were paid £650.
My head tells me the semi finalists will be Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Wales. When the finals come round on the 2nd November I think it will be a South Africa vs Australia final.
The 1995 world cup winning Springboks team has lost 3 of its great players in the past 2 years; namely former scrum half, Joost van der Westhuizen (2017) plus both James Small and Chester Williams (2019). Would simply be a fitting story for this current Springboks side to take the Webb-Ellis Trophy back to Cape Town in their honour.
Update: 2019 Final, South Africa 32 – England 12.