Weekend 21st-22nd September

This World Cup has started with a bang! Japan’s 30
– 10 defeat of Russia has the hosts beaming whilst they consider their tactics
ahead of next week’s game with Ireland.

There are six games scheduled over the first
weekend, and some real belters! But what do our rankings tell us about each of
the games?

Fiji say “Bring it on” to Australia

Australia (ranked 6th) vs Fiji (ranked
10th) 10 5:45am Pool D

Fiji are planning to upset all their Tier 1 pool
opponents, starting with Australia. Their passion for the game is
unquestionable and the preparation undertaken by the players and John McKee has
been a phenomenal feat. Many of the squad play club rugby for Northern
hemisphere teams so achieving improvements in set-piece performance has its
challenges.

Great strides have been made, as demonstrated by the team when they pulled a shock victory over France last year. With their sights firmly set on getting through to the quarter finals, Fiji intend to take this challenge directly to their opponents. How will Australia respond to this Fijian bullishness?

Australia will start the game with history of a
long unbeaten run against Fiji. However, other games have been less consistent.
This is demonstrated in the chart above, where we see Australia’s dominance
declining since early 2000.

The team they are fielding is almost the same lineup
that recently won against New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup. Coach Michael
Cheika has opted for experience in the back-row players Pocock and Hooper to
give them the edge of experience in this southern hemisphere battle.

What do we expect to happen on the day?

Australia has been one of the dominant teams in the world for many years, losing in the last World Cup final to New Zealand. They will not want to be defeated in the first game by one of the lower tier teams. Currently ranked as 6th in our table, they are expected to beat Fiji, ranked 10th but not by as high a margin as you might expect. Fiji will, we’re sure, make Australia fight for the game.  

Unpredictable
France do not want a repeat of the 2007 humiliation against the Pumas

France (ranked 8th) vs Argentina (ranked
9th) 8:15am Pool C

Playing the first match from what has been
deemed the “Pool of Death”, France and Argentina are regular foes, having met
50 times in total.

Whilst France has, on paper, the edge over their
opponents, their form has been erratic of late, particularly in away games as
over the last two years they have only won two out of 17 away matches.

Argentina has been meticulously planning for
this tournament since Mario Ledesma took on the Head Coach role and will field
an experienced team, hoping to reproduce what was widely seen as their “shock”
defeat of France, as hosts, in the 2007 World Cup.

The Pumas coach is confident that they will be
able to manage this and get to their first World Cup final, saying to Fox
sports:

“We see similar things now as to
how the players feel, how they love each other, how they want the shirt, how
they defend. Hopefully we will have the same result.”[1]

And in the Guardian:

“The
boys have prepared to win the Rugby World Cup,”[2]

Jacques Brunel, the French Head Coach has
dismissed this build up hype and reminders of the 2007 embarrassment by saying:

“The opening match is often
decisive in setting the tone, but you must also not give it too much
importance,”[3]

So, what does the data say?

Our ranking model has France ranked 8th just below Argentina in 9th position. Both teams are closer in relative strength and dominance than the official table which places them 8th & 11th respectively.

This is expected to be a tight game as they battle for the promise to get beyond pool stage. Argentina’s narrow loss to New Zealand should give them some heart but we think France will just edge ahead in this contest

New Zealand still dominate the game

New Zealand (ranked 1st) vs South Africa (ranked 4th) 10:45 am Pool B

Widely expected to be a clash of titans, New
Zealand start as current World Cup champions. Confidence will, as always, be
high in the NZ camp. However, the official rankings have seen both Wales then
Ireland, take the No. 1 spot leading commentators to suggest that New Zealand
no longer dominate the show. Whilst they haven’t exceeded expectations in
recent games, this shouldn’t be taken as form for the World Cup. They remain a
strong team and have been consistent over the last 10 years.

And what of South Africa?

South Africa is one of the most physical teams
in the tournament, and with two World Cup wins under their belt, they are in
the running to get to the final. Fielding a strong experienced team, they have
every confidence in themselves to go all the way. But, are they confident they
can win this game? They are definitely backing themselves and with the last
match between the two resulting in a draw, see themselves equally as likely to
win.

These two teams are extremely likely to dominate
the pool but, in this encounter, we predict a New Zealand win.

Italy (ranked 13th) Vs Namibia (ranked 20th)
6:15am

Namibia has played in every World Cup since
1999, but like Russia they are still chasing their first win.

They came close in 2015, scoring a late try
against Georgia but still lost by 1 point. With no history of playing Italy and
as Namibia is firmly seen as the underdog of the tournament ranked in 20th
position, we expect them to lose this game.

Italy has not put many points past their top tier competitors recently but did manage a stomping win over Russia in the August friendly. With Namibia ranked bottom of the table just behind Russia, the score line could be a whitewash for Italy.

Ireland (ranked 3rd) vs Scotland (ranked
7th) 8:45am

As two of the home nations teams, Ireland and
Scotland have played against each other well over 100 times. Scotland are
fielding what they claim is their strongest side ever, but Ireland start this
match officially ranked as World no. 1.

Both teams are expecting to get beyond the pools
and a win in this first game will make that journey easier to achieve for
either of them. Ireland are tipped to win this game, but a strong Scottish team
could upset them on the day.

With Ireland ranked third in our table against
Scotland’s seventh, we agree with the expectations of an Irish win.

England (ranked 2nd) vs Tonga (ranked
16th) 11:15am

Since their period as the best team in the world
with a corresponding World Cup win, England has spent the rest of the decade in
somewhat of a freefall, despite coming close to lifting the trophy again in
2007.

Their opponents Tonga are ranked some 14
positions below them but, there was a time around the turn of 2010 when these
two teams were more evenly matched. Today the situation is far different, with
England making good ranking progress as Tonga went into relative ranking
decline. 

England and Tonga have previously faced each
other twice, both in World Cup settings. Whilst England did win both games,
Tonga remain another team that are passionate and proud and will not let the
status of their opponents dampen their play. Eddie Jones is not underestimating
the Tongans saying that they can be “dangerous”.

To counter this, he has picked a strong,
adaptable side ready to handle the style of play favoured by their Tongan
opponents. Expect an England win, but with a hard-fought battle.


[1] https://www.foxsports.com.au/rugby/rugby-world-cup/rugby-world-cup-countdown-jaguares-morph-into-pumas-for-big-game-hunt/news-story/7ce90ab62fa42a0aa318f62a8cff56c3

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/sport/ng-interactive/2019/sep/14/rugby-world-cup-2019-argentina-team-guide

[3] https://rugby365.com/countries/argentina/brunel-gives-no-10-jersey-to-ntamack-for-pumas-clash

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