The third weekend of the 2019 Rugby World Cup is behind us.
True to the nature of our sport, and especially this tournament, it brought more refereeing controversy, a Kiwi drubbing of a minnow nation, and a few tough losses for the island nations whose diaspora create the star power of almost all the top teams.
In brighter news, the host nation, Japan, continued their run of clean, winning rugby. They beat Samoa on Saturday night in Tokyo, scoring the all-important bonus point try in the final moments. The win took them to the top of Pool A, setting up a mouth-watering matchup with Scotland on the final night of the pool stage.
So, with essentially one game remaining for every team, this is how the pools stand.
As mentioned, this pool is more than making up for the lack of positive storylines this world cup. The weakest pool in the tournament has the closest thing possible to talent equality. Russia and Ireland are outliers, but Japan shocked Ireland last week and Japan, Scotland and Samoa all cause each other problems for different reasons.
Samoa couldn’t turn it on against Scotland early in the going and now they are on the outside looking in a head of their final match against Samoa. Ireland will likely stomp Samoa, putting them on 16 points. However, all that really matters now is Japan vs Scotland next Sunday.
Scotland must play Russia tomorrow night and will probably secure a bonus point, bringing them to 10 points, 4 points behind Japan. That means they will have to beat Japan) by more than a converted try and cross the line four times themselves ‑ a daunting task in a land more rugby obsessed with each passing day.
Top spot: Japan
Runner up: Ireland
Pool B was decided on the second night of the tournament when the All Blacks defeated the Springboks 23-13. In the standings, New Zealand are win clear with one match to go. Then come South Africa and Italy both on 10 points. However, this is deceptive; Italy must play the All Blacks in their final game and South Africa are lining up against Canada. Crazier things than Italy defeating the Kiwis has happened, but to back Canada against the ‘Boks would be ludicrous, especially in light of Italy’s 49-3 loss to the aforementioned ‘Boks on Saturday.
Top spot: New Zealand
Runner up: South Africa
England is on 15 points; France is on 13. England plays France on Saturday. World Cups are great for two things: minnows beating majors, and two major nations going head to head to decide their fate. This obviously falls in the later. England have looked dominant, even if they did get some help from Nigel Owens on Saturday vs Argentina. France have looked… unpredictable, flashy, unsteady, mercurial.
A typical French team. They showed character when they beat Argentina in the opening week; they showed a lack of it when they almost blew it against Tonga last night. They won’t be able to count on Owen Farrell missing another four kicks at goal in row like he did against the Pumas, that’s for sure.
Top spot: England
Runner up: France
Much like Pool B, Pool D has largely been decided. Wales currently sits on 9 points, but play Fiji on Wednesday and Uruguay on Sunday, two games they should garner maximum points from. Australia (11 points) will be praying Fiji can upset the Red Dragons and give them a chance top finish top spot by blowing out Georgia, giving them the likely France, South Africa route, rather than the far more daunting England, New Zealand route to the final.
In regards to the 22 that will play in the quarter final, what selectors can take from a match against Georgia is questionable, but surely the halves combination of Genia Toomua will be given a good run to check the engine. Australia is one of the only powerhouse nations still making crucial line up decisions, making them an unpredictable oddball, something they will be hopping works in their favour come finals time.
Top spot: Wales
Runner up: Australia