Rugby World Cup Preview: Pool C

Date published: August 26 2015

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The defending champions are the headline act in Pool C as they look to become the first team to win back-to-back World Cups.

They are joined by Rugby Championship rivals Argentina, as well as Tonga, Georgia and Namibia. Having never lost to any of the teams in the group, New Zealand will be red-hot favourites to emerge top, while Argentina will expect to reach the quarter-finals for the third straight tournament, even if Tonga showed four years ago that they should not be underestimated.

Georgia will provide a formidable pack, while Namibia look to be the weakest team in the pool.

Top spot will set up a quarter-final against the runners-up in Pool D, likely either France or Ireland, while the runners-up will play the winner of that pool. The path for the winner then becomes arguably harder than for the runner-up with a potential semi-final against South Africa, while the runner-up would probably face one of England, Argentina or Wales. 

Key fixture:
Argentina v New Zealand

Top spot in the pool should come down to this clash at Wembley which will kick off the tournament for both teams. While Argentina have never beaten the All Blacks, they shouldn't be scared of them having played each other regularly since joining the Rugby Championship. New Zealand will be big favourites though, they've never lost a pool game at the World Cup, and are a long way clear at the top of the world rankings.

Potential upsets: While New Zealand should top the pool, Tonga will hope to take advantage of Argentina's injury woes up front to spring a surprise and sneak second in the group. Four years ago they beat France at this stage, but had already lost to Canada and missed out on the last eight as a result.

Similarly this time around, Georgia will have highlighted their clash with Tonga as winnable. In a complete contrast of styles, Georgia ought to dominate in the tight while trying to keep the Tongan backs quiet.

Fixtures:
Tonga vs Georgia – 19 September, Kingsholm
New Zealand vs Argentina – 20 September, Wembley Stadium
New Zealand vs Namibia – 24 September, Olympic Stadium
Argentina vs Georgia – 25 September, Kingsholm
Tonga vs Namibia – 29 September, Sandy Park
New Zealand vs Georgia – 2 October, Millennium Stadium
Argentina vs Tonga – 4 October, King Power Stadium
Namibia vs Georgia – 7 October, Sandy Park
New Zealand vs Tonga – 10 October, St James' Park
Argentina vs Namibia – 11 October, King Power Stadium


The teams:

ARGENTINA 

Dream scenario: They finish second in the group, setting up a quarter-final against Pool D winners France against whom they have a great record. After turning over les Bleus, they see off Australia in the last four to reach the final for the first time, where they beat the battered and bruised winners of an epic semi-final between New Zealand and South Africa.

Nightmare scenario: Their injury problems up front come back to haunt them, as they are unable to enjoy their usual platform. Tonga take full advantage to surprise them. 

Argentina head into the tournament with problems up front, after tightheads Juan Figallo and Matias Diaz were ruled out. Ramiro Herrera, their first choice tighthead is also unlikely to be fit with a knee problem, despite being included in the squad, leaving the Pumas desperately thin in that area. Elsewhere they have a mix of youth and experience, with coach Daniel Hourcade having given a new generation of players a chance. Opening the pool against New Zealand should take some of the pressure off, especially given the easier path to the final for the runners-up. While Tonga, and even Georgia, won't be easy games, Argentina should reach the last eight. From there they will be underdogs throughout, but are more than capable of beating France or Ireland in a quarter-final. Even a win in the semis is not completely out of the question, although it's hard to see them going all the way.


GEORGIA 

Dream scenario: The Lelos get off to a flying start as they surprise Tonga first up, taking advantage of a dominant pack. They go on to give both Argentina and New Zealand problems in the set-piece before finishing with a convincing win over Namibia that also seals their place at the next World Cup.

Nightmare scenario: An opening defeat to Tonga puts Georgia on the back foot from the start, and they follow that up with heavy losses to the group's two big guns. With morale low, the Georgians are then surprised by Namibia in the final game to finish the tournament winless.

Georgia's tactics won't be complicated. Arguably no team in the tournament has more depth at prop, and very few teams will be able to gain parity with the Georgian scrum. The development of some strong forwards in the back five of the scrum should keep Georgia in most games.

In terms of the pool, they will focus everything on winning their opening fixture against Tonga. They will be underdogs however, having gone down 23-9 at home the last time the teams met, in November 2014. The games against Argentina and New Zealand will be more about performance than result, while anything less than a win over Namibia would be a major disappointment. If the Georgians can beat Tonga, they will likely finish third in the pool, qualifying automatically for the next World Cup in Japan.


NAMIBIA 

Dream scenario: Namibia start off with a respectable loss to New Zealand before a promising display against Tonga in their second match. They then shock Georgia for a first-ever World Cup win at their fifth tournament. If they manage that, the result against Argentina to finish won't matter.

Nightmare scenario: Namibia continue their record of having never won a World Cup game. Overmatched in their pool, they concede more points than any other team in the tournament's history, breaking their own record from 2003.

Having struggled early in their World Cup preparations, Namibia appear to have improved a little with wins over Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Russia twice. The team's strength comes from its Super Rugby contingent, as well as iconic captain Jacques Burger, who will lead by example putting his body on the line. While Namibia will be underdogs for every game, they will have no doubt targeted the clash with Georgia as their best chance of a victory. The majority of their top flight players are in the pack, however fly-half Theuns Kotze, who plays in the French third flight, showed promise four years ago.


NEW ZEALAND 

Dream scenario: After an opening win over Argentina, New Zealand cruise through the group. Ireland in the last eight push them hard without threatening an upset. They then produce a complete performance to turn over South Africa in the semi-finals, before downing England at Twickenham in front of their own fans.

Nightmare scenario: After topping their pool, New Zealand find themselves off to Cardiff to play France, eight years after their only defeat at that stage of the tournament. History repeats itself as les Bleus produce their best performance under Philippe Saint-André to knock out the All Blacks.

New Zealand will expect to top the pool, and having comfortably beaten Argentina already this season, they will be favourites to kick things off with a win. The first choice side should feature in that game, before the rest of the squad get their chance in the remaining games. In 2007 New Zealand strolled through the pool stages without ever being pushed, and the concern is similar could happen here, leaving them a little undercooked for the knock-out stages. Still, the likes of Argentina and Georgia should put their pack through their paces if nothing else, while a final pool game against Tonga will be used to iron out any remaining problems.


TONGA 

Dream scenario: A strong start against Georgia is followed up with a convincing win over Namibia as all the squad is given a chance to play one game. Tonga then overpower Argentina with their hard carrying, while gaining parity up front against a weakend Pumas scrum. They lose their final game of the pool against New Zealand, before a hardfought loss in the quarter-finals to complete their most successful tournament to date.

Nightmare scenario: A nightmare start sees Tonga beaten by Georgia as they fail to deal with the Lelos scrum. After turning over Namibia, they are then well-beaten by Argentina, before finishing up with a big loss to the All Blacks to complete a disappointing tournament.

The pressure will be on in the first game for Tonga, who will need to cope with the powerful Georgian pack. Their performances in the Pacific Nations Cup will bode well on that front, with their only defeat coming against Fiji. Their pack is full of experience, with the vast majority having at the last World Cup. They do have an aging pack however, and the five-day turnaround between the clash against Namibia and the big game against Argentina. If they can deal with that, they could yet surprise the Pumas, as they did France in their final pool game in New Zealand in 2011.


Pool Prediction: New Zealand should top the group comfortably enough, beating Argentina in the first match before cruising through the remaining games. Argentina will be too strong for Tonga, while Georgia will have to settle for a win over Namibia despite giving the Tongans a scare first up.

1. New Zealand
2. Argentina
3. Tonga
4. Georgia
5. Namibia

 

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