World Cup Preview: Pool A

Date published: September 15 2011

All the talk around Pool A has been about New Zealand's clash with their nemesis – France.

All the pre-tournament talk around Pool A has been about New Zealand's clash with their arch nemesis France, but beyond the battle for pool supremacy an intriguing tussle awaits.

While the hosts and les Bleus are clear favourites for the top spots, the battle between the other three for third place is set to be red hot.

Tonga are currently ranked 12th in the world, above Japan at 13th and Canada at 14th. Enough said!

Rugby World Cup betting odds.

Many All Black fans cringed when it was revealed that France would be in their group. The Kiwi's record for falling foul of the Cockerels is well documented but you can bet your bottom NZD that Graham Henry's team would rather face the French in the pool stages than in the high-pressure situation of the knock-outs.

The opener against Tonga will allow the All Blacks to get into their stride and Japan will provide a confidence boost before the big showdown in Auckland on September 24.

At home, with the world's number one ranked team, we really don't see King Richie and co. failing to win the group. Unless, of course, Dan-the-Man gets injured….

Last World Cup: Quarter-finals
Sky Bet odds: Top group 1/8 ; Top Tryscorer Cory Jane 9/2
Key player: Dan Carter
Pool prediction: 1st

What can we expect from the French? Who knows?! As usual, it's almost impossible to tell. On paper, France have a fantastic team and arguably the best scrum in the world. On their day, they're capable of beating anyone and coach Marc Lièvremont reckons that after two months in a training camp and consecutive wins over Ireland, they're better prepared than they've ever been.

But that old inconsistency bug has a habit of biting them in the derrière. Can you name France's regular starting XV? Does such a thing exist these days?

France – in theory – are much to good to be upset by any of the three smaller teams in this group, but since their game against the All Blacks isn't a knock-out clash, history suggests they'll be second best.

Like New Zealand, they'll have two easy games to get the ball rolling before the grand rendez-vous at Eden Park. If they lose there, their last game against Tonga, could be a tricky one.

Last World Cup: Fourth
Sky Bet odds: Top group 9/2; Top try scorer Cedric Heymans 40/1
Key player: Thierry Dusautoir
Pool prediction: 2nd

Tonga were one of the big surprises of the last World Cup, finishing third in Pool A behind South Africa and England thanks to wins over the USA and Samoa.

It's tough to predict what they'll do at this year's edition since the last time they could put their strongest team together was back in 2007! They've averaged barely over four Test per year since the last World Cup so continuity is always going to be an issue.

Tonga have some very good players for such a small nation and judging by a massive numbers at the airport when they arrived, they'll have huge support.

They'll expect to beat Canada and revenge for defeat in the Pacific Nations Cup will be on their minds when they face Japan on September 21.

To be honest, our prediction below is based more on reputation than recent results as that showdown with the Japanese could go either way.

Last World Cup: 3rd in Pool A
Sky Bet odds: Top pool 150/1; Beat New Zealand 66/1
Key player: Soane Tonga'uiha
Pool prediction: 3rd

Japan are the Asian rugby champions but boast only one win and a draw from their previous six World Cup tournaments, with eighteen defeats.

Yet the Brave Blossoms could be an outside bet to edge Tonga and finish third in this pool. The men from the Land of the Rising Sun have made huge strides forward since the last World Cup, where they lost 35-31 to Fiji (who beat Wales) before drawing 12-12 with Canada.

All the signs are pointing in the right direction for coach John Kirwan, starting with winning the Pacific Nations Cup for the first time this year – thanks to victory over pool rivals Tonga. In fact they've beaten the Islanders in their last five encounters! More impressively, Japan almost upset Italy in the warm-up games having led at half-time before rumbled by the Azzurri pack.

Another good win over the USA last month will give the Japanese confidence ahead of their rematch with Canada, which is their last game.

Last World Cup: 4th in Pool B
Sky Bet odds: Top pool 250/1; Beat France 66/1
Key player: James Arlidge
Pool prediction: 4th


Coach Kieran Crowley believes this is the strongest side Canada have ever assembled and there are 11 veterans of World Cup 2007.

But judging by their warm-up games, the Canucks are set for a rough ride.

Canada's main objective will be to avoid bottom place in the group which will be decided by their clashes with Japan and Tonga. A repeat of their 2007 draw with the Japanese would be a solid result.

Last World Cup: Last in Pool B
Sky Bet odds: 200/1
Key player: DTH Van der Merwe
Pool prediction: 5th