With the Rugby World Cup having just finished its penultimate round of the pool stages, what are the notable trends from the action? Two Cents Rugby investigates.
In the last 10 years, the All Blacks have lost to Argentina and Ireland for the first time. Italy are still in the boat of having not beaten New Zealand, but at this World Cup we have seen the All Blacks lose a pool game for the first time in their history. Going into the Italy clash, there was a touch of doubt. However, that was expunged as they romped home to a 96-17 win.
This Italy side lost all of their games in the Six Nations this year, so you could argue any doubts were crazy in the first place. But it’s a young team which went down by respectable scorelines and managed a losing bonus-point against France.
Italy may have been below their recent standards, but still you’d look at this All Blacks outfit and say they have it in them to beat anyone when they get things to click.
Fiji need to embrace being a favourite. They have a side who can devastate with attacking flair, but also a set-piece and kicking game to compete with the best.
Their win over Australia was built on the back of great work at the breakdown and kicking penalties rather than traditional Fijian 7s style. However, against Georgia, a game where they were projected to win comfortably, they were pushed all the way until the final minute.
Fiji are still heading for a quarter-final barring a meltdown against Portugal in their final game, but they could use a dominant performance in that game to take that momentum heading into the last-eight.
The Fijians are a great team but they need to improve their mentality.
With only eight pool stage games to go, the quarter-final match-ups are already being plotted out with a big focus on the Pool A and Pool B clashes.
Questions are being asked about France possibly facing South Africa, and if Ireland will atone for 2019 against the All Blacks. But Scotland are still very much still in the race with a do or die clash against Ireland.
Despite fielding a much-changed side, they put Romania to the sword with an 84-0 scoreline, which is more than Ireland or South Africa were able to rack up.
They’ll still go into the Ireland encounter as massive underdogs as they haven’t beaten the Irish since 2017, but Andy Farrell will not be sleeping on the threat the Scots pose, while South Africa will watch on with interest.
Japan finally click
With England having won all of their games, it’s been interesting to watch Argentina, Japan and Samoa battle it out for that second spot in Pool D.
Japan did their job against Chile well enough and didn’t convert on their chances against England, but things might just be coming right with their win over Samoa.
Japan had to work for their victory, and they are getting used to doing more with less. In every game this World Cup they’ve had less than 50% possession. But encouragingly, their metres per carry have gotten better game on game and their handling errors were the lowest they’ve been thus far against Samoa. They even managed to vary things up by scoring a maul try against a bigger Samoan pack.
Their showdown with Argentina in the final week of play is definitely must-watch viewing with both sides looking to reach the levels we’ve seen in the not too distant past.
South Africa rounded out their pool stage with a 49-18 win over Tonga. That match was ‘Ikale Tahi’s best performance of the tournament thus far, and the Springboks still managed the win despite a raft of changes to the playing side.
Deon Fourie enjoyed his first-ever Test in the number two jersey and his first start there since playing hooker for Lyon in 2018. Marco van Staden came on as the replacement hooker, Grant Williams had another Test on the wing, Duane Vermuelen was on the flank and it was Handre Pollard’s first Test match in over a year.
Even with all these factors, the Springboks came away with the win and the bonus point they were looking for. It may not have been a complete performance, but it was certainly experience in the bank for a number of players and more outside the box thinking from the South African coaching team.
Assuming they get through to a quarter-final, they’ll have more options than most in picking their side.