Monday, September 14, 2015

#RWC2015 - Pool A Preview

hor rwc2015 logo
 
The preseason is over, the warmups have been played, much discussion was carried out in smoke-filled rooms…now it’s finally time to formally announce our official HarpinOnRugby #RWC Match Writeup squad for the World Cup.
 
As expected, a whole lot of quality didn’t make the plane, but that only serves to show those who did how much they need to respect the HoR jersey….
 
…..OK I reckon you can see where I’m going with that intro, likening our writeup squad to a World Cup one, etc.  No need to harp on like that any more eh?  Let’s get on with it….there are four pools to preview!!!
 
It’s our aim to cover all 48 matches at the World Cup using our “8-0-review” format which we have introduced this season, with the exception of course of Ireland’s matches which will get full feature writeups on the Monday as always.
 
Including myself we have 4 contributors covering a pool each and between us we’ll be posting previews over the coming days.
 
So allow me to introduce our first RWC reviewer - Big Joe Shep who will be keeping an eye on Pool A. 
 
 
bigjoeshep
 
“Pool of Death”
 
or
 
If You’re Going To Win The Cup, You Need To Beat Whoever, so “Man Up!”

Introduction:
 
So, the Rugby World Cup 2015 is almost here eh? Having been asked by the Dark Lord at Harpin Manor to write the 8 - 0 Reviews throughout the competition on Pool “A” or as some are calling it (and let’s face it, it’s a grossly overused term!) the Pool Of Death, I put fingers to keyboard to see how it looks before it all begins.
 
Pool “A”:
 
Ok, so the draw threw up 4 teams who are currently in the World Rugby Top 10 Rankings! Australia remain 2nd, England up from 6th to 4th, Wales and Fiji remain at 6th and 9th respectively and the complete outsiders Uruguay sit in 19th position.
 
The burning question has been which out of the favoured 3, (That’s England, Australia & Wales apparently…………) will make it to the Quarter Finals. I say the Favoured 3, but I wouldn’t be so keen to completely write off Fiji with the potential at setting at least one shock result in this group?
 
Backing:
 
The bookies have England at 4/1, Australia at 8/1, Wales at 25/1 (having slipped out from 16/1 only 2 weeks ago), Fiji at 1000/1 and Uruguay at 5000/1!
 
Previous RWC Performances:
 
Team
Winners
Runners
Up
3rd Place
4th Place
Remarks
England
1
1
1
1

Australia
2
2
0
1

Wales
0
0
1
1

Fiji
0
0
0
0
RWC Best: Q/F in 1987, 1999 & 2007
Uruguay
0
0
0
0
RWC Best: 3rd in Pool in 1999

The Protagonists:
 
England:
 
Strengths / Opportunities -
England play their initial 3 pool games (Fiji, Wales then the Wallabies) at Twickenham and by the time they go to the City of Manchester Stadium to play Uruguay, they will know if it’s a plethora of points or just simply a win that is required?
 
Whilst their pack is ok and can do the business when required with No 8 / Flanker Billy Vunipola and Lock Courtney Lawes being the stand outs for me, their real strength lies in the backs. Players like Watson, Joseph, Ford, Slade, Care, Brown and Jonny May, (who epitomises the development of certain players in the England setup) have the capabilities to set the game alight. It’s the standing start to maximum the England team can produce that will potentially set them apart.
 
In addition, if England finish top they could conceivably avoid New Zealand / S. Africa playing potentially Scotland then either France / Ireland as they progress.
 
Weaknesses / Threats -
The English weaknesses I have selected are only 2 points but ones I believe could cost them. Firstly the current rising crop of English players MAY be better suited to the RWC 2019 when they mature and “Grow” into a complete team. The successes they have had to date are for me, borne from the individual talents like those I mention above but NOT as a collective grouping. You can often see this with the frustrations of Mike Brown, a truly gifted player but whose temperament (and aforementioned frustrations) is mirrored by how the team is playing?
 
The second issue is leadership. I don’t like either Robshaw nor coach Stuart Lancaster. I believe Robshaw whilst a good player, is a bit overrated and is better when allowed to play JUST his game. Lancaster whilst he HAS turned around a dreadful mess left behind post 2011 has only excuses and explanations constantly for why they haven’t achieved the successes everyone is waiting for? Four successive 2nd places in the 6 Nations leaves many wondering can they do it this time? Are they still an Army of Lions lead by a Sheep?
 
RWC Success / Failure?
Given that this competition has been England Rugby’s focus for the last 3 ½ years AND if they gel during this RWC, then given home advantage and their past history, it will be hard to not see them having a great tournament and potentially winning but I suspect that “Gelling” won’t be seen this time around. SEMI-FINALS
 
Australia:
 
Strengths / Opportunities -
The Wallabies have come a long way in 12 months under new coach Michael Chieka including winning an abridged Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship. Having the rules changed to allow their foreign based players such as Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell will add a huge level of experience given those 2 alone have circa 160 caps between them. The pack is developing. With David Pocock at Flanker, 140 Kg / 22 St of Will Skelton in the 2nd row and Hooker / Skipper, Stephen Moore in there, you would have to say there’s always going to be a threat. In the Backs, there is the explosiveness of one Israel Folau, “RATU” (Prince) Henry Speight on the wing along with the likes of Will Genia, Quade Cooper and Tevita Kuridrani, it would be hard to argue against them having a good chance of getting out of the pool as well.
 
Weaknesses / Threats -
The one key issue against Australia is that they might not have had just enough time under Coach Cheika to be the team that can do enough to win the World Cup. If they finish Runners Up in the Pool, they’ll potentially have a Quarter Final against S. Africa. It has been both said and seen that on occasions they can implode. Perhaps the narrow win against N. Zealand followed by a hammering the next match by the same was an indication that whilst improving, they’re not yet there?
 
RWC Success / Failure?
Given what Cheika has achieved and their success in the Rugby Championship they could go close but I suspect they are a year away from full potential. SEMI FINALS
 
Wales:
 
Strengths / Opportunities -
Warren Gatland is the first strength……………...The Welsh have won 9 from a possible 12 games through the 2014 - 2015 period including victories over S. Africa and Fiji and a narrow loss to Australia which gives an indication of where they are. Gatland has had them drilled hard in the heat of Qatar and at 2,250M altitude in the Swiss Alps. They have some seasoned players in an extremely strong set of forwards with skipper Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Alun Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau and Wales 116 times capped Prop Gethin Jenkins. In the backs, wingers Alex Cuthbert & George North, Centre Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate are both experienced and formidable.
 
Wales have an excellent attack capability and indeed it opens up the park extremely quickly. I think though it will take the younger element of the Welsh side to help turn the game for them and seeing the likes of Cory Allen and Hallam Amos getting game time will only illustrate that.
 
Weaknesses / Threats -
Warren Gatland is the first weakness…………… His whole demeanour whether you excuse it as mind games or acceptable as part of the professional game leaves a lot to be desired and I think his focus can on occasions be more on those than on the squad? The losses of Jonathan Davies, Rhys Webb and especially world class Full Back Leigh Halfpenny will have an enormous impact on the side and I don’t believe that Gats will deal with that well.
 
I also would say that whilst I believe Gatland has had them at less than full on during the warm ups, they looked very shaky against Italy who matched them in virtually all statistics and indeed scored 2 tries to 1? George North isn’t the player he was following a series of concussions, the loss of 3 key players and whilst experienced, some of the great players above are getting on a tad?
 
RWC Success / Failure?
A number of factors will contribute to the Welsh success or failure. I believe though that the loss of key players, aging experience and the Gatland factor all mean, for me the Welsh are passed their current prime. I would even go as far as to say that out of the Favoured 3, Wales will be the most likely for Fiji to turn over an upset!
POOL STAGE
 
Fiji:
 
Strengths / Opportunities -
A strong 2015 sees the IRB Pacific Nations Cup Champions bring their blend of charisma and open flowing rugby to the world stage. Many of their squad ply their trade in top flight leagues across Europe, including the likes of Niko Matawalu and the awesome 2nd row Leone Nakawara from Pro 12 Champions, Glasgow Warriors, Josh Matavesi of Ospreys, their 35 times capped centre Niki Goneva who plays with Leicester Tigers and their skipper, Montpelliers openside flanker, Akapusi Qera who is at his 3rd RWC and 2nd as Captain and who is the basis for their attacking game.
 
There are indeed other exciting Fijian players, but one…..one stands out! Nemani Nadolo or to give him his full name, Ratu Nemani Driu Nasiganiyavi, the 6’5’’ and 20 stone winger / centre who is also a bit special because he can kick!! And yes, he is also a “RATU” (Prince). He has in fact scored some 15 Tries, 18 Conversions & 16 Penalties in ONLY 20 games for Fiji. His team record at Super League side Waratahs is pretty similar and so you have to say, this is a guy to watch out for. Fiji only lost 17 - 13 to a strong Welsh side last year with only 14 men for the last quarter.
 
 
Weaknesses / Threats -
Whilst they have some great individual players, they have a limited record against Tier 1 opponents (9 wins since 1952!). The famous victory against Wales, 38 - 34 in 2007 was amongst them and the battling quarter final game against South Africa are amongst the highlights. They do though lack the overall capability to stake a claim against higher level opposition.
 
RWC Success / Failure?
Bob Dwyer, the coach of the Australian 1991 RWC champions said, “Fiji are a serious threat. They are capable of one big result. That will ensure that whoever they beat won’t get out of the pool”. Whilst I genuinely believe that this is likely and cannot wait to see their star player in full swing, I cannot unfortunately see them advance further.
POOL STAGE
 
Uruguay:
 
Strengths / Opportunities -
Los Teros or Uruguay are a semi-professional rugby team who are attending their 3rd RWC and again they are an improving side but with only circa 4 professional players, they are 5000/1 for a reason. They played well against a stronger Russian side in the playoffs to achieve a well earned victory and a place at RWC 15 but since beating a Georgia side in the 2003 RWC pool match, they had slipped back. Now though perhaps there is a glimmer of an upward rise, at least within their own level? That said, apparently against Argentina, they have Played 40 and Lost 46 according to WikiPedia!!! Even by South American standards, that’s an unfortunate record lol!! Key player is Scrum-half Agustín Ormaechea, a former 7s star. 
 
Weaknesses / Threats -
They will be without their talisman, Rodrigo Capo Ortega who has played some 300 times for French Top 14 club Castres. He unexpectedly announced his retirement from the international game following the win against Russia. There is speculation that pressure was mounted by his club NOT to play for his country in RWC 15. Whilst no hard evidence supports this, he has been unavailable for comment and it is not the first time allegations against Top 14 clubs! Under World Rugby Regulation 9, clubs are obliged to release all players during an international window BUT if no-one makes a complaint and IF repeat IF a club is offering a player huge monies to stay away (oh and for the purposes of legality, I am hypothesising honest!!!) then what can World Rugby do!??!
 
RWC Success / Failure?
Even in fairy tales, there is only so much one can hope for. I hope they play to the best and enjoy the experience. It will certainly improve their standing on a world stage by achieving qualification. A little way off to be fair but I hope they get a couple of special moments to take away. Create some memories guys.
 
POOL STAGE
 
Who And What To Look Out For!
 
Amongst others, Fiji’s giant try scoring and point kicking Nemani Nadolo and 6’5’’ Flanker Perceli Yato, Englands George Ford, Henry Slade & Mike Brown, Australia’s 2nd rower Will Skelton and Fullback Israel Folau, Welsh youngster Hallam Amos,  Georgian Tighthead Prop forward Davit Zirakashvili, Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw and collectively, the USA Eagles blistering runners, Samoa and not forgetting the Japanese scrum!

 
Conclusion:
 
Yep, well there we have it, talking points, thoughts to digest, writing off the Welsh, looking for a shock from Fiji and it’s ONLY the Pool “A” preview! I’ll put my neck on the line and say that the 1/4s progressing to Semi - Finalists (those in BOLD)  will be; South Africa / AUSTRALIA v NEW ZEALAND / France and IRELAND / Argentina v ENGLAND / Scotland with an Ireland v New Zealand Final.
 
(Oh……… and I would watch Pool “B” and see just how close, Samoa, Japan & USA make it difficult for Scotland and South Africa)
 
The Big Fella

@bigjoeshep is the Owner and Head of Information & Knowledge Management atDigital Knowledge Zone.   An avid Leinster & Ireland Rugby fan, he came to rugby at the late age of 24, was a tight head prop, had at least 2 good runs in every game and retired at only 36 after 3 operations on his legs and now forms the 4th "virtual" person in a front row each time his beloved teams are playing (much to the annoyance of his suffering girlfriend who has to put up with being "embraced" by the Big Fella at each scrum!!!)
TOMORROW - POOL B

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