In Part 2 of the Lineout’s Crystal Ball for next week’s Rugby World Cup we look at the possible fortunes of the Pool B contestants. As we did in Part 1 we have a look at each of the teams individually based on form and make our predictions from there. Then to spark the debate in pubs and bars we end with our Alternate Reality section and some wild speculations as to what might happen if our predictions all go horribly wrong!
So without any further ado let’s have a look at Pool B.
Japan are an intriguing team and one that with the growth of the sport in Japan and hosts of the next tournament (unless the current issues at time of writing are not resolved) will really want to lay down a marker at this World Cup. Furthermore, they have the luxury of getting their two hardest games out of the way at the beginning of the tournament leaving them to focus on the two matches they will feel they have a chance of winning.
I watched Japan in this year’s Pacific Nations Cup and was in the crowd when they played Fiji in Toronto where despite losing the match, they put up one hell of a contest at times. There is plenty of promise in this team, despite the fact that after a bright start to the Pacific Nations Cup this year they lost momentum. However, with Australian Eddie Jones coaching the team there is plenty of pedigree and rugby nous behind them. I would argue that the team learnt a great deal from the Pacific Nations and will put that experience to good use particularly against the USA. Japan have some very pacy backs and the days of them being pushed around the field up front seem to be a thing of the past. Furthermore, for their final game against the USA they will have a whole week off to rest and prepare.
I imagine that their first game against South Africa will be a relatively painful but useful learning experience as will their next game against Scotland. From there they should be able to be competitive against Samoa despite the Pacific Islanders ultimately overpowering them by the last quarter. That leaves their final game against the USA. As hosts of the next global showdown Japan will be highly motivated to put on a big show. They have the talent and probably more than any World Cup they have appeared in to date the motivation to do well. It will be a close contest but I expect Japan to just get the edge over the USA for their only win of the tournament and finish fourth in the pool. In their final match of Rugby World Cup 2015 against the USA expect to see plenty of the courage and never say die attitude they are famous for.
Big, physical and deceptively fast for their size Samoa are always a problem for any opposition. They will be riding high from a strong showing against New Zealand a few months ago and a strong Pacific Nations campaign which saw them finish in second place just behind Fiji. Despite some of the political turmoil plaguing the game in Samoa, the team has managed to rise above it and be a serious threat to anyone who takes them lightly. Like Fiji in Pool A they have the potential to cause an upset. However, unfortunately for them I can’t quite see it happening this year.
They open their account with a game against the USA whom they will be very familiar with after this year’s Pacific Nations tournament. Although the USA pushed Samoa to the limit, Samoa are unlikely to make the same mistakes twice and should emerge the winners. From there it gets a bit more complicated as they have to face South Africa’s Springboks. They have caused the Springboks plenty of problems in the past and it should be no different this time around, but South Africa should have settled enough from their opening game against Japan that Samoa will be competitive but ultimately fall short of the mark. Samoa then takes on Japan who they dispatched fairly easily a few months ago and I see no reason to expect them not to do the same again.
Their last match against Scotland should be an epic encounter and I predict it to be very close especially as the Samoans will throw everything they have against the Scots in one last guts and glory performance. If it was the Scotland team of a year ago then I would definitely fancy Samoa’s chances of an upset, however the Scotland team of new Coach Vern Cotter is a very different beast and seem to get better with each consecutive outing. As a result, it will be a barnstormer of a match but one which should see Scotland just hold off the Samoans. Consequently Samoa will have provided us with plenty of entertainment but ultimately finish third in the pool.
As mentioned in the Samoa section of this post, a year ago I would have argued that Scotland were in serious danger of not even making it out of the pool stages of this year’s World Cup. However, in the last year Coach Vern Cotter has worked wonders with the team and the wins are starting to come. They were highly competitive in this summer’s warm-up games and had two solid wins against the Italians. Furthermore, they seem to play better with each successive outing.
Scotland’s first match against Japan should be a mere formality especially as they will have had the luxury of seeing how South Africa dismantle Japan a few days previously. With that out of the way, comes a second relatively easy outing for Scotland against the USA, putting them in a good position of 2 for 2 in the crunch pool game against South Africa. Although weak in the scrum itself, there is nothing weak in Scotland’s back row forwards and here right through to their back line they will be able to compete head to head with South Africa, and let’s face it South Africa’s scrum has creaked at times this year. The motivation in this Scottish team is probably at an all time high and they will certainly approach the game with the belief that they can win it. However, as long as South Africa don’t implode the way they did against Argentina this summer in Durban, South Africa should just get the edge over Scotland especially from an experience level.
Scotland’s last match against Samoa should have just as much intensity as the South African game, but whereas I think they will come short against the physicality of South Africa, their electric back line particularly with Stuart Hogg at fullback in the mix should see them power past Samoa in an epic tussle of grit and determination. There will be plenty of sparks and fireworks as both teams attempt to exit the pool stages on a high note, but this new look Scotland just has too much skill and firepower on the day and should see them get the win. Therefore Scotland to ultimately finish a comfortable second in the pool and if they have played well who knows what miracles this team could pull off in the knockout stages?
South Africa have not had a great year let’s face it, and no longer strike fear into the hearts of opposition teams the way they once did. Nevertheless, the two times World Champions are still one of the major forces in International Rugby and are always contenders when there is silverware up for grabs. Despite a rough year especially away from home, this World Cup should be no different for South Africa.
South Africa open their campaign against Japan which should be a good opportunity to settle the nerves and get a comfortable win. Next up come Samoa who have always given the Springboks a run for their money especially at World Cup time. However, provided there are no sudden crises of confidence, the wealth of talent and experience in this current Springbok side should see them get the job done. Nevertheless it will be a very bruising physical encounter and South Africa will be happy to get through it without any injuries, especially with some of their key players such as centre Jean de Villiers and number eight Duane Vermeulen just returning to the Springbok fold after a long layoff.
Next South Africa go up against Scotland which should be the pool decider. As good has Scotland is rapidly becoming, I can’t see them taking down a Springbok side which barring injuries should have built up a significant momentum by this stage as well as being a squad full of self-belief if things have gone according to plan in the first two games. It should be the most exciting game of the pool and expect plenty of surprises but South Africa should emerge the winner. Their last match sees them take on the USA which should be a chance to rest key players while still getting a comfortable win and emerge top of Pool B.
Like Japan, the USA has shown some real improvement in the last few years and this year in particular apart from a serious wobble against Tonga in the Pacific Nations Cup, the USA looked good overall despite some consistent problems with discipline.
That being said, I can’t seem them making much headway in their opening game against Samoa. The sheer physical nature of this encounter should bring out the frustration factor in the USA which should lead to a break down in discipline which has been their Achilles heel this year, with several players narrowly avoiding red cards. Their next match against Scotland will be a very different encounter where the USA will have to work hard to contain Scotland’s increasingly devastating and quick back line. Thus with two hard-fought losses to their name, confidence may be at an all time low by the time they take on their third opponent South Africa. South Africa’s intense physicality and speed in the back line is going to cause the USA all kinds of frustration and heartache resulting once more in the penalty count probably ticking over heavily in favour of the Springboks.
Thus by the time of their final match against Japan, the USA will be desperate to walk away from the tournament with something to show for their efforts other than being cannon fodder for Samoa, Scotland and South Africa. In what should be a very entertaining final contest with Japan, the USA will have to pull out all the stops. However, with Japan’s coaching pedigree in the form of Australia’s Eddie Jones, I can’t help feeling that Japan will just have the tactical edge over the Americans and sneak the win. Therefore expect plenty of bravery and determination from the USA, but ultimately I think they will have to settle for last place in the pool.
Pool B Alternate Reality
So here’s the bit once again where everyone starts calling me a lunatic and hurling insults but may cause some entertaining debates.
South Africa come unstuck against Samoa as nerves, bizarre coaching decisions by Heyneke Meyer and an injury count from hell see Samoa just lose to the Springboks by less than a converted try. Meanwhile, Scotland are on a roll and sweep away Japan and the USA by big margins. South Africa’s crisis in confidence and potential injury list see them come unstuck against a Scottish side who start to really believe in themselves. Scotland get the win over South Africa and end up finishing on top of their pool after a gritty encounter with Samoa which goes down to the wire, leaving South Africa as runners-up. Samoa still hang onto a comfortable third place while the USA repeat their Pacific Nations Cup success against Japan, keep their discipline and take fourth spot in the pool. The Japanese are left with a wooden spoon to take with them as hosts of the next World Cup!
Remember it’s called alternate reality for a reason – now pass me that pint won’t you!