In Part 3 of the Lineout’s Crystal Ball for next week’s Rugby World Cup we look at the possible fortunes of the Pool C contestants. As we did in Parts 1 and 2, 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 C.
One of the most improved sides in international rugby in the last ten years, Argentina have risen through the ranks to now proudly hold their place amongst the top ten nations in the sport, and on their day are able to compete with and beat the best. After their most successful Rugby Championship to date this year where they finished third ahead of South Africa after an epic win against the Springboks in Durban, there can be little doubt that the Pumas are heading into this World Cup full of confidence. Of concern will be the fact that on the return fixture in Buenos Aires against South Africa, Argentina lacked much of the shine they showed in Durban and keeping their key players fit will be a major concern for the Pumas. Question marks still centre around the match fitness of prop Ramiro Herrera, and his influence in helping Argentina dominate forward play through one of the world’s best scrums will be crucial – his absence in the match against South Africa in Buenos Aires was painfully obvious.
Argentina start their campaign with their biggest game of the pool stages and possibly the tournament as they take on Rugby Championship rivals New Zealand. Although never having beaten the All Blacks the Pumas have always looked competitive against New Zealand and have often been able to disrupt their rhythm. Expect a monumental clash as both sides seek to clinch first spot in the pool. While I expect Argentina to run New Zealand close at times ultimately New Zealand will likely be too clinical in their first outing as defending World Cup champions. From here on though Argentina should sail comfortably through the pool stages. Their main concern in the remaining games, in addition to making a clean sweep of it, will be to avoid injuries in some very physical games. Their next opponents Georgia are no strangers to intense forward battles. However, the Argentine scrum is such a highly perfected platform they should be able to quickly gain the ascendancy over Georgia and walk away comfortable winners especially once they cut their back line loose.
Next up is another bruising encounter with Tonga. Tonga is a strong side that should be able to match the Argentinians for power and pace, but the Pumas superior finishing and tactical skills should get them a gritty win. However, just like the Georgian game injury worries will be a concern. Argentina end their pool campaign with a game against Namibia who sadly as the lowest ranked team in the tournament are unlikely to pose much of a challenge. This should be a chance for Argentina to rest any players as necessary as well as give their B side a good run out. So in short, a relatively easy albeit physical ride to the knockout stages for Argentina as runners-up in second place.
Georgia in the last few years has made great strides in making their claim to be a force to be reckoned with in international rugby with increasing interest in the country eventually being included in an expanded Six Nations tournament. Georgia boasts a passionate fan base and the game has a huge following at home. With large numbers of their players serving their time in European Club rugby, Georgia is now boasting some significant international experience. Georgia are well-known for their physical power and a strong forward game and as a result we can expect them to be highly competitive.
Georgia’s opening encounter with Tonga should be a very physical encounter. If Georgia can contain the Tongan back line and force them to lose their discipline up front (an Achilles heel for Tonga), then I am predicting a close win for Georgia. This will give them the confidence to take on Argentina. As mentioned above I can’t see Argentina losing this fixture, but I do expect to see Georgia give Argentina a real workout. As a neutral you would want to see Georgia do well against the Pumas in order to take some real confidence into their next daunting encounter with New Zealand.
In their game against New Zealand, I expect Georgia to play with exceptional courage and determination and win the hearts of all the neutral supporters in the crowd at the Millenium Stadium. I don’t imagine they will be daunted in the slightest by taking on the world’s best, however I can’t really see anything other than an emphatic win for the New Zealanders against a highly spirited challenge from the Georgians.
Georgia’s last game with Namibia, should see them comfortably walk away with the win and third place in the pool as well as a renewed sense of respect from the international rugby community. Georgia have always been fan favourites at World Cups and it is my hope that this will continue in this tournament and help give them the encouragement that is so beneficial to the development of the sport in tier two countries.
Just like Uruguay in Pool A, your heart has to go out to Namibia. Although not quite the pool of death that Uruguay finds itself in, Pool C is still an enormous challenge for Namibia ranked 20th in the world. You know that just as they have always done, Namibia will play with plenty of heart and courage, and we all really hope that they don’t end up simply as cannon fodder for the other teams in the pool.
Namibia start their World Cup campaign with a baptism of fire against New Zealand. With no disrespect to Namibia all they can really hope for in this match is that the scoreline doesn’t end up like a cricket score. It probably won’t be pretty as New Zealand walk away very comfortable winners. Providing they are not too shell-shocked from their encounter with the All Blacks it is hoped Namibia can regroup and put up a good fight against the very physical Tongans. Once again though, while I expect the scoreline to be much closer, I doubt that Namibia will be able to upset the Tongans.
Next up it’s another punishing physical challenge against Georgia. Once again expect a great deal of heart from Namibia, but the considerable international experience of many of Georgia’s squad should see them get the win over a feisty Namibian effort. Lastly, Namibia take on Argentina and the end of the road for their World Cup adventure. Argentina’s tactical superiority up front and enterprising back line should see the Pumas claim an easy win and Namibia have to settle for last place in the pool. It`s going to be a very tough road for Namibia this year, but like for all the smaller nations you really hope neutral spectators at the grounds Namibia will play at will really get behind the team and allow them to leave the World Cup with a real sense of appreciation for their efforts and pride in their achievements.
Two times World Champions and tournament favourites New Zealand have ironically ended up in probably the easiest of pools for a team of their stature. While the tag of favourites to lift the Webb Ellis trophy on October 31st can often be a curse, New Zealand have been there before and it is still going to take a pretty exceptional team to deny the All Blacks from living up to expectations.
New Zealand open their account against Argentina, in a match that will essentially decide who takes 1st and 2nd spot in the pool. Barring any major surprises, Pool C is essentially over after this match. New Zealand will come out no doubt wanting to make the statement that their tag of tournament favourites is completely justified. Argentina will be no pushover and they have the ability to rattle the All Black structure and unsettle their plans. However, while it may be close at times, I just can’t help feeling that in New Zealand’s big game of the pool stages they will pull out all the stops and walk away comfortable winners in the end.
For the rest of the pool, and this is said in no disrespect to any of New Zealand’s other pool opponents, the All Blacks will essentially get three warm-up games for the knockout stages. For Namibia’s sake you really hope that New Zealand don’t emerge with a cricket score victory, but would be surprised if New Zealand walked away with anything less than at least a 30 point winning margin. Georgia will provide New Zealand with some excellent scrummaging practise but once again the All Blacks should completely overpower Georgia once they find their rhythm. Their last match sees them take on the very physical but ill-disciplined Tonga. Injuries will probably be a worry for New Zealand in this match and their last outing before the knockout stages, so expect to see the vast majority of their key players rested for this one. As a result, even though New Zealand should get a relatively easy win the scoreline should be reflective of a sterling and respectable effort from the Tongans.
So bit of a no brainer here, New Zealand to finish on top of the pool after, apart from the Argentinian game, the easiest ride of all the countries tipped to be in the hunt for the Webb Ellis trophy this year.
In short take this team lightly at your peril, and while Tonga won’t make it out of the pools, they will be competitors right to the very end of every game. Intensely physical and famous for the passion for which they play for the shirt, Tonga is always a tricky prospect. With big powerful forwards and pacy backs Tonga are always a force to be reckoned with as France found to their cost in the pool stages of the last World Cup. Nevertheless as much potential as Tonga has, they are often let down by poor organisation and woeful discipline which has seen them hold the red card record in the tournament’s history.
Tonga get their campaign going against Georgia, and I must say as a neutral this is a game I am really looking forward to. It should be close as both teams are very evenly matched in terms of skill levels. However, I can’t help feeling that Georgia are able to maintain slightly cooler heads under pressure than Tonga. Tonga will play with plenty of passion but sometimes this passion can get in the way of discipline and composure under pressure. It will go down to the wire and should be a real contest, but I think Georgia will just sneak the win.
Tonga then take on Namibia, in what I see to be a fairly one-sided contest, with Tonga getting a relatively comfortable win. After that Tonga get to face up to the Pumas who should be able to tactically out think them as well as dominate the forward play through better discipline. Tonga’s final game against New Zealand should be well worth watching even though the outcome will ultimately favour New Zealand. Tonga’s reputation of being utterly fearless against the best sides in the world will be much in evidence. As Tonga’s last game of the tournament they will want to do the shirt proud and put in a big performance against the best side in the world. Expect the sparks to fly and New Zealand will surely be concerned about keeping the body count to a minimum. As a result they may hold back some of their key players allowing Tonga to put up a credible resistance. The scoreline will most likely not be a runaway victory for New Zealand and I expect Tonga to run them very close at times. New Zealand will get the victory but Tonga will emerge with their pride intact and respect restored, as they exit the pool and the tournament in fourth place.
Pool C 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. Although for this pool I really struggled to come up with much of an alternate reality, as the outcome is pretty certain whichever way you cut it – anyway here goes and let the daggers fly!
Argentina, fully fit and motivated to play one of the biggest games in the history of the Pumas, come out and catch New Zealand completely off guard. Similar to their runaway blitz of tries in Durban earlier in the year, the Pumas build a healthy lead early on. New Zealand struggle to come to grips with a script they were not expecting, as well as some of their key players not playing with their customary finesse. New Zealand regroup but it is too little too late and Argentina walk away with a 3 point victory as their defence just proves to be impenetrable. Argentina keep up the momentum from this match and make a clean sweep of the pool clinching top spot. New Zealand as they always do, regroup and annihilate their remaining opponents to finish second. Meanwhile Tonga bring their customary passion to the pool coupled with a water-tight sense of discipline and put Georgia and Namibia to the sword as well as running Argentina close, finishing in third place. Georgia get the inevitable win over Namibia and clinch fourth place. Not much change in Namibia’s fortunes in last place I’m afraid.
“It’s life Jim, but not as we know it” – now pass me that pint would you!