In Part 4 and the last of the Lineout’s Crystal Ball musings for next week’s Rugby World Cup we look at the possible fortunes of the Pool D contestants. As we did in Parts 1-3, 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 D.
Let’s face it the last two years have not been kind to Canada with only 5 wins out of 17 games. This is a side that on paper should simply be doing so much better than it is. The team boasts plenty of talent and some big name players in European Club rugby with winger DTH van der Merwe being instrumental in Glasgow Warriors’ winning form in this year’s Pro 12 series. Other players like Jamie Cudmore and Jeff Hassler bring further European top-level club rugby pedigree to the side matched alongside some exciting young players who have also made a name for Canada on the Sevens circuit. Despite all this talent, something is just not clicking for the Canadians at the moment and it is hoped that some of the right glue is found before their World Cup opener against Ireland.
Yes that’s right, a side struggling with form gets a baptism of fire in their opening World Cup match against back to back Six Nations champions Ireland. For many, how Canada does in this match will set the tone for the rest their campaign. Ireland are likely to field a strong side in their own opening match, and Canada will be hard pressed to match Ireland’s clinical intensity and mastery of the set-piece and speed at the breakdown. Therefore, despite all the best intent in the world, expect a spirited Canadian performance but a game that Ireland should walk away from comfortable winners.
After this match it is time to regroup for a match that, if Canada are to make a statement that their dramatic dip in form of the last two years is a thing of the past, they really have to win. Italy are not in the greatest form at the moment themselves despite the potential they have. Nevertheless this is still going to be an exceptionally tough game for Canada. If as likely Canada face an almost full strength Italian side they are going to find it hard to come away with anything other than a narrow loss. Italy when it matters against weaker teams are more than capable of putting in big performances and this match should be no exception.
It simply doesn’t get any easier for Canada as they then have to take on France. Pool D is being tipped as a two-horse race between France and Ireland, and Canada will be hard pressed to put one past a French side that is also desperate to prove to its critics that is a real World Cup contender. If the French are well organised in defence, then French flair in their back line should see them get past some solid Canadian grit and determination.
Canada’s last game against Romania will in many ways be the most important for this group of players as it will be their last chance to salvage some pride from a potentially disappointing World Cup. Here though the worrying shadow of form rears its ugly head once again as Canada have lost their last two encounters with Romania. However, I really believe that this side has too much talent to leave the World Cup without a win, and therefore am handing Canada a win here and a departure from the tournament finishing in fourth place in their pool.
The World Cup’s greatest variable – the French! A side which has come so close so many times, turned the odds upside down on countless occasions and given us probably the greatest game in the tournament’s history – their upset win over New Zealand in the 1999 semi-final. A World Cup without the French simply wouldn’t be a World Cup, and even though they usually have been written off by the time the proceedings get underway they somehow invariably end up finding themselves in the semi-finals and have a remarkable track record of going all the way to the final. Will this year be any different – who knows? Yes on paper they simply don’t match up but that has never stopped them in the past!
France open their account in this year’s World Cup against Italy and expect fireworks aplenty. However, injury woes in the Italian camp should see the French settle their nerves and just close out an edgy Italian challenge. They then get a chance to take their foot off the gas a bit against Romania and barring any hiccoughs should win this game comfortably. Canada will provide them with their next challenge and at the last World Cup Canada caused France some serious difficulty at times. However this Canadian team is not quite the “beardos” crew of 2011 and France should emerge from the game with a straightforward win.
Then comes one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the Pool Stages as France go head to head with their Six Nations rivals Ireland. Expect this match to have the intensity of a quarter-final as the loser will most likely have to face New Zealand in the first round of the knock out stages. Ireland, despite dipping a bit in form since the Six Nations, still have a stronger game plan and tactical structure than France. It should be an epic contest but unless France suddenly come up with a game plan rather than relying on individual talent of which they have plenty, Ireland should get the better of the Men in Blue, leaving France to claim second place in the Pool.
Probably the World Cup’s greatest underachievers, even with one of the greatest players the game has ever seen in their ranks – the legendary Brian O’Driscoll, Ireland this year feel they have a chance to compete for the ultimate prize. The World Cup has not been kind to Ireland over the years and teams which have held so much promise have never made it beyond the quarter-final stage. Under the tutelage of new coach Joe Schmidt who is probably one of the best rugby brains in the international game right now, surely Ireland’s fortunes are set to change!
Ireland get their campaign underway with a match against a Canadian side that boasts lots of talent but are suffering from one of the worst track records in Canadian history in terms of producing results. It will be a big physical challenge and Canada should still give Ireland a solid workout to settle the nerves and make sure their structures are clicking properly. After what should be a gritty but ultimately comfortable win against Canada, Ireland then get a chance to put the finishing touches to their game plan, tighten up any weaknesses exposed in the Canadian game and also give some of their first choice players a rest and some game time for their second string team as they take on Romania. Once again this should be a fairly straightforward outing for the Irish, and set them up 2 for 2 going into the remaining two matches where the real work of their World Cup campaign begins.
Ireland’s game against Italy should see the Men in Green emerge triumphant, especially if they have remained injury free up to this point. Italy will be competitive make no mistake and it will definitely be Ireland’s first real test of the tournament. However, with injury concerns around a few key Italian players such as talismanic Captain Sergio Parisse, Italy don’t quite look the force they could be. However, any sense of complacency by the Irish going into this match could see them trip up horribly. As mentioned above with coach Joe Schmidt in charge this is unlikely to happen and Ireland should walk away the winners.
Ireland end their campaign in the pool stages of this year’s World Cup with a monster clash with France. Along with some of the mouth-watering match-ups in Pool A, this fixture is one of THE most eagerly anticipated Pool games of this year’s World Cup. The winner will most likely avoid a quarter-final clash with New Zealand unless Argentina pull off one of the upsets of the tournament. Therefore expect a match akin to a warm-up World Cup final between Ireland and France with no quarters given and no prisoners taken by either side. France will either be brilliant or have a shocker under pressure. Ireland should keep their cool and if their halfback pairing of Sexton and Murray are still fully fit at this stage, Ireland should outthink and outplay the French. It still will be close at times and probably a nail-biting contest right to the final whistle, but unless the French put in a display akin to their 1999 semi-final heroics, I see Ireland walking away the winner and taking first place in Pool D.
Always having the ability to surprise, Italy are a side that are desperate to make it out of the pool stages and into the knockout rounds, a feat they have never achieved in the tournament’s history. Italy have improved over the years and their inclusion in the Six Nations has paid enormous dividends. They have a team that has the essential components of a good pack, powerful forwards and some very quick backs, however it often rarely all comes together for Italy on the day. They also have one of the most inspirational Captains in the modern game in the form of number eight Sergio Parisse. With Parisse on the field Italy are always an exciting prospect, but injury concerns are casting doubts on how much of Italy’s World Cup campaign Parisse will actually play a part in.
Italy open their World Cup account with an exceptionally challenging fixture with France, made worse by the fact that they will be without regular Captain and talisman Sergio Parisse. Italy looked shaky in their World Cup warm-ups with the exception of the game against Wales, where you guessed it Parisse was on the field. Nevertheless Italy have an encouraging track record against the French having beaten the Gallic giants a few times now in the Six Nations. As both sides settle their World Cup nerves it should be a close match but one that the French should ultimately walk away as the winners.
Next up Italy get a chance to regroup against a Canadian side smarting from a probable schooling from the Irish. Canada will be up for this game, make no mistake and Italy will not be able to take the challenge lightly. However, they have played Canada since the last World Cup and came out on top and I see no reason for them not to do so again.
Buoyed up by a confident performance against the Canadians, Italy will need this sense of self-belief as they head into probably their toughest match of the pool against Ireland. They have surprised Ireland in the past, but I can’t really see this happening especially if Ireland have all their first choice players on the field and their systems are clicking. If Italy have got Parisse back by this stage they will push Ireland hard at times but Ireland should have a clear tactical edge and be able to effectively snuff out any Italian challenge.
Consequently Italy will head into their final Pool match with Romania, desperate for a comprehensive win in order to clinch third place in the Pool and exit the tournament with their pride and self-esteem intact. With no disrespect to Romania, Italy should easily achieve this objective and try to take some important lessons with them to build for the next World Cup where with a new coach taking over after this tournament, they will finally get beyond the Pool stages.
A side that has always caused a few surprises at the World Cup and the occasional uncomfortable moments for some of the bigger sides, Romania are never a pushover and this year should be no exception. Boasting a powerful and competitive set of forwards, an encounter with the Romanians will always be a bruising affair.
Romania start their World Cup campaign off against France and while I imagine they will make France’s forward pack work hard, given that this is one area where France has looked impressive over the last few months France should get the win here. Next up Romania square off against Ireland, which will be a massive challenge for them. I am sure they will play with a great deal of pride and passion but it is unlikely they will be able to give Ireland too much cause for concern.
Next up they face Italy where I imagine they will be able to run the Italians close at times. Nevertheless, Italy at this stage will have a serious point to prove and with that much more experience should manage to clinch a win over Romania. Romania’s last game of the World Cup will be against Canada. This is a game they know they can win, particularly if their forwards dominate the Canadians as they have in the last two encounters between these two countries. However, Canada will be desperate to end a poor string of performances and will be throwing everything they have into this match. Expect an epic contest but one which Canada being under so much pressure for results, should just win by a narrow margin. Therefore, Romania sadly should exit the Pool in last place. However, they will play with pride and passion every time they go out onto the pitch and as they always do earn the respect of all the teams they go up against as well as a strong degree of support and encouragement from all the neutral supporters attending their games. With continued European exposure Romania are only going to get better and this will serve them well for the next World Cup.
Pool D 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.
I had tipped as an alternate scenario Italy upsetting France in the opening match for both sides but without Parisse on the field for Italy I can’t really see it happening. Therefore the opening rounds of this pool should go according to predictions till the match up between Italy and Ireland. Parisse is match fit for the game with Ireland and spurs Italy onto new heights, with the game ending up being a closely fought physical battle. Ireland’s Johnny Sexton picks up a minor injury causing him to miss Ireland’s remaining pool game with France. France take the opportunity and seize the day as Ireland without Sexton lose their cohesion. France comes out on top of the pool and avoid a quarter-final clash with New Zealand. Ireland finish second and know they now have it all to do in a quarter-final with the All Blacks while sweating over Sexton’s fitness for such a do or die match. Italy still clinch third place, but Romania continue their impressive track record against Canada and emerge the winners against a Canadian side suffering a genuine crisis of confidence. Romania finish in fourth place and Canada finish in last place and reflect on their worst World Cup ever!
“It’s life Jim, but not as we know it” – now pass me that pint would you!