Ray North’s Rugby World Cup Preview

by Ray_North on September 18, 2015

Ah the Rugby World Cup – if ever a sporting event epitomised the class struggle that burns at the heart of our world, it is this; If ever there was a better contest between young men at the peak of their physical abilities, it is rugby union.

I am biased of course, but if there is a god and if he wanted to create a game – it would be rugby union.

Anyway enough of that nonsense. England are hosts and as a Welshman I shall of course be supporting anyone but them, especially as the English Rugby Team (and if not the lads themselves, then certainly the crowd at Twickenham) has a Tory like quality to it, which has always left me cold.

So, who will win, who will lose and who should the casual observer watch out for.

Let’s start with Group ‘A’ if ever there was a group of death, then this is it. England, Wales, Australia, Fiji and Uruguay will do battle for two places. England (clench teeth), are the favourites to win the group, they enjoy home advantage, they have a good pack that will win enough ball and they have some fleet footed wings who will score tries. Will England win the World Cup though? No, and I say that, not as a Corbyn supporting Welshmen, but as a rugby fan who recognises the fact that to win the world cup, a team must possess a world class open side flanker, and although England are captained by their break-away Chris Robshaw, he isn’t even the best in England let alone the world. The English will progress to the Semi, but no further.

Australia on the other hand, have not one, but two world class open sides in Hooper and Pocock. They also have some of the most mercurial backs in the world with the likes of Guteau, Genia, Folau and Cooper. Their achilles heel is a weak scrum, but in recent weeks that looks to have improved. If Australia can get out of the group, then they could go all the way.

Wales! AAAAgh, things seemed to be going so well, and then we lost our scrum half and number one kicked in the space of half an hour in a friendly against Italy. And therein lies the problems of my brethren, our squad is small, like our nation, and though proud, like our nation, it can’t easily cope with losing two or three of its genuinely world class players. Wales do pass the open side flanker test (England would die for either the Wales captain Sam Warburton, or his deputy Justin Tipuric), but too often their set-piece fails at the crucial moment, whilst their temperament is such that they have lost about seven close games to the Australians in recent years. Unknown-1

Fiji are no slouches. I repeat, Fiji are not the whipping boys, that some expect them to be. These South Sea Island boys really know how to play rugby – they are massive, they are quick and they are as hard as a calculus equation. They may not win enough games to progress through the group – but, don’t be surprised if they run England close in the opener tomorrow night, and take Wales or Australia (probably Wales) to the wire when they play them.

Uruguay are slouches. They are really crap. Bless them. Nevertheless, it is brilliant that they are here, taking part and I for one, hope that they prove me wrong by putting on some great performances and taking on a few of the big boys. In the grand tradition of South American rugby, they’ll really enjoy scrums.

Prediction Group A

Players to watch
Israel Folau of Australia is a super runner; Samson Lee the Welsh Prop is a great prospect, he looks like a barrel of beer and sounds like an Old Testament prophet; for England Jonathan Joseph is a proper centre with great feet and clever hands; The Fijian’s lock Nakawara has been brilliant for Glasgow all season; sorry, no idea about Uruguay – but I’m going to look out for Joachim Prada, because he sounds like he should be a gay icon of Paris fashion week rather than a rugby player.

Group B
More Group of Looking a Peaky, than Group of Death, Scotland, South Africa, Japan, Samoa and USA, will all be competitive in their own rights. And you know I can see something interesting happening here. South Africa are the team to beat, but there is something not quite right about the Springboks, they are aged, they are still arguing about quotas according to race, and their form in the Four Nations, wasn’t great. If you are a betting man stick a quid on them not getting out of the group!

Which would require Scotland and Samoa to play some great rugby. Scotland have the potential, they looked quite good in warm up and have some great players particularly the young scrum half Henry Pyrgos who was superb for Glasgow this season, the Gray brothers in the second row and the clever centre Bennet, they also have, in full back Stewart Hogg, perhaps my favourite player in the whole tournament – a proper electric three-quarter. Could they beat the Springboks? Yes, on their day. But it would have to be a good day.
Samoa, can beat anyone on their day as well – but, alas, in recent years have tended to run out of steam after about an hour of beating up their opponents. Their style is incredibly abrasive and their running play can be dynamite, but they often lack discipline which means when the fatigue sets in, they are often not enough ahead to cope.

Japan are lovely to watch – fast, beautiful handlers of the ball, and brave. Sadly they cede about five stone a man to the massive hulks of Northern Europe and the old colonies. Still if you want to see rugby how it should be played, tune in when the Nippon are playing and you won’t be disappointed.

The USA are fun and, at times a bit of a handful, but, lack the cunning or experience of the bigger nations – and, I have to say, it’s quite nice watching a sport, where Tonga or Samoa can give the might of the OO-ESS-A a hiding. Lovely boys though!

Group B Prediction
South Africa

Players to watch
Jean De Villiers is a scrum-half I really like for the Boks; the Samoa Skipper Ossia Treviranus is a dog at the breakdown; Scotland’s flanker Strauss is tipped for big things; Oso for Japan is supposed to be as quick as any wing in the world; and, though I don’t know much about the USA< i've heard some good things about, Hayden Smith (that's a lie actually, but I used to play with a Hayden Smith, and he was quite good). Group C
This group includes the holders and favourite New Zealand, together with Argentina, Tonga, Namibia and Georgia. Of all the groups this one looks like the most straightforward. No one will get near the All Blacks who just get better and better at this sport. Argentina are always competitive, but, the 2015 squad is nowhere near the squad that competed in 2007 when they nearly won. Georgia will probably win the competition for the biggest ugliest scariest looking set of blokes, whilst Tonga will show everyone how to tackle to the death and Namibia will, I’m afraid, take some hammerings.
Group C Prediction
New Zealand

Players to watch
Feel I’ve got to mention the lawyer and quietly effective centre Conrad Smith, the Cardiff bound Amorasino of Argentina; the Georgian Scrum Half, Merebe Kvirkashvili; Jaques Burger of Namibia is genuinely excellent; and Elvis Taione is called Elvis! And he’s so big, he’s not so much left the building as picked it up!

Group D
This is an interesting group: France and Ireland are both considered dark horses for the whole competition, and much of the pre-tournament chatter is that the winner of this group will have an easier ride through to the final, which basically means that they will miss New Zealand. The other teams in the group, Canada, Italy and Romania.

France are suddenly playing well, which is great news for rugby, they were excellent against England in their Twickenham worm-up, but then that was only a warm up. In Dussatoir and Picamoles they have two great back rowers and Michalak is suddenly looking like he can boss a game. Don’t rule out the French.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I was really backing the Irish, but now I’m not sure – the back row didn’t look nearly as clever as it used to, whilst the backs lacked a cutting edge. I hope that it is just a bit of pre-tournament nerves, because I would like to see Ireland go a long way.
The rest of the group however, shouldn’t be ignored – Italy have some great players and in Parisse and Zanni, a wonderful back row, they also appear to have discovered a scrum-half in Gori. Romania are an interesting case – under communism they were really tasty, but since the fall of the Caucescus, their rugby hasn’t been quite so good – they won’t be bad though, their scrum and line-out will be efficient and their defence will be tight. Canada have also struggled since the onset of professionalism, being unable to compete with the money rich game of the Southern Hemisphere and Europe. They do enjoy a good fight though, and none of their boys will take a step back. They also have a genuine giant amongst men in Cudmore.

Prediction for Group A

Players to watch
I like Simon Zebo of Ireland, whilst after years of promise Keith Earls is really fulfilling his talent; for France, i’ve already mentioned Picamoles and Dussatoir , whilst Yohann Huget has got one of the most sublime sidesteps in rugby; Whilst Italy are playing, look out for the three quarters Venditti and Massi; and for Canada, Cudmore is a man mountain. Afraid I don’t know anything about the Romanian players but seem to remember the prop Ion being a bit handy.

Overall Prediction
New Zealand to play Ireland in the final.
Ireland to win!

Bring it on!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Charlie_East_West September 19, 2015 at 7:08 am

NZ v Ireland final. Good call.

After watching England last night, they are there for the taking….


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