Whilst most of the tournament big guns would have taken your arm off if you offered them a spot in Pool B, if one looks a bit further into the dynamics of the pool as well as the opposition the winner is likely to face in the quarter-finals, they may think twice about their eagerness to join the group.
To Win Outright
South Africa 1/16
Best Result at a World Cup: Champions 1995, 2007
World Ranking: 4th
The Springboks are the top seeds in the group and are favourites to claim first spot come the conclusion of the pool stage proceedings. Heyneke Meyer’s side go into the tournament after a tumultuous six months. Winless in the Rugby Championship, they’ve also had to deal with political interference, which always seems to crop up just before one of our national sporting sides heads to a prestigious event. To make matters worse, their skipper and backline maestro has only played a game and a half’s worth of international rugby this calendar year - his lack of game time may well result in him being out of tune with his backline ensemble come opening night. South Africa’s toughest fixture in the group is likely to come against the physical Samoans. This will be the fifth time that these two meet in group stage action, with ex-Springboks like Derick Hougaard providing testimony to how tough these encounters are. Although the South Africans are yet to lose to the Pacific Islanders, the Samoans have often put a dent in South African World Cup hopes by hospitalising a few key players before the knockout phases.
While the pool draw has been kind to the South Africans, what comes after will be giving the Springbok coaching staff sleepless nights. If all goes to book, Heyneke Meyer and his charges will be looking at a quarter-final encounter against either Australia or England. The South African coaching staff will be hoping that their previously injured veterans can use these group matches to find some form. If the likes of Du Preez, Vermeulen and De Villiers are firing on all cylinders come the quarter-finals, then the Springboks are in with a chance of claiming the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time.
Fourie Du Preez
He may have lost a yard or two of pace with age but his quickness of mind and his slick delivery from the base are just as potent as they were in 2007. His leadership skills and ability to relieve pressure with that educated boot of his will go a long way in helping rid what has been the Springbok Achilles heel this season, closing a game out.
When you look back at South African eighthmen over the past twenty years the majority of them have been extremely skilled, for lack of a better term, ball-runners. The reason I use “ball-runner” is you cannot compare the way they carried the ball to the way Vermeulen does. Whilst Teichman and Skinstad possessed power and pace in abundance, they were more likely to go around a man, whereas Vermeulen is more inclined to throw the old sidestep and leave the would-be tackler floor bound. His return to the side will give the Springboks another ball-carrying option as well as sure up their defence.
Best Bet: To Reach the Final - Yes (11/4)
Best Result at a World Cup: Semi-Finalists 1991
World Ranking: 10th
The sole European representative in Pool B is Scotland. The Scots have been on a steady decline ever since that infamous Gavin Hastings penalty miss in a World Cup semi-final defeat to England in 1991. While the men from across England’s northern border have endured an underwhelming 2015, they are capable of producing an upset or two, particularly if conditions are of the wet variety.
The Scots finished the 2015 edition of the Six Nations as wooden spoonists. The premier European tournament saw the Thistles lose all of their games, including an ignominious defeat to the Italians. Vern Cotter’s side will want to atone for such a dreadful start to the year by getting into the quarter-finals of the World Cup. This is easier said than done however.
The veteran winger will be participating in his third Rugby World Cup. Although his pace has somewhat dwindled over the years, his physicality and size have always been his biggest strengths, and he still possess both of these traits in abundance.
Born in Holland, Visser was signed by the Newcastle Falcons after an impressive display at a sevens tournament in Amsterdam. Although he did some club hopping during his early years in Britain, he eventually found a stable club base in the form of Edinburgh and has subsequently gone on to break the Edinburgh try scoring record. The rangy winger is a fantastic finisher who does not shirk from his defensive duties.
Best Bet: To Reach the Quarter-Final - No (8/10)
Best result at a World Cup: Quarter-Finalists 1991, 1995
World Ranking: 12th
Brian “The Chiropractor” Lima may have retired from international rugby a long time ago but his hard hitting legacy lives on through the new breed of Samoans. The men from the Pacific Islands are a massive threat this year; not only do they have the ability to put opponents in the treatment room but they now have some of Super Rugby’s standout performers amongst their ranks.
The elusive Chiefs utility back is capable of conjuring up a moment of magic out of nothing. Mainly used as an outside centre by the Chiefs, his adept kicking ability and slight-of hand may see him don the fullback jersey for the Samoans in England.
Although the centre didn’t get much game time for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby this year, he did show a lot of promise when given a chance. Blessed with an abundance of pace and power, Lee-Lo will give opposing centre pairings something to think about at the tournament.
Best Bet: To Reach the Quarter-Finals - Yes (8/10)
Best result at a World Cup: Pool Stage 87,91,95,99.03,07,11
World Ranking: 14th
One of the two underdogs in Pool B is rising nation, Japan. Huge sponsorship deals and the lure of massive wages have seen some of the biggest names in world rugby head off to the Land of the Rising Sun. The influx of internationals has seen an increase in fans as well as participants at grassroots level in Japan. Although it may still be a while until the Japanese are able to compete with the traditional rugby playing nations, they are making huge amounts of progress. The men from East Asia are likely to be embroiled in a battle against America to avoid the Pool B wooden spoon title.
With Eddie Jones at the helm for this World Cup expect the ‘Brave Blossoms’ to give their pool opponents a much stiffer test than they have at past World Cups. The East Asians have put in some impressive displays in their World Cup warm-up games and will want to continue in this vein come the start of the tournament.
The New Zealand born, Japanese skipper returned to his homeland to participate in Super Rugby earlier this year. Leitch may not have played in as many games as he would have liked for the Chiefs but when he did get on to the field he didn’t look out of his depth. His leadership skills and ball-carrying ability as well as his link-up play will be vital for Japan if they are to get their first win at the tournament since their victory over Zimbabwe in 1991.
Best Bet: To Beat the USA
Best Result at a World Cup: Group Stage 1987, 1991, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011
World Ranking: 16th
There was a lot of hope in the States during the nineties that rugby would catch on; mainly due to the physical similarities between rugby union and American football. With the United States having participated in every rugby World Cup bar the 1995 tournament, the improvement should be evident. This is not the case however. A lack of interest and funding has seen the sport fall by the wayside in recent times and it seems the hope that America would rise from its rugby coma will not come to fruition.
The United States coaching staff will be hoping that their charges can put on a good showing at this year’s tournament, and in the process help garner interest in the game back home. This is not going to be easy however, with their only realistic chance of claiming a victory in the tournament coming in the form of their clash against Japan.
The Zimbabwean born sprinting prodigy will always be remembered for his try against South Africa at France 07, where he left the then world’s best winger Bryan Habana for dead. Takudzwa has been plying his trade in France for Biarritz Olympique since the end of the 2007 World Cup. The speedster has a healthy scoring record for his club, having crossed the whitewash on 77 occasions in 218 appearances. Whilst Ngwenya may have lost some of that exhilarating speed over the past eight years, he is still a slippery customer who if given an inch, will take a mile.
Although Wyles was born in the States, both of his parents are English. He moved to England at the tender age of eleven and began his rugby apprenticeship. Having represented a few of England’s lower division clubs, Wyles’ career took off when he was called up to the United States senior team in 2007. After impressing then director of Saracens rugby Eddie Jones with some clinical displays at France 07, Wyles was signed by the first division English club. It is not only his club career that has blossomed; the fullback was the Eagles’ top point score at the 2011 World Cup and was named American Rugby Player of the Year in 2012.
Best Bet: None