Pool C has the ironic contrast of containing both the highest ranked as well as the lowest ranked nations in the tournament.
To Win Outright
New Zealand 1/100
Best Result at a World Cup: Champions 1987, 2011
World Ranking: 1st
New Zealand come into the tournament as defending champions, having won the trophy on home soil in 2011. So far 2015 has been a mixed bag for the Kiwis; they managed to retain the Bledisloe Cup but lost their Rugby Championship title. Whilst coach Steve Hansen will have been disappointed with their failure to retain their title, he will have seen the upside of the campaign as a whole. Dan Carter is back in form and Nehe Milner-Skudder has impressed in his debut season for the men in black. It may be the end of an era, with the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter venturing to pastures new, but the Rugby Championship illustrated just how much young talent there is coming through in New Zealand. With this in mind, Hansen may be left with a tough choice when it comes to team selection. Does he back the veterans or go for the players in the best form? He has little room to manoeuvre in this respect, as his side begins their campaign against strong opposition in the form of Argentina.
As mentioned, Hansen has a massive selection dilemma on his hands. He seems to have already shown his cards by leaving Lima Sopoaga at home and bringing Colin Slade with the travelling party. The choice seems to indicate that Dan Carter will be first choice pivot at the tournament, with Beauden Barrett and Slade as his understudies This selection conundrum and the fact that the team is likely to face their bogey side, France, in the quarters, has put some doubt in my mind as to whether they’ll be able to defend their title.
This will be the Crusaders and All Black talisman’s final World Cup jaunt. The early months of 2015 were a bit of a farewell tour for both McCaw and Crusaders teammate Dan Carter. The end of every New Zealand game this year has seen rapturous applause and goodbyes for probably the two biggest names in modern rugby. McCaw may not be as quick to get to the breakdown as the new breed of world rugby’s flankers, but his experience sees him still come up trumps at most rucks.
With the majority of the All Black squad being world-class players in their own right, is not an easy thing to identify the key link in their backline. With men like Julian Savea and Ben Smith floating around the starting fifteen, Ma’a Nonu’s brilliance often goes unnoticed. The only evidence needed is to compare New Zealand’s two Bledisloe performances this year. The first saw Sonny Bill-Williams start in the twelve berth, the backline looked unsettled and often directionless. The second game saw Nonu come in for Williams and the change saw a much more direct and ruthless All Black backline tear the Aussies apart.
Best Bet: To Reach the Semi-Final - No (9/2)
Best Result at a World Cup: Semi-Finalists 2007
World Ranking: 8th
Former Argentine international and current Pumas coach, Daniel Hourcade, will be pleasantly satisfied with the year so far. A victory against the ‘Boks in Durban will have given his charges a huge morale boost. He has a well-balanced squad who are lead exceptionally well by skipper Agustin Creevy. Creevy’s willingness to lay his body on the line has somewhat inspired his colleagues to follow suit. The Argentine skipper is part of a pack who have impressed in 2015. He and his co-forwards will have to continue in that manner if they are to better their 2007 semi-final result.
Whilst you can never write the Argentines off, I think they are destined to bow out at the quarter-final stage. Their opener against the All Blacks may turn out to be the first but most important nail in their coffin. The squad may be on a high after an vastly improved Rugby Championship, but high morale alone isn’t going to see them defeat the Kiwis. A loss to New Zealand is likely to result in Los Pumas going through to the quarter-finals as runners-up, where they’ll most probably meet Ireland. There may be a lot of ifs and buts to this permutation but if it does occur, I can’t see the South Americans overcoming the Irish.
The skipper emphasizes all that is good with modern day Argentine rugby. Whilst his biggest assets are probably his commitment and heart, he is also one of the more well-rounded hookers in world rugby. His line-out throwing is usually top draw and he gets around the park as if he were playing with a number seven jersey on his back. His only downfall is his discipline, which he’ll have to ensure remains intact as his team can ill afford going down to fourteen men in any of their encounters.
A name that will resound with Springbok supporters for decades to come. Imhoff was one of Argentina’s standout performers in that historic Test in Durban earlier this year. A powerfully built winger, Imhoff relishes both the attacking and defending nuances of his position. He will want to continue to build on what has been an impressive 2015.
Best Bet: Argentina +21.5 vs New Zealand (9/10)
Best Result at a World Cup: Pool Stages 1987, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011
World Ranking: 11th
The Tongans have appeared at every hosting of the World Cup bar the 1991 tournament, but are yet to advance from the pools. The majority of the squad is made up of players who ply their trade in different countries across the globe - which is a bit of a catch 22. It may have helped with experience and exposure but with Tonga not playing a lot of Test rugby they do run the risk of struggling to click when on the international stage. The Pacific Islanders open their campaign with a clash against Georgia. The Tongans will be desperate to finally get out of the pool stages at a rugby World Cup. Their only realistic hope of accomplishing this feat will be by beating the Argentines. Whilst I can’t see them overcoming Los Pumas, I can see them putting up one hell of a fight.
The Western Force lock has become somewhat of a veteran on the Australian domestic scene. His years at the Force have seen him develop his game greatly. He is a strong ball carrier who likes to mix it up at ruck time.
Another man who currently plays Super Rugby with an Australian franchise. Veainu was on the Highlanders books in 2011 but never managed to cement down a starting spot. Capable of playing on the wing or in the centres, Veainu is fleet of foot and possess a mean step. His light weight frame may see opposition players target his channel, especially if he fills in at 13.
Best Bet: To Beat Georgia (1/7)
Best Result at a World Cup: Pool Stage 2003, 2007, 2011
World Ranking: 13th
The Georgians made their first finals appearance at the 2003 World Cup and have been an ever-present since. France 2007 saw their finest moment. In a bruising encounter the Georgians gave the Irish a massive scare going down by the narrowest of margins, 14-10. They also gave the Scots a scare in 2011 where the score was 9-6 in Scotland’s favour with ten minutes to go, however the Scots converted two late penalties. The Georgians will once again be on the lookout for an opportunity to give one of the big boys a shock.
The highest ranked of all the European Tier 2 nations, the Georgians will be looking to attain their second ever victory at the Rugby World Cup this year. Their previous win came against fellow pool C competitors Namibia at France ’07 and this year’s encounter between the two sides is likely to end in the same result.
The powerful loose forward has one of the best aliases of any player at this year’s event. Whilst plying his trade for Montpellier he was given the moniker of ‘Gorgodzilla’ by his former teammates. He now plays for Toulon but the nickname seems to have stuck. The 120kg, six foot five battering ram is not only known for his confrontational style of play, but also for his try scoring ability, having scored 26 tries in a 168 appearances for Montpellier between 2005 and 2014.
Another hard man who represents Toulon, Konstantin is one of the new generation of Georgian players. He is gifted with the same physically imposing frame as his predecessors and veteran colleagues but also has a deft set of hands. The 24-year-old lock will be vital for the Georgians at lineout time as well as in general play.
Best Bet: To Beat Namibia
Best Result at a World Cup: Group Stage 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011
World Ranking: 20th
The final team in the pool is Namibia. The men from South West Africa are one of the reasons the World Cup draws so much viewership. On the face of it they go into the competition as absolute no hopers; they even hold the record for the biggest losing margin in the history of the tournament. For the Namibians it’s not about winning or losing, but being out on the field and competing with the best. With the levels of professionalism in rugby at an all-time high and lucrative contracts being thrown around left, right and centre it’s refreshing to see a semi-professional team like Namibia get an opportunity in the spotlight.
Namibia may still be ranked in the third tier of international rugby but they have made leaps and bounds in terms of progress in recent years. The younger generation of Namibian internationals are starting to find more professional clubs to play for. This new breed of contracted youngsters should help inspire the squad to greater performances.
The Namibian skipper is vastly experienced, having represented both the Griquas and Bulls in the Currie Cup. The imposing loose forward is one of the few Namibians to have made a decent living out of playing rugby. He has been in good form for his current club side Saracens this year and will look to continue in this vein with the national jumper on.
The Sharks and Pumas youngster is certainly well travelled despite his tender age. Bothma has represented four different Provincial unions in South Africa and has also run out for the South African President’s XV. Bothma’s Super Rugby experience may prove vital if the Namibians are to avoid another record setting loss against Pool C favourites New Zealand.
Best Bet: To lose by another record margin to New Zealand.