After years of meticulous preparation, international teams from around the world have finally descended upon England to meet in a brutal arm-wrestle for world domination. Fans of the game are set for over a month’s worth of rugby nirvana.
The long awaited opener between the hosts and their Pool A counterparts, Fiji, takes place on Friday at what will be a packed Twickenham. While the more glamourous of the games will be covered in full previews later on in the week, a few of the smaller games in Pool A and B promise to provide some decent entertainment value. With some great odds on offer at present, make sure you get your bets on early and avoid disappointment.
England vs Fiji
Pool A | Friday 18 September | Twickenham, London | 21:00
To Win (80mins)
England (-25.5) 9/10
Fiji (+25.5) 9/10
The tournament opener will see the hosts take on the 2015 Pacific Nations Cup champions. Ironically, the last time the pair met in rugby World Cup action was at Twickenham in 1999, with the home side running out victors by 45 points to 24. The duo have faced each other only seven times in their nation’s rugby playing histories, with the English winning all seven of these encounters. In total, the English have put 244 points past the Islanders whilst in return the Fijians have managed to muster up 100 points. For those not mathematically inclined this equates to an average of 34.85 points per game for the Roses, while the Flying Fijians manage an average of 14.28 points per match.
Stewart Lancaster has announced his squad for Friday. His backline consists of Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Josephs, Brad Barritt, Jonny May, George Ford and Ben Youngs. The forward pack contains Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parling, Dan Cole, Tom Youngs and Joe Marler. Fijian coach John McKee is yet to announce his match day 23 at the time of writing.
VERDICT: Fiji (+25.5) 9/10
England may well put forty to fifty points on the board but the Fijians aren’t going to be left scoreless. I expect a high scoring affair, that sees the Fijians pick up a try scoring bonus point and stay within the margin.
Samoa v USA
Pool B | Sunday 20 September | Brighton Community Centre, Brighton | 13:00
To Win (80mins)
Samoa (-16.5) 9/10
USA (+16.5) 9/10
The two sides have met only once at the World Cup with the Samoans winning by a four-point margin at the 2007 event. Overall they have played the United States four times and have yet to taste defeat. On average they score 23 points against the States - who usually respond with around twelve of their own.
Although both sides lost an initial squad member in the run in to the tournament, they will still have injury free 31-man squads to pick from. The Pacific Islanders lost Logovi’I Mulipola a few weeks ago, but his place in the squad has been taken by front rower Census Johnston. The burly prop has come out of retirement to answer his nation’s SOS call and will want to make the trip worth his while. The man who misses out on the World Cup for the Eagles is lock Scott LaValla, who fractured his elbow at the end of August. Matt Trouville has been drafted into the squad to replace the Stade Francais second-rower.
VERDICT: Samoa (-16.5) 9/10
Even though the margin doesn’t look great when the average scorelines are taken into consideration, I think the Samoans’ attacking brand of rugby will help them to surpass it with ease.
Wales vs Uruguay
Pool A | Sunday 20 September | Millennium Stadium, Cardiff | 15:30
To Win (80mins)
Wales (-65.5) 9/10
Uruguay (+65.5) 9/10
I really feel for Warren Gatland and his side. At the beginning of May they found out they’d be going into this year’s tournament without talismanic centre Jonathan Davies. With Davies out, Gatland looked to find a worthy replacement to fill his boots. The Welsh mentor seems to have found this in the form of Llanelli Scarlets centre, Scott Williams. The 97kg battering ram looked solid when paired with veteran Jamie Roberts in the Dragons’ warm-up games. While the issue in the centres was resolved in the warm-up games, further concerns cropped up. Fullback Leigh Halfpenny and scrumhalf Rhys Webb were both ruled out of the tournament with injuries sustained in a warm-up game against Italy. While there are readymade replacements for the afflicted duo in the shape of utility back Liam Williams and arguably one of the world’s most gifted nines, Mike Phillips, doubts still remain over whether they’ll be able to fill the cracks left by Halfpenny and Webb. The Uruguayans on the other hand, have been able to bring their strongest squad to the tournament. They have a clean bill of health for their opener and are likely to field their strongest possible side. With their nothing to lose attitude, Los Teros should play a big part in what promises to be an entertaining encounter.
VERDICT: Uruguay (+65.5) 9/10
With some key players missing and some untried combinations in the backline it may take the Dragons a bit of time to settle into this one. With the margin set quite high at 65.5, I’m going with Uruguay to keep it within that differential.
Scotland v Japan
Pool B | Wednesday 23 September | Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester | 15:30
To Win (80mins)
Scotland (-15.5) 9/10
Japan (+15.5) 9/10
I have a sneaky suspicion that Scotland’s dreadful year will have been made far worse after the final whistle goes on this one. While the Japanese are nowhere near being able to compete with the big five of world rugby - they are starting to get to the point where they can give the lower ranked tier one sides a real challenge. With Scotland’s weaknesses well known to international rugby coaches around the globe, expect Eddie Jones to have a surprise in store. The Japanese mentor is one of the most meticulous planners in the game; to him analysing rugby games 24/7 is not just a job but a passion. He will have gone through more video analysis of the Scottish squad than the opposition.
The two sides have met twice in Rugby World Cup pool action with the Scots emerging victorious at both the 1991 and 2003 tournaments. Both games saw total points margins cross the forty mark with the Scots scoring 79 points in total. The Brave Blossoms were only able to muster up twenty points from the two encounters. The duo have met each other on two further occasions since the 2003 World Cup, with the Scots scoring an average of 41 points per game and their counterparts scoring at an average of 12.5 points per match.
VERDICT: Japan (+15.5) 9/10
While I wouldn’t go as far as backing Japan to win it, I can see them giving the Scots a great game and subsequently staying within the handicap. If they are anything as disciplined as they were against the Springboks, they'll give Scotland a real run for their money.
Australia vs Fiji
Pool A | Wednesday 23 September | Millennium Stadium, Cardiff | 17:45
To Win (80mins)
Australia (-25.5) 9/10
Fiji (+25.5) 9/10
While this game will signify the start of Australia’s campaign, it will be Fiji’s second game in the space of five days against a country ranked amongst the top five rugby playing nations in the world. The two sides have only met once in the history of the World Cup, with the Australians running out 55-12 winners at the Stade de la Mosson in 2007. In total, the duo have faced each other in nineteen tests, with the Fijians only two victories coming in a 1952 tour to Australia. The last two games between the sides have seen total scorelines in excess of fifty points - with the Australians winning by more than 42 points on both occasions. In total, the Wallabies have scored 546 points in the nineteen Tests, and average 28.73 points per game. The Fijians have a lot less points to their name and only average 11.63 per match. With the game a week away it’s hard to predict which personnel the coaches will use, but my gut feeling is that both nations will put out their strongest possible XVs for the encounter.
VERDICT: Australia (-25.5) 9/10
I think this Australian side has the attacking prowess and defensive discipline to surpass a differential of anything up to thirty points. Although this Fijian outfit is not of the same vintage as the one that made the 2007 finals, they still have some amazing players in their ranks. I can see them running in a late try or two which brings the score close to something respectable, but the Aussies should clear the margin.