Defending champions New Zealand loom menacingly in Pool C and having the luxury of facing Tonga, Georgia and Namibia almost makes a mockery of the even money on offer for most Pool tries. Pool D is fraught with uncertainty should France bomb at the showpiece event. With the more illustrious fixtures being covered later in the week in depth, I’ll try to find some value bets for those looking to make some pennies off the so-called minnows.
Tonga vs Georgia
Pool C | Saturday 19 September | Kingsholm, Gloucester | 13:00
To Win (80mins)
Tonga (-12.5) 9/10
Georgia (+12.5) 9/10
One of only two sides to pick up three reds cards in the history of the Rugby World Cup, the traditionally physical Tongan outfit have never ventured beyond the pool stages. This is unlikely to change this year in a group containing New Zealand and Argentina, however third place will still be considered minimum requirement given Georgia and Namibia’s presence. Tonga pulled off the biggest shock upset in World Cup history in 2011 when they defeated France 19-14 in Wellington. They failed to advance, but pushed Wales close in 2013, going down 17-7. Georgia, to either their benefit or detriment, play their most important match first. A victory over Tonga would set them on course for a potential third-place finish and automatic qualification for 2019. Georgia are without a shadow of a doubt the best side in Europe outside of the Six Nations and will hope that their players, who largely ply their trade in the European divisions, rise to the occasion. Tonga beat Georgia by fourteen points in November last year, with the Europeans only fading in the final twenty minutes.
VERDICT: Georgia (+12.5) 9/10
The fact that this match will kick off at the peak of the afternoon will be a welcome relief to the Tongans, but their aging squad does pose enough doubt to believe that Georgia can make a real run at this result. Most sides are physical, but Georgia probably have more in the legs given the youth in the squad. Tonga may sneak the victory but I see this one going close.
Ireland vs Canada
Pool D | Saturday 19 September | Millenium Stadium, Cardiff | 15:30
To Win (80mins)
Ireland (-38.5) 9/10
Canada (+38.5) 9/10
Ireland are a side that has become accustomed to success under mentor Joe Schmidt. Two years ago Irish support had thought competing in the Six Nations, let alone the World Cup, was beyond their reach. Two titles later and a solid run in the showpiece event is a real prospect. Their woeful World Cup record will basically hang on the result between themselves and France. Should they slip up, a potential quarter-final with New Zealand lies in wait. Ireland will back themselves to beat Argentina should they avoid the All Blacks, but they’ve only beaten France thrice in sixteen previous attempts. Against Canada however, Ireland are unbeaten. A 27-all draw fifteen years ago aside, Ireland’s victories have largely been by twenty points or slightly more. Canada are the other aforementioned side to pick up three reds cards in Rugby World Cups and the presence of Clermont bruiser Jamie Cudmore certainly means that the Canadians won’t go down without a fight, or a battle (of Boet Erasmus), so to speak.
VERDICT: Ireland (-38.5) 9/10
It’s a fairly large handicap to cover but Canada have looked a shadow of their former physical selves in recent times. Two recent defeats to the USA do not bode well and Ireland will look to exploit that lack of confidence. I’m hoping for real focus and commitment from the men in green, who could lay down a market with a ruthless opening display.
France vs Romania
Pool D | Wednesday 23 September | Olympic Park, London | 21:00
To Win (80mins)
France (-43.5) 9/10
Romania (+43.5) 9/10
Les Tricolores are a real enigma. What is it about a World Cup that sparks life into the French? They’ve been largely horrendous over the past four years and coach Philippe Saint-Andre’s schizophrenic selection tendencies have only complicated matters. Yet they were imperious against England in Paris recently, going back to the basics and keeping things simple. Although they’ll recall the upset to Tonga four years ago, I can’t see Les Bleus being stretched too far against Romania. Since the turn of the century, Romania have managed only two World Cup wins and have never progressed further than the group stage. Their front row is based in France and their fullback turns out for Saracens but it’s the bit in between that’s lacking quality.
VERDICT: Romania (+43.5) 9/10
Perhaps I'm being generous, but given that the handicap is similar to the margin assigned to Ireland against Canada, I’m advising to take Romania on the plus. The French only turn up for the big fixtures and I can see them stuttering at least once before a glorious tournament resurgence.
New Zealand vs Namibia
Pool C | Thursday 24 September | Olympic Park, London | 21:00
To Win (80mins)
New Zealand 1/1000
New Zealand (-78.5) 9/10
Namibia (+78.5) 9/10
There’s a sense of foreboding even writing this section. This is a bloodbath in the making. What more can be said of the All Blacks? The most consistently dominant side in the history of world rugby meets the tournament’s lowest-ranked nation and recipient of the biggest beating in World Cup history. The only impediment to the All Blacks claiming back-to-back championships comes in the embarrassment of riches they have at their disposal. The coach will face selection dilemmas the entire tournament, as well as potentially meeting France in the knockout rounds. Namibia will be resigned to group whipping boys and no more so than in this fixture. Talismanic flanker Jacques Burger can make all the tackles his heart desires, he cannot defend fifteen ruthless All Blacks with a record to break.
VERDICT: New Zealand (-78.5) 9/10
I feel the All Blacks will make a mockery of it of the margin and could take this by over 100 points.
Argentina vs Georgia
Pool C | Friday 25 September | Kingsholm, Gloucester | 17:45
To Win (80mins)
Argentina (-22.5) 9/10
Georgia (+22.5) 9/10
Argentina will expect to follow New Zealand out of Pool C come the conclusion of the group stages. For the first time in their history, Los Pumas managed avoid the Rugby Championship wooden spoon albeit in a shorter tournament than usual. An historic win over the Springboks in Durban this year followed a victory over Australia last year, and once again Argentina possess the allure of 2007’s surprise package. Traditionally they rely on a powerful scrum and their backs possess some real pace, especially in Juan Imhoff. Georgia will feel that if they can compete with the Argentines at scrum time and perhaps kill the ball from time to time, that they could run the South Americans closer than expected. Their pack may stand up physically but Georgia should prove no match should Argentina distribute through the backline.
VERDICT: Argentina (-22.5) 9/10
This could well begin with tight exchanges and I expect a low scoring affair come half-time. Georgia will look to spoil clean ball for Argentina and could view negativity as the best means of running Los Pumas close. I expect a more dominant second-half display from Argentina as experience comes to the fore. Argentina were good enough for the first sixty minutes against the All Blacks to convince me to back them on the handicap.