Last week I promised a month and a half’s worth of rugby nirvana and instead South African supporters got purgatory. While the biggest upset in the history of rugby has left South Africans depressed, the defeat has definitely piqued the rest of the world’s interest in the tournament.
On to Week 2 and there are some enthralling fixtures in store. Once again the more glamourous match-ups will be covered in full previews. With Group B blown open by last week’s upset result some of the smaller games in this preview could have a massive bearing on the makeup of the quarter-final competitors. The Samoa vs Japan game could possibly see the winner advance to the quarter-finals with a round still to play.
Australia vs Uruguay
Group A | Sunday 27 September | Villa Park, Birmingham | 13:00
To Win (80mins)
Australia (-64.5) 9/10
Uruguay (+64.5) 9/10
This is another fixture that pits two sides that have never previously met against each other. This will be the second fixture of the tournament for both. The Australians played the physical Fijians and only won by fifteen points. The Uruguayans went down heavily to Wales. Los Teros will be buoyed by the first twenty minutes of their showing against the Dragons however. The unfancied South Americans actually held the lead at the twenty minute mark but fatigue soon set in and it was to be all Wales from then on in. With the likes of Quade Cooper, Will Skelton, Joe Tomane and Kurtley Beale all excluded from the starting lineup against Fiji, Michael Cheika will surely rotate his squad for this encounter. While the South Americans will field their first string side against the Australian second stringers, they are still in for an uphill battle. The Wallabies will be fired up and looking to claim a spot in the starting lineup for the game against the host nation.
VERDICT: Australia (-64.5) 9/10
With the Australian fringe players being afforded a chance to stake their claim for a first team spot, I expect to see a points hungry outfit take to the field on Sunday.
Scotland vs USA
Group B | Sunday 27 September | Elland Road Centre, Leeds | 15:30
To Win (80mins)
Scotland (-22.5) 9/10 USA (+22.5) 9/10
The two sides met at the 2003 World Cup at Suncorp Stadium in Queensland and the game saw the Scots run out 39-15 winners. The teams have played on three other occasions. In total, the Scots have scored 181 points and average 45.25 per game, while the Americans have only put fifty on the board at an average of 12.5 points per game. While the Thistles kicked their tournament off on Wednesday with a comfortable win over Japan, the Americans have already come through a bruising encounter against Samoa. With the game ending 25-16, the Eagles are likely to be rueing the fourteen penalties they gave away. Most of these penalties came at ruck time which, to be fair to the Americans, has been a bit of a lottery. Scotland mentor, Vern Cotter, will only be able to assess his squad after they’ve played Japan and he is likely to do a bit of rotation. A man who could benefit from this is ex-Golden Lions stalwart Josh Strauss. The bearded number eight gained Scottish citizenship last week and is likely to get a start in this one having been named on the bench for the encounter against Japan. Cotter’s counterpart, Mike Tolkin, will be sweating on the availability of one of his backline maestros. Fullback Blaine Scully came off fifty minutes into the game against Samoa and has been out of training for the majority of the week. Tolkin will be hoping the rangy number fifteen can recover in time, especially considering the Scots are likely to send a few up and unders into the Leeds afternoon sky.
VERDICT: USA (+22.5) 9/10
With the margin set in the low twenties I fancy the Eagles to stay within it, particularly with the Scots having endured a nightmarish 2015 up until their win against Japan.
Wales vs Fiji
Group A | Thursday 01 October | Millennium Stadium, Cardiff | 17:45
To Win (80mins)
Wales (-14.5) 9/10
Fiji (+14.5) 9/10
There haven’t been this many injuries sustained by Welshmen since the Second World War. Before the tournament had even started, they had already lost fullback Leigh Halfpenny, scrumhalf Rhys Webb and centre Jonathan Davies. In the wake of Halfpenny’s injury, winger Eli Walker was called up to the squad. Walker’s World Cup dreams were to be short lived however, with the speedster tearing his hamstring after only a week with the squad. While the loss of so many players was always going to hamper the Welsh campaign, seeing seven more players sustain injuries against the Uruguayans last week may have put the death nail in the Dragons’ quarter-final aspirations. Centre Cory Allen’s injury has seen him return home, and he is likely to soon be joined by utility back Liam Williams who also sustained a serious injury against the Uruguayans. There is still some hope however, with the other five players who left the field, last Sunday, likely to be available for the match against the Fijians. The Fijians have a less of a walking wounded air to them, with their only real availability concern being with lock Dominiko Waqaniburotu. The big man put in a monstrous hit on one of the English players last week that was strangely deemed to be tip tackle. He will know his fate by Thursday but is likely to only incur a one week ban. While the Fiji victory at France 2007 is probably the most famous encounter between the two sides, the Fijians also managed to pull off a draw against the Welsh at the Millennium Stadium in 2010. The Welsh have won the other eight encounters between the sides. Games between the duo are usually tight fought affairs with the Welsh often prevailing by ten points or less.
VERDICT: Fiji 9/2
With the Welsh likely to be fielding a second, if not third string side, I can see the Fijians causing another World Cup upset.
Samoa vs Japan
Group B | Saturday 03 October | Stadium:mk, Milton Keynes | 15:30
To Win (80mins)
Having caused the biggest upset in the history of rugby union last week the Japanese will be fired up coming into this encounter. Eddie Jones’ side could come into this fixture only needing a win to secure qualification for the quarter-finals. The Samoans will also feel they’re in with a chance to qualify for the quarter-finals especially if they manage to pick up a bonus point against the shell-shocked South Africans on Saturday. The two sides have only met at a World Cup in the 1999 tournament, which saw the Samoans run out 43-9 victors in an extremely one-sided affair. In total the two sides have met fourteen times with Japan only winning on three occasions. The Samoans have scored 477 points in those fourteen encounters at an average of 31.9 points per game, whilst the Japanese have only scored 274 points and average 19.57 points per game. While stats are usually a great reference point for punters, with the Brave Blossoms having improved so much in recent times, this numerical data can pretty much be thrown out the window.
Eddie Jones managed a ‘Miyagi Masterclass’ against the Boks last week and he will want to do the same against Pacific Islanders this time around. It will be a tight affair but I think the physicality of the Samoans will see them through.