Rugby World Cup: Pool A Preview - Green and Gold Rugby
Ireland

Rugby World Cup: Pool A Preview

Rugby World Cup: Pool A Preview

The long wait is finally over as we are just under a week before the start of the Rugby World Cup. This week, we will breakdown the four pools leading into the start of the tournament on Friday.

We start off today with Pool A, headlined by a hungry Irish team looking to vanquish ghosts of World Cup’s past, along with hosts Japan, wildcards Scotland, the physical Samoans and the emerging Russians.

Ireland

KMP-G&G-Wallabies-Ireland-7745

Ireland comes into the tournament as the number one ranked nation for the first time in history after victory over Wales in their last warm-up game. They are one of two nations (All Blacks) to have beaten every tier one nation since the previous World Cup.

This bodes well for the Irish, as only once (2007) has the top-ranked team not won the World Cup since the World Rugby rankings system was introduced. However, Ireland is fighting their own demons and history, having not won a knockout game in the nations’ history.

How they Qualified

Automatic qualifiers on the account of finishing first in their group at the 2015 World CUp.

Recent form

Ireland seemed to earmark themselves as the team to beat in 2018, with Joe Schmidt leading his side to the Grand Slam and Six Nations at the start of the year, before heading down under to defeat the Wallabies 2-1 in a three-game series. This was capped off by their most impressive performance in recent memory with a 16-9 win over the All Blacks.

However, they seemed to slump into 2019, starting with a 32-20 loss to England. They regained some remnants of their 2018 season, with wins over Scotland, Italy and France before falling to Wales 25-7 in the final game of the Six Nations. This was compounded by a 57-12 drubbing by England (albeit an understrength Irish outfit), before gaining some pride and the number one ranking with consecutive wins over Wales.

Squad

Tadhg Beirne, Rory Best (c) Jack Conan, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne, Iain Henderson, Jean Kleyn, Peter O’Mahony, Andrew Porter, Rhys Ruddock, James Ryan, John Ryan, Niall Scannell, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier; Bundee Aki, Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Luke McGrath, Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose, Jonathan Sexton, Jacob Stockdale

Coach: Joe Schmidt

Player to watch

Sexton
Johnny Sexton

I mean it couldn’t be any other player, the reigning World Rugby Player of the Year is instrumental to the fortunes of Ireland, which was seen when he wasn’t selected during their losses to Wales and England during the year. Whilst there are some concerns around his fitness, he is the heart and soul of this side and he will need to be at his best if they are to go deep.

World Cup History

Played: 35
Wins: 21
Loses: 14
Best Finish: Quarter Finals (Pretty much every year)

Last Five World Cups
2015: Quarter Final
2011: Quarter Final
2007: Group Stages
2003: Quarter Final
1999: Quarter Final Play-Offs

Prediction

I think this is the year that Ireland defy history and make a deep run into the tournament. They will be looking to send Joe Schmidt off on a good note and I expect them to top their group and make it to the final.

Japan

Ayumu Goromaru for Japan 3158162

The host nation will be banking on a ton of local support to help them into the knock-out stages for the first time in their history. The cherry/brave blossoms pulled off the biggest upset of the World Cup in 2015 when they defeated South Africa 34-32 and they need to pull off similar results if they want to feature past the group stages.

They come into this with a disappointing record against tier-one nations, having won just once in 19 attempts in the last four years. However, they seem to be peaking at the right time, having gone unbeaten in the Pacific Nations Cup.

How they Qualified

Host nation along with finishing third in their pool at the 2015 World Cup

Recent form

Japan had a positive 2018, starting out with split 1-1 series against Italy before cruising past Georgia. They would then get trounced by New Zealand followed by a loss to England, in which they led at half-time. This was rounded out by a narrow win over Russia in Gloucester.

They are coming into this tournament full of confidence after sweeping through the Pacific Nations Cup. They put in three impressive performances against the likes of Fiji (34-21), Tonga (41-7) and the United States (34-20) and seem to have nailed down their combinations. They were brought back down to Earth when they were comfortably beaten by South Africa 41-7 two weeks ago.

Squad

Michael Leitch (c) Keita Inagaki, Yusuke Kizu, Koo Ji-won, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Ai Valu, Takuya Kitade, Atsushi Sakata, Shota Horie, Luke Thompson, Wimpie van der Walt, Uwe Helu, James Moore, Hendrik Tui, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Pieter Labuschagne, Kazuki Himeno, Amanaki Mafi, Kaito Shigeno, Fumiaki Tanaka, Yutaka Nagare, Yu Tamura, Rikiya Matsuda, Kenki Fukuoka, Ataata Moeakiola, Lomano Lemeki, William Tupou, Ryoto Nakamura, Timothy Lafaele, Kotaro Matsushima, Ryohei Yamanaka

Coach: Jamie Joseph

Player to watch

Amanaki Mafi lets one bounce

Amanaki Mafi lets one bounce


Amanaki Mafi

Mafi is a dynamic number eight who will add significant punch to the Japanese forward pack when he is called upon. His partnership with Kazuki Himeno and Leitch will be crucial throughout the tournament and this trio needs to control the breakdown and consistently get over the advantage line if they wish to qualify for the knockout stage.

World Cup History

Played: 28
Wins: 4
Losses: 22
Draw: 2
Best Finish: Group Stages

Last Five World Cups
2015: Group Stages
2011: Group Stages
2007: Group Stages
2003: Group Stages
1999: Group Stages

Prediction

I think Japan will go one further than in 2015 and make it past the group stages. The home support can not be under-estimated and I think they have enough to pull off the necessary upset(s) to get to the quarter-finals, before being knocked out by either New Zealand or South Africa.

Scotland

six-nations-championship---scotland-v-italy-1

Scotland comes into this World Cup with more questions than answers in my books, with many wondering when they will make that leap and contend with the big boys. A strong 2018 season has been muddled by mixed results in this year’s Six Nations, which saw the Scots struggle before their remarkable comeback draw against England.

Whilst they have the talent to challenge some of the best in the world, they lack consistency and go forward upfront, which leaves many to question how far they can actually go.

How they Qualified

Automatic qualifiers after finishing second in their group in 2015

Recent form

To say Scotland is inconsistent is a massive understatement. They impressed in the 2018 Six Nations with wins over France and England indicating that they ready to challenge the world’s best, before dropping games against USA, South Africa and Wales.

2019 started off poorly, with loses to Ireland, France and Wales before they pulled off a miraculous recovery to draw with England. In the lead up to this tournament, they split the series 1-1 against France and hammered Georgia twice.

Squad

John Barclay, Simon Berghan, Fraser Brown, Scott Cummings, Allan Dell, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Stuart McInally (c), WP Nel, Gordon Reid, Jamie Ritchie, Blade Thomson, Ben Toolis, George Turner, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Adam Hastings, Stuart Hogg, George Horne, Peter Horne, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn, Greig Laidlaw, Sean Maitland, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour, Duncan Taylor

Coach: Gregor Townsend

Player to watch

Finn Russell gets a kick off.

Finn Russell gets a kick off.


Finn Russell

Russell has epitomised Scotland rugby since the 2015 World Cup, with the flyhalf integral to their World Cup hopes. When he is on, he is one of the best around, with the gifted fly-half able to take over a match and guide them to victory. When he’s off, the team seems to languish behind and struggles for creativity and spark. We need to see more of the former if the Scots want to return to the knock out stages.

World Cup History

Played: 38
Wins: 22
Loses: 15
Draw: 1
Best Result: Fourth (1991)

Last Five World Cups
2015: Quarter Final
2011: Group Stages
2007: Quarter Final
2003: Quarter Final
1999: Quarter Final

Prediction

It’s tough to get a read on the Scots. If they are on, then they should have no troubles with advancing to the knock out stages. However, my bold prediction is that their inconsistencies will come back to haunt them, preventing them from getting past the group stages as they drop games to Ireland and Japan.

Samoa

Samoa perform the Siva Tau for Fiji

Samoa perform the Siva Tau for Fiji

Samoa will be looking to overcome their poor history at the World Cup and are hoping to cause a couple of boil-overs in their quest to make the knockout stage for the first time. They have struggled over the past 12 months, having lost three of their last four games and will be missing some crucial players who have stubbornly chosen club over country.

But this all changes when it comes to the World Cup, with the Samoans coming into the tournament with nothing to lose, looking to punish any team that treat them lightly.

How they Qualified

Qualified through Europe/Oceania play-off, defeating Germany 108–43 on aggregate.

Recent form

They have had mixed results since they qualified for the World Cup in 2018, with loses to USA and Georgia and a win against Spain rounding out their year. The Samoans started 2019 on a high, with a 25-17 over Tonga at the start of the Pacific Nations Cup. However, they have struggled since, dropping close games to the USA (13-10), Fiji (10-3) and Australia (34-15)

Squad

Jack Lam (c), Ed Fidow, Tim Nanai-Williams, Ahsee Tuala, Belgium Tuatagaloa, Henry Taefu, Alapati Leiua, Reynold Lee-Lo, Kieron Fonotia, AJ Atatimu, Tusi Pisi, Ulupano Seuteni, Dwayne Polotaivao, Melani Matavao, Pele Cowley, Afaesetiti Amosa, TJ Ioane, Piula Fa’asalele, Josh Tyrell, Chris Vui, Teofilo Paulo, Kane Leaupepe, Senio Toleafoa, Michael Alaalatoa, Paul Alo-Emile, James Lay, Jordan Lay, Logovi’i Mulipola, Motu Matu’u, Ray Niuia, Seilala Lam

Coach: Steve Jackson

Player to watch

Nanai Williams

Nanai Williams

Tim Nanai Williams
I highlighted him as one of their key players in the Wallabies preview and I think he will be their x-factor heading into the tournament. His experience will be crucial and they need him alongside fly-half Tusi Pisi to fire at crunch time if they are to cause some upsets.

World Cup History

Played: 28
Wins: 12
Loses: 16
Best Performance: Quarter Finals (1991,1995)

Last Five World Cups
2015: Group Stages
2011: Group Stages
2007: Group Stages
2003: Group Stages
1999: Quarter Final Play-Offs

Prediction

If they play how they did against the Wallabies in the second half, they can absolutely cause some headaches for the likes of Ireland, Scotland and Japan. However, I think they will struggle and will be looking at their game against Russia for fourth place as their grand final.

Russia

Russians stepped up

Russians stepped up

Rounding out the group is Russia, who will feature in just their second World Cup, having debuted in 2011. Russia appears to be the whipping boys of this group on paper, having “tripped” into the tournament after numerous nations were caught bending the rules in qualification.

However, they continue to improve in leaps and bounds since Welshman Lyn Jones took over as coach and they will bring a squad packed full with local talent eager for their first-ever World Cup win. They will take comfort out of the narrow loss to Japan 18 months ago, with the knowledge that they can compete with any team on their day.

How they Qualified

They pulled a Bradbury when Spain and Romania were disqualified for fielding ineligible players, securing qualification despite winning just four of their eight matches during the Europe Rugby Championship in 2017 and 2018.

Recent form

As previously mentioned, the Russians were filled with confidence after their narrow 32-27 loss to Japan, in which the Cherry/Brave Blossoms stole victory when Michael Leitch crossed in the final minutes. They’ve had a mixed 2019, with wins over Namibia, Germany and an Argentinan XV sprinkled in with crushing loses against Romania, Georgia and Spain.

They were smashed 85-15 by Italy in their most recent warm-up match in August, which seems to indicate where they stand heading into the tournament.

Squad

Vasily Artemyev(c), German Davydov, Vasily Dorofeev, Igor Galinovsky, Ramil Gaysin, Dmitry Gerasimov, German Godluk, Kirill Golosnitsky, Yuri Kushnarev, Vladimir Ostroushko, Dmitry Perov, Denis Simplikevich, Vladislav Sozonov, Sergey Yanyushkin, Azamat Bitiev, Sergey Chernyshev, Bogdan Fedotko, Tagir Gadzhiev, Andrey Garbuzov, Kirill Gotovtsev, Victor Gresev, Roman Khodin, Evgeny Matveev, Valery Morozov, Andrey Ostrikov, Vladimir Podrezov, Andrey Polivalov, Stanislav Selsky, Anton Sychev, Nikita Vavilin, Evgeny Yelgin, Vitaliy Zhivatov

Coach: Lyn Jones

Player to watch

Russia v Fiji Men Sydney 7s
Kiril Gotovtsev
Gotovtsev has represented his country in a plethora of sports, having competed in freestyle wrestling before turning his hand to bobsleigh in a bid to qualify for the Sochi Olympics. Since then, he has turned his attention to rugby, where the barnstorming prop having excelled, with Jones calling the 24-year-ol “one of the best tighthead props I have ever trained,”

World Cup History

Played: 4
Wins: 0
Loses: 4

Previous Five World Cups
2015: DNQ
2011: Group Stages
2007: DNQ
2003: DNQ
1999: DNQ

Prediction

I think there is promise and potential in this team, which is highlighted by Gotovtsev, however, I think it’s too early for them and they will struggle in this tournament. They seemed to have qualified by default (the two sweetest words in the English language) and I think they will be outclassed by their opposition.

Final Table Prediction

1st: Ireland
2nd: Japan
3rd: Scotland
4th: Samoa
5th: Russia

Fixtures (All time AEST)

20 September 2019: Japan v Russia, Tokyo Stadium, Chōfu (8:45pm)
22 September 2019: Ireland v Scotland, International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama (5:45pm)
24 September 2019: Russia v Samoa, Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, Kumagaya (8:15pm)
28 September 2019: Japan v Ireland, Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, Fukuroi (5:15pm)
30 September 2019: Scotland v Samoa, Kobe Misaki Stadium, Kobe (8:15pm)
3 October 2019: Ireland v Russia, Kobe Misaki Stadium, Kobe (8:15pm)
5 October 2019: Japan v Samoa, City of Toyota Stadium, Toyota (8:30pm)
9 October 2019: Scotland v Russia, Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, Fukuroi (6:15pm)
12 October 2019: Ireland v Samoa, Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka (9:45pm)
13 October 2019: Japan v Scotland, International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama (9:45pm)

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Thanks Nathan,

    I think you’re correct and Ireland will finally make it to the Semis this year. I just can’t see them going further as while they do have some depth, the game against England really showed some of their depth as being pretty poor.
    I think Japan will be the second team in this pool with hometown support getting them across the line.

    • From NooZealand

      And the All Blacks being their second preferred team, we are OK.

  • wilful

    “Mafi … will add significant punch to the Japanese forward pack.” I see what you did there.

    PS the Samoan war dance is called the Siva Tau, it’s NOT a haka.

    • From NooZealand

      Agree on Mafi’s comment and thank you for the lesson re: Siva Tau.

    • Nathan Williamson

      Thanks, that’s the default caption for that image so I’ll update it in our photo database

  • Keith Butler

    You would think that Scotland and Ireland would be the bankers for this group. However, such is their recent form both Samoa and Japan could surprise them, particularly the Scots.

  • NickAJW

    As someone born and raised in Scotland to Aussie parents. Please continue to write Scotland off. They are worse than the Wallabies for failing to perform under expectation, so the more they are written off the better!

  • Caeliv Donnelly

    COME ON IRELAND!

Ireland
@NathW1997

Loved rugby since the day I could remember, got the nickname Footy to show that, I watch Matt Dunning's dropkick every night before going to bed

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