The Rugby World Cup is in it’s third week now and the real contenders are starting to show their quality.
Let’s break down each Home Nations’ start to their campaign and see if any of them stand a chance of overthrowing reigning champions New Zealand and stoping them winning a third consecutive World Cup.
Let’s start with the home nation that beat the All Blacks last, Ireland. Just before the start of the World Cup, they were coming into the tournament off the back of two impressive wins against Wales and found themselves the number one ranked side in the world.
The first game for Ireland in the World Cup was against another Home Nation, Scotland, and a good performance by them backed up their number one ranking status. Within 14 minutes, they found themselves 12-0 up after second row James Ryan picked up from the ruck just a metre short of the try line and used his muscle power to give Ireland an early lead. The next try came from captain Rory Best with another similar try by using Ireland’s muscle power to dominate Scotland, but this time, used a driving line out to push the score to 12-0. Further tries from Furlong and Conway gave Ireland an impressive full-time score of 27-3.
In the second game for Ireland they faced the hosts, Japan, which on paper should have been a game that Ireland would win but they were poor. Japan took full advantage of their bad performance and won 19-12.
Russia followed and Ireland made easy work of taking an important bonus point away with them from Kobe with a 35-0 win.
Now, they must win their remaining game against Samoa with a bonus point to secure a quarterfinal spot, given that Scotland don’t match Ireland’s 16 points that they will get with a bonus point victory.
Even with progression to the quarterfinals Ireland will play either South Africa or New Zealand and with that in mind I think they won’t make it past the quarterfinals, something they have never done.
Scotland are the other team in Group A and had a tough start to their campaign when they faced Ireland and the gulf in class showed with a 27-3 loss.
They then faced Samoa and the winners of that game would still be in reach of a quarterfinal place. Scotland started off slow and it took 30 minutes for the first try in which Finn Russel made a perfectly waited cross field kick to Maitland who finished the try in the corner and scoring Scotland’s first try of the Rugby World Cup. An impressive performance from Greg Laidlaw with a try, two conversions and a penalty secured Scotland a very important bonus point win.
Scotland now travel to Shizuoka, to face Russia in which a bonus point must be on the minds of the players.
On the 13th October Scotland will face Japan in must win game and another bonus point victory may be very decisive.
Similar to Ireland, if Scotland were to progress, they would face either South Africa or New Zealand, creating the chance of one of the biggest upsets in Rugby World Cup history if they were to beat either team. However, as it stands, and with the form and confidence Japan are playing with, it would take a very good performance to beat Japan but with the likes of Hogg, Russell and Laidlaw it can be done.
One of the strongest teams coming into the World Cup, England fancied their chances to top Group C and have already sealed qualification. A win against France on Saturday will see them top the group.
England’s first game was against Tonga, Billy Vunipola’s parent’s nationality, and he was greeted with a huge hit from Zane Kapeli in the early minutes of the game. However, England showed their physicality with Manu Tuilagi powering through the defence to score their first try of the tournament. Another try from Tuilagi and tries from Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie sealed a convincing 35-3 win.
Next up for The Roses was against the USA. They took a while to take control with only a 19-0 lead at half time against a considerably weaker side. However, they finally pulled it together to win 45-7 to remain top of their group.
The latest game was played in the capital, Tokyo, where going into it, it should have been the toughest test England have faced this tournament. However, with an early red card for Argentina’s Tomas Lavanini it opened the game up for them and they ended up with a 39-10 win.
With qualification guaranteed for the 2003 winners they now have their minds set on top spot which will be awarded with a win on Saturday. One criticism is that they have yet to play a full 80 minutes of rugby that would suggest this campaign would end in World Cup victory.
If they do manage to get top spot, they will play the runners up of Group D which will likely be Australia. That could prove to be a winnable game, meaning they would likely face New Zealand in the semi-finals, a game in which England can only win if they massively improve from their group stage matches.
The home nation with arguably the best chance of winning the World Cup, Wales started strong with a free flowing first half attack against Georgia and went into the break with a 29-0 lead, already securing the bonus point. Wales won the game winning 43-14 but they dropped off in the second half and could be a worrying sign in future games.
Australia followed and this was a game all Welsh fans were looking forward to in the run up of the World Cup as it was viewed as a match for top spot in Group D. Similar to their first game they dominated the first half, frustrating Australia and turning over the ball over 10 times. At half time Wales found themselves 23-8 up and in a comfortable position to see out the match. However, in a thrilling and nail biting second half for Wales they found themselves on the back foot for most of the half, but a strong defence made sure they won in the end with the final score 29-25.
Wales will likely play France in the quarterfinals if they win against Fiji on Wednesday and with winning those two games, it is probable they will face South Africa in the semi-finals.
By Scott Dixon
Photo credit: Hanson Lu via Unsplash