RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool D

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool D

We are just days away from the start of the Rugby World Cup and we now know the players who will be on show. With the 31-man squads finalised, it’s time to start taking a look at the squads and looking at who will stand out during this tournament. In 2015, Nehe Milner-Skudder made his all Blacks debut in August, before going on to be a star of the tournament and make the tournament dream team, along with Japanese fullback Ayumu Goromaru, who definitely wasn’t known to the masses before the tournament.

With so many people who aren’t die-hard rugby fans set to watch the tournament, or many whose knowledge is maybe limited to their own nation’s players, I decided to do something similar to my Players to Watch in the Six Nations article, and expand that to each team of the World Cup. While I try to watch as much rugby as I can around the world, you’ll see that even I have blank spots as I select some players that may be bigger names in their teams, but they still may be lesser-known names to the wider public.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


Who are you looking out for during the tournament? And so we make it to Pool D:

Australia

Samu Kerevi may have 20+ caps to his name already, but I would argue that he has never really made a name for himself until this season. Though the Reds failed to make the playoffs this season, Kerevi finished in the top 10 for carries (220 – 1st), clean breaks (26 – 5th), defenders beaten (71 – 2nd) and offloads (26 – 2nd). He has carried that form into the Rugby Championship and has surely secured himself a spot in the Wallabies midfield.

Wales

The Wales squad has been relatively settled in recent years, allowing all the players to establish themselves, but for this I have gone for Josh Navidi. Having competed for minutes with Martyn Williams and Sam Warburton, he is a great openside flanker, who is at home anywhere in the back row – giving Warren Gatland more options with Taulupe Faletau out injured. Dangerous at the breakdown, he is also well accomplished at holding a player up to turn the ball over with a maul and his skills with ball in hand are massively underrated.

Georgia

Vasil Lobzhanidze was going to be my pick here, until I got the chance to watch Georgia’s warm-up matches against Scotland. While watching this, fly half Tedo Abzhandadze caught my eye and I was shocked to find that he was already a regular starter for the senior side despite being just 20 years old. Captain of the Georgian U20s team that beat Scotland and Fiji in the most recent World Rugby U20s Championship, the young 10 showed his range of skills at Murrayfield and controlled the game well. Now the question will be how he holds up in a major senior international tournament.

Fiji

I was going to write about rugby league convert Semi Radradra initially, but when push came to shove I couldn’t ignore Viliame Mata. The Edinburgh number 8 was named Players’ Player of the Year at the end of season Pro14 awards. Part of the Fiji 7s squad that won Gold at Rio 2016, he is an incredible danger in the loose with his strong running and ridiculous offloads. The thought of him, Semi Kunatani and Leone Nakarawa in the pack together is mouth-watering!

Uruguay

Probably one of the hardest to pick due to my own unfamiliarity with the Uruguayans. While I was tempted to go for Gastón Mieres, one of the Uruguayans making a name for themselves in Major League Rugby, I found myself instead picking Felipe Berchesi. Playing for Dax, who were just relegated from Pro D2, he is used to a decent level of rugby, while he has over 30 caps for Uruguay including 3 starts at RWC2015 and also featured at the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens.


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RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool C

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool C

We are mere days away from the start of the Rugby World Cup and we now know the players who will be on show. With the 31-man squads finalised, it’s time to start taking a look at the squads and looking at who will stand out during this tournament. In 2015, Nehe Milner-Skudder made his all Blacks debut in August, before going on to be a star of the tournament and make the tournament dream team, along with Japanese fullback Ayumu Goromaru, who definitely wasn’t known to the masses before the tournament.

With so many people who aren’t die-hard rugby fans set to watch the tournament, or many whose knowledge is maybe limited to their own nation’s players, I decided to do something similar to my Players to Watch in the Six Nations article, and expand that to each team of the World Cup. While I try to watch as much rugby as I can around the world, you’ll see that even I have blank spots as I select some players that may be bigger names in their teams, but they still may be lesser-known names to the wider public.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


Today, we’re moving onto Pool C

England

As someone who can’t go a day without talking English/Premiership rugby, it wasn’t easy for me to figure out who would be the lesser-known players in the England squad. I eventually settled on Joe Cokanasiga, who at 21 years old and with just 2 seasons of Premiership Rugby under his belt is still relatively unknown. While many of the England back 3 are fast, agile but not overly physical players, Cokanasiga relishes in the physical game while also having the speed to trouble defences. Assuming the defenders manage to successfully tackle him, they then have to hope he doesn’t get the offload away. With tries against Japan and Australia in the 2018 November Tests, expect to see him adding to that list during the tournament.

France

While Antoine Dupont deserves a mention, I’ve picked Damian Penaud here for Les Bleus. Capable of playing centre but often used on the wing for the national team, Penaud has 2 tries from 11 Test matches, including 2 in this year’s Six Nations. He really appeared to come into his own down the stretch for Clermont however, and I expect him to be even better now with more experience under his belt… assuming the rest of the team perform.

Argentina

Argentina are spoiled for choice in the outside backs, but one player who looked to have all-but secured his spot in the XV before injury was winger Bautista Delguy. At just 22 years old, the winger already has 5 tries from 11 caps, including 3 from 5 Rugby Championship appearances. Argentina will create chances but don’t always have the composure to finish them. Delguy on the wing gives them that.

USA

Having won the Pro12 with Connacht and spent 3 seasons with Sale, AJ MacGinty still goes relatively under the radar, but my pick here instead goes to Joe Taufete’e. The Worcester hooker has found himself stuck behind Jack Singleton in recent seasons, but has shown his quality for the Eagles with 20 tries from 22 appearances, making him the tight 5 player with the most international tries. With experience of his English opponents and a strong runner with ball in hand, Taufete’e is one of the players leading USA rugby into a new era.

Tonga

At 31 years old, Sione Kalamafoni is a well-established player, but despite plenty of years in the Premiership with Gloucester and Leicester, is someone who goes relatively under the radar. Kalamafoni has vital experience to help Tonga in a tough pool, while he will tackle all… day… long. On top of that, he also has a good turn of pace in the loose that will catch the opposition out if they leave him too much space.

Who are you looking out for during the tournament?


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RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool B

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool B

We are just days away from the start of the Rugby World Cup and we now know the players who will be on show. With the 31-man squads finalised, it’s time to start taking a look at the squads and looking at who will stand out during this tournament. In 2015, Nehe Milner-Skudder made his all Blacks debut in August, before going on to be a star of the tournament and make the tournament dream team, along with Japanese fullback Ayumu Goromaru, who definitely wasn’t known to the masses before the tournament.

With so many people who aren’t die-hard rugby fans set to watch the tournament, or many whose knowledge is maybe limited to their own nation’s players, I decided to do something similar to my Players to Watch in the Six Nations article, and expand that to each team of the World Cup. While I try to watch as much rugby as I can around the world, you’ll see that even I have blank spots as I select some players that may be bigger names in their teams, but they still may be lesser-known names to the wider public.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


Who are you looking out for during the tournament? Today, we’ll look at Pool B:

New Zealand

Ngani Laumape was going to be my pick here until his shock omission, so I have instead chosen to look at Sevu Reece. I made mention of Nehe Milner-Skudder earlier in the article and he is basically the Milner-Skudder of the 2019 All Blacks squad, having only made his debut in recent months. With pace, power and footwork, Reece looks the real deal and comes into the tournament having been the top try scorer in the last Super Rugby season.

South Africa

The first 2 rounds of Super Rugby made it clear that I had to pick to Herschel Jantjies. The Stormers scrum half did me some help in my fantasy team this year but even I wouldn’t have imagined his international career would begin with 3 tries in 2 Rugby Championship games and a draw against New Zealand in Wellington. Capable of controlling the game well enough to lead the team, he is such a danger with ball in hand if given too much space. Between him, Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach, head coach Rassie Erasmus is spoiled for choice at 9.

Italy

While I have to mention Gloucester’s Jake Polledri who I rate highly, I am going to the backs again here with my selection of Matteo Minozzi. The fullback missed this year’s Six Nations through injury, but proved himself to be a potent attacking talent in the 2018 tournament with 4 tries in 5 games. Part of the rebuild going on at Wasps this summer after moving from Zebre, Minozzi will be looking to make up for lost time. Expect him to run riot against Namibia and Canada.

Namibia

This was the hardest of the 20 teams competing to pick by a country mile. Reynaldo Bothma was going to be my pick here until he recently announced his retirement – I really hope there was no pressure from Harlequins affecting that decision – so in his absence I have picked Aranos Coetzee. The prop gets a selection here by virtue of his experience of playing at a relatively high level, having played for Racing, Brive and the Cheetahs all in top tier leagues while also featuring for South Africa’s U18s team back in the day. An experienced prop will be invaluable during the tournament.

Canada

Canada are a team that have really struggled for success in recent years, but if they are to have any success in the tournament, D. T. H. van der Merwe will surely be involved. The winger bizarrely struggled to get any time at Newcastle Falcons but has excelled at the Scarlets and in 2 spells with Glasgow. Internationally, he has scored 38 tries in 57 caps and has started every game at the last 3 World Cups, scoring 6 tries – including 4 in the 2015 tournament.


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RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool A

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool A

We are just days away from the start of the Rugby World Cup and we now know the players who will be on show. With the 31-man squads finalised, it’s time to start taking a look at the squads and looking at who will stand out during this tournament. In 2015, Nehe Milner-Skudder made his All Blacks debut in August, before going on to be a star of the tournament and make the tournament dream team, along with Japanese fullback Ayumu Goromaru, who definitely wasn’t known to the masses before the tournament.

With so many people who aren’t die-hard rugby fans set to watch the tournament, or many whose knowledge is maybe limited to their own nation’s players, I decided to do something similar to my Players to Watch in the Six Nations articles, and expand that to each team of the World Cup. While I try to watch as much rugby as I can around the world, you’ll see that even I have blank spots as I select some players that may be bigger names in their teams, but they still may be lesser-known names to the wider public.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


Who are you looking out for during the tournament? Today, we’ll start with a look at Pool A:

Ireland

Ireland were not the easiest team to pick a lesser-known player to look at here, as the majority of their regular starters are now so well established in international rugby. Eventually I settled on a player that regular readers will already know I am a big fan of. Tadhg Beirne was a star in the Scarlets squad and has carried on that form since moving to Munster. With Devin Toner and James Ryan having formed a regular partnership, injury harmed Beirne’s chances of forcing himself into the starting XV during the Six Nations but he is a dangerous runner in the loose and with decent game time he has a good chance of topping the turnover charts in a match.

Scotland

There were a few players I could have picked for Scotland, with honourable mentions going to Jamie Ritchie, Sam Johnson and Blair Kinghorn, but the pick here goes to Darcy Graham. The Edinburgh wing only made his Scotland debut against Wales in November, but has impressed with 5 tries in 7 appearances. With a good blend of pace and power, I expect him to be part of their ideal back 3 and think he can keep his scoring record going through the tournament.

Japan

Michael Leitch is the big name in this squad but his back row partner Amanaki Mafi also deserves a mention. While off-field issues have blighted his time with Bath and the Melbourne Rebels, he is a quality player and with 9 tries in 24 Tests, he will be looking to shine in this tournament. If Japan want to qualify for the knockouts, they need players like him at the top of their game.

Russia

This will likely be a last World Cup for many of the big named in the Russian back line, including 32-year-old Vladimir Ostroushko. A name that may be familiar to fans of the World Rugby Sevens Series, he will bring experience to the back line and also cause real damage to a team that gives him too much space. With 25 tries from 47 games, he could be key in their matches against Japan and Samoa.

Samoa

When looking through the Samoa squad, the name that stuck out to me was that of Chris Vui. The Bristol skipper was probably one of the best locks in the Premiership last season but still went somewhat under the radar due to the incredible performances of some of his teammates. Able to cover lock or the back row, Vui brings a great blend of strength, mobility and ball-handling skills to stand out from the crowd.


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RWC2019: Absentee 23

RWC2019: Absentee 23

The Rugby World Cup is less than a week away and we are now at a stage where all 20 nations have had to finalise their squads for the tournament. While there a plenty of players who will currently be thrilled at the opportunity to represent their country on the biggest stage, there will also be players left disappointed at missing out on a place in the squad, hoping they will get another chance in 4 years’ time. For some of these players, it will be badly timed injuries. For some, it will be a result of too much strength in one position. Some may have even found that their face just didn’t fit with the current organisation.

Today, as we continue to build towards the tournament’s kickoff, I will be looking to create a team from players who are set to not feature in the tournament. I was initially looking to select just a starting XV, but after arguing with my friend Gez over who deserved the 10 spot out of Cipriani and Anscombe, I decided to expand it to a full 23-man matchday squad – which simply took the argument to who should be the starter!


Journey to RWC2019 series:


1: Karl Tu’inukuafe:- Maybe not the player most would have expected to take this spot given some of the Home Nations players missing out, but on recent international pedigree, I couldn’t leave Tu’inukuafe out. Nominated for World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2018, Tu’inukuafe was a star for the All Blacks despite having been a security guard as recently as 2015. A strong scrummager who showed good skill in the loose, he misses out on a spot in the All Blacks squad courtesy of the depth at prop in New Zealand.

2: Dylan Hartley:- He may have potentially dropped behind Jamie George in the England pecking order, but the England captain would have still been guaranteed a place in the squad had his 2019 not been ruined by a knee injury. England have been missing his captaincy of late.

3: Owen Franks:- One of the biggest shocks from New Zealand’s squad announcement was the omission of Owen Franks. The tighthead has over 100 caps to his name and has played at 2 World Cups but has missed out as Steve Hansen has looked to more mobile options. With Franks set to join Northampton and become ineligible for international selection, it looks like his international career will end on the sour note of the Bledisloe Cup loss in Perth.

4: Richie Gray:- 65 caps for Scotland, 1 Test appearance for the British and Irish Lions, Top 14 champion as recently as this summer… That is a lot of experience to leave out of a Scotland side that needs big runners, but it looks like he will not be involved in Japan as he has chosen to take a summer off following injury issues and the birth of his son just a few months ago.

5: Will Skelton:- A behemoth who failed to live up to his potential in Australia, Will Skelton has revitalised his career since moving to Saracens and dropping a bit of weight to become more mobile. With just 18 caps to his name, Skelton falls well short of the threshold to allow him to feature for the Wallabies without playing in Australia, leaving him ineligible for selection.

6: Facundo Isa:- Capable of playing at 6 or 8, Isa should have so many more caps than the 27 he has currently earned. Unfortunately, playing in France has seen him enter an international exile and though he was given a chance this summer, he was unable to force his way into the squad as Mario Ledesma decided that he had sufficient home-based options available to cover the back row.

7: Seán O’Brien:- We have known for quite a while that O’Brien would be missing the tournament as it was announced in May that he would require hip surgery. Injuries have ruined his career in recent years and sadly it looks like his move to London Irish will see the Tullow Tank finish with 56 caps for Ireland and 5 Test caps for the British and Irish Lions.

8: Taulupe Faletau:- I almost picked Ben Morgan here after having one of his best ever seasons for Gloucester, but I could not leave out Taulupe Faletau. One of the best number 8s in world rugby, Faletau has 72 Wales caps and 4 British and Irish Lions Test caps to his name, but hasn’t featured for Wales since the 2018 Six Nations due to injuries. Sadly, he has been ruled out of appearing in his 3rd World Cup due to a collarbone injury.

9: Rhys Webb:- With 31 caps for Wales and 2 British and Irish Lions Test caps, Rhys Webb is arguably Wales’ best all-round scrum half, but at 30 years old it looks like he will never feature in a World Cup. He missed the 2015 tournament due to an injury picked up in their warm-up match against Italy, then his chances of selection for this tournament were brought to an end when the new 60-cap rule was implemented shortly after the announcement that Webb would be signing for Toulon, making him ineligible for international selection.

10: Danny Cipriani:- I had resigned myself to Cipriani being left out, but that still didn’t make it any easier reading the England squad for the first time. Cipriani has revitalised his career with Sale, Wasps and now Gloucester, winning a host of awards and personal accolades this last season. Eddie Jones took him to South Africa where he set up Jonny May for the only try in their sole victory during their 2018 tour of South Africa. Sadly, it doesn’t look like he was given any real chance of making the squad by Eddie Jones.

11: Aphiwe Dyantyi:- The 2018 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year looked certain to travel to Japan this time last year, but he has missed out on a place in the squad after injury issues stopped him taking any part in this year’s matches… and now his career is in jeopardy following the announcement of a positive test for a banned substance.

12: Ngani Laumape:- Owen Franks’ omission may have been the big news from the All Blacks’ squad announcement, resulting in Laumape’s not getting the attention it deserved. 5 centres vying for 4 spots was always going to result in someone missing out but the NRL convert has been one of the stars of recent Super Rugby seasons and has impressed when given a chance in the national team. Of the 5 centres, he would have been my first choice in the squad.

13: Mathieu Bastareaud:- France have plenty of different options at centre, but it was still a shock to see the experience of Mathieu Bastareaud left out of the squad. A hard runner and dangerous at the breakdown, it appears that Bastareaud lost out as the coaches looked at more mobile options. Following his omission, he has retired from international rugby and after a loan spell at Lyon (what will see him playing in the back row), he will be moving to Major League Rugby to play for Rugby United New York.

14: Santiago Cordero:- One of the most exciting players in the Premiership last year, Cordero thrilled at the 2015 World Cup and has got back to that form over the last season. Equally capable on the wing or at fullback, he joins Isa as one of the shock omissions from Mario Ledesma’s squad having been deemed surplus to requirements due to playing outside of Argentina.

15: Damian McKenzie:- A capable 10 but a wonderful 15 at international level, it looked like Damian McKenzie was about to make the fullback position his own for the All Blacks, using the extra space to devastate defences as a playmaker. Unfortunately, McKenzie suffered a season-ending knee injury in April, leaving Steve Hansen to look at other options.

16: Tatafu Polota-Nau:- Moving away from Australia to play for Leicester Tigers was always going to be a risky move for Polota-Nau. An established and experienced hooker, he had enough caps to still be eligible, but it still opened up a chance which Folau Fainga’a and Tolu Latu took to become the main 2 options. I thought He may still make it in as a 3rd choice for his experience, but Michael Cheika chose instead to look to the future by selecting 22-year-old Jordan Uelese as the final hooker.

17: Rob Evans:- Despite being a former British and Irish Lion, Jack McGrath just misses out on a spot in the 23 to Rob Evans. Injuries have hampered Evans’ chance to train in the build-up to the tournament and in the end that proved costly, despite Evans being one of the best Welsh forwards in the loose.

18: Uini Atonio:- The La Rochelle behemoth was a regular in the France squad, but an injury early in the Six Nations opened up the opportunity for Demba Bamba to prove himself in senior international rugby. Throw in a return for the experienced Rabah Slimani and it made the battle for a spot on the plane much harder. Like Bastareaud, it looks like Atonio eventually missed out due to the coaches wanting more mobile options.

19: Devin Toner:- Probably the most shocking omission from the Ireland squad, Devin Toner has been a favourite of Joe Schmidt throughout his tenure, with his height and prowess at the lineout being a key reason. However, Tadhg Beirne’s return to Ireland and Jean Kleyn becoming eligible through residency made the Irish second row much deeper and in the end, Toner’s questionable form saw him left at home.

20: Pete Samu:- Capable of playing across the back row, Samu was beginning to establish himself in the Australian squad and finished the season well for the Brumbies. Unfortunately, an injury in the quarterfinals caused him to miss the start of this year’s international window and he saw himself fall behind Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Isi Naisarani and Jack Dempsey in the pecking order.

21: Danny Care:- A star for Harlequins and a regular in the England squad for so long, Care has seen himself plummet down the pecking order over the last year and has not featured for England since their win over Japan in November 2018, leaving England with very little experience at 9 behind Ben Youngs. Surgery following an injury in training has now denied him the chance of even being an injury replacement.

22: Gareth Anscombe:- Anscombe may have made himself the starting fly half but his early Wales career also saw him playing plenty of fullback, where he played for the Chiefs before moving north. Anscombe was almost certain to start at the World Cup, until he damaged his ACL and cartilage in his knee during the first warm-up match against England.

23: Huw Jones:- There were so many different ways I could go with this final spot, with names like Waisake Naholo, Chris Ashton, Juan Imhoff and Simon Zebo all eligible for this spot, but I chose to go a different way for this final spot and select Huw Jones. A few seasons back I would have argued that Jones was one of the best 13s in world rugby. However, a combination of injuries and falling out of favour at Glasgow saw his chances limited in a Scottish squad that is suddenly becoming very deep at centre.

 

Who are you most disappointed to see missing the World Cup?


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Eyes On: Ireland v Wales – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Eyes On: Ireland v Wales – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Ireland and Wales faced off at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon in their final warm-up match ahead of the Rugby World Cup. With Joe Schmidt’s tenure as Ireland head coach finishing ending in Japan, this was his last game on Irish soil and it had a fairytale ending. Rob Kearney put the hosts ahead with a try, but Hadleigh Parkes’ try and 5 points from Leigh Halfpenny’s boot gave Wales a 7-10 lead. The second half could only be described as a siege as it felt like the entire 40 minutes was spent in the Welsh 22, with Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan crossing to give Ireland a 19-10 victory that earned them the #1 spot in the World Rankings for the first time in their history.

Ireland

Devin Toner’s omission from the Irish squad was understandable given the depth in the Irish second row and his own drop in form, but it was also a surprise for one big reason: Ireland’s lineout has been anything but secure this year. Rory Best, Sean Cronin and Niall Scannell are all highly impressive players, but they have struggled to get consistency when throwing in.

You can imagine that if Paul O’Connell had hair, he would be ripping it out watching recent matches; the lineout used to be such a weapon for Ireland, but it currently feels as likely to hurt them as it does their opponent. The set piece is such a vital piece of international rugby and losing the ball on your own throw as regular as Ireland have been is a big worry. They may be able to get away with it int heir pool, but it could prove costly against Scotland and will certainly be an issue if they make it to the knockouts and have to take on either New Zealand or South Africa.

Wales

Wales have a fantastic defence, but even the best of defences will be breached a couple of times if not given a break. In the second half against Ireland, Wales could not stop defending because they could not get any significant time on the ball. This match highlighted the big worry with the Wales squad that may prove costly int he World Cup: they lack carriers in the pack.

When you watch teams like England, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, France and Australia, they all have a number of forwards who will carry over and over again and regularly make at least a metre or 2 to keep the team going forwards. Even Italy are starting to get this with players like Jake Polledri and Seb Negri. Wales seriously lacked that in this match. Their pack (both starters and replacements) combined for a measly 30 metres, which was only 4 more than Josh van der Flier made on his own. It is this lack of carriers that made the omissions of Samson Lee and Rob Evans even more of a surprise as they are comfortable taking the ball in hand.

Phil, Gez and I all had Wales making it to the semifinals and eventually finishing 3ʳᵈ when we made our predictions for the tournament. If they don’t get their forwards carrying more, they will be lucky to make it past the quarterfinals.


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Eyes On: Australia v Samoa – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Eyes On: Australia v Samoa – RWC2019 Warm-ups

With their first World Cup match just weeks away, Australia finished off their series of warm-up games by taking on Samoa in Sydney. The Wallabies made a number of changes for this match but still took a 22-3 lead with tries from Adam Coleman, Marika Koroibete, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto. Samoa made a comeback after the break with a brace from Dwayne Polataivaia, before 2 late tries from Dwayne Haylett-Petty and Matt To’omua secured a 34-15 victory.

Australia

Despite making a number of changes, Australia’s attack was great to watch in this match, especially the first half. They kept a high tempo, which really caused the Samoan defence issues as it stopped them getting reset.

A big part of the way they kept the tempo high was by not waiting for the scrum half to reach the breakdown, instead trusting the forwards to assess the situation, realise that the ruck had been won and get the ball out to the backs themselves. Not only that, but 6 of the starting pack ran for 10+ metres in this game. This was a set of forwards who were comfortable on the ball and were trusted to do what is right.

Now it is just a matter of waiting to see if this approach continues in the World Cup. It’s one thing letting the team play freely against a team you are confident of beating; its something entirely different to take the risk of playing with less structure in a big game against a stingy defence.

Samoa

Watching the first half, I was shocked by how far Samoa had fallen. The team that was famous for hard runners and hard hitters like the Tuilagi Brothers and Brian Lima has fallen so far over the last couple of cycles, to the point that they only qualified for the World Cup via the repechage. I remember a team that were always going to be a physical challenge but also play great rugby and simply lack the organisation and discipline to regularly beat the Tier 1 nations. Watching this game, there was nobody putting in the hits, players were dropping off tackles everywhere (Koroibete’s try was embarrassing defence from Samoa) and there was very little to write home about in attack.

Things quickly changed in the second half, though, as Paul Alo-Emile and Logovi’i Mulipola came on for Michael Alaalatoa and Jordan Lay in the front row. The impact was immediate, as they began to take control of the scrum, which led to a try just a few minutes later as they forced a wheel that allowed them to break down the blind side for Polataivaia’s first try. That try really seemed to flip a switch and bring back a little of the old Samoa. They suddenly looked up for a fight and quickly scored again through Polataivaia, while Australia were forced to regroup in order to get back in control.

Pool A is one of the more open groups. Ireland and Scotland would be expected to qualify for the knockouts with Japan coming 3ʳᵈ, but if Samoa can regularly play like in the first 20 minutes of the second half, then they could definitely put themselves in the mix.


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