Lions Tour 2021: Predicting the Squad

Lions Tour 2021: Predicting the Squad

It’s hard to believe, today sees us reach the one year mark before the British & Irish Lions’ first match of their 2021 South Africa tour. This time next year (barring any delays given the current state of the world) the Lions will be taking on the Stormers in Cape Town as the first of 8 matches on their tour, culminating in a 3-Test series against the World Champions South Africa.

In honour of this day, I have decided to try predicting the players who will make up the Lions touring party. The last 2 touring parties have been just either side of the 40-man mark, but I have gone a little larger due to Warren Gatland’s decision in 2017 to add 6 extra players midway through the tour to help keep the Test team fresh. The “Geography 6” did not get a great reception when they were announced, which led to Gatland largely backtracking and keeping them as unused substitutes. With player welfare having become even more important over the last 4 years and the 5 games before the Tests being spread over just 15 days, I can see Gatland picking a larger squad this time around, so I have gone on the idea of a 46-man touring party, which would allow Gatland to put out 2 completely different matchday 23s without any overlap of players.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has not made selection easy for Warren Gatland, as it has left the Six Nations unfinished and also ruled out the Summer and Autumn Test windows, so 2021’s Six Nations will be huge, but players may also find that their form in club matches is given more consideration this time due to the lack of international rugby. So, who do I think will be travelling to South Africa?

Hooker

With 46 players going, I would expect 40 of them to be specialist hookers. Ken Owens is probably in prime position to start the Tests and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him captain some of the early matches. Owens is such a reliable player and was an ever-present for Wales under Gatland. With such limited time together, that familiarity will be key for the Lions. Next up is Jamie George, who has had control of the England number 2 shirt for a couple of years now. While he doesn’t seem as flashy as in his earlier years, he is super reliable at the set piece and will tackle all day long. For the other 2 spots, things get very interesting. Rory Best’s retirement has left Ireland lacking experience at the position and the lack of matches between now and the squad announcement is likely to count against them. Scotland have seen the number 2 jersey split between Stuart McInally and Fraser Brown, so it is highly possible that they could take both remaining spots, but I think that the strong carrying of Luke Cowan-Dickie will earn him a spot in the party,leaving space for just one of the Scots. While McInally brings a more open attacking game, I’m not sure that’s what Gatland will be looking for on this tour, so I can see him picking Fraser Brown, who can also cover as a back row in an emergency.

Prop

When I started looking at props, I must admit that I was surprised just how many players immediately clicked into place, leaving me only a few slots to fill.

At tighthead, Kyle Sinckler has become one of the best in the world, with good hands t go with his incredible strength and refusal to take a backwards step. It’s fair to say that his early removal in the World Cup final was a huge loss for England. I expect Sinckler’s biggest rival for the 3 shirt in the Tests will be Tadhg Furlong, who is another that can make a positive impact in both the set piece and the loose. 3 years ago, Tomas Francis was one of the infamous “Geography 6” but this time around I expect him to be a part of the initial squad as he has become a force in the scrums and is arguably another 3 whose removal benefited the Springboks in the Rugby World Cup. And for the final spot, I can see Zander Fagerson getting the nod, as he has become a regular for Scotland and impressed in a scrum that was improving during the Six Nations.

Moving over to the other side of the front row, I think that the current lack of a nailed down starter for Wales will leave them without representation at this position. Joe Marler had such a positive impact off the bench during the Rugby World Cup final, that I expect him to get a call-up alongside England teammate Mako Vunipola, who is arguably one of the best all-round looseheads when on top form. Cian Healy is another of the top looseheads and will provide plenty of experience. By the time the tournament comes around he will be 33, so I can see the tour being his international swansong. As for the final spot, strong performances over the net year could see Ellis Genge squeeze in as a physical carrier against the Super Rugby and Invitational teams, but right now I think the more likely player is Rory Sutherland, who was having a strong Six Nations before the pandemic brought it to an early end.

Lock

When initially starting my selections, I set aside 6 spots for the second row, but by the end I increased that to 7, as I noticed that a number of the locks I was picking were also experienced at playing in the back row, and with the strength of the Springbok pack I can imagine Warren Gatland going for a large pack. First off is the likely pick for the captaincy: Alun Wyn Jones, who brings so much experience and leadership to the team, as well as very rarely having a bad game. Next up were the youngsters that have quickly become key members of their teams, Maro Itoje and James Ryan. It wouldn’t surprise me to see these 3 making up the lock contingent for the first Test, but if anyone was to put themselves in contention, I can see it being Iain Henderson, especially as he could also provide a super physical option at 6. At this point I should probably make clear that I have excluded Geroge Kruis due to his upcoming move to Japan that will bring an end to his England career. Completing the group of specialist locks, I have Jake Ball getting in due to his larger size helping to bring some balance in the scrums. And then we come to Courtney Lawes, who in recent years has spent almost as much time at 6 as lock (though I personally think he is somewhat wasted at 6 internationally) and bolter Tadhg Beirne, who as well as being a large unit capable of covering lock/back row, has great ability in the loose and will be a big threat at the breakdown.

Back row

It’s probably no surprise that taking an extra lock came at the expense of a back row spot due to the players able to cover both, leaving me with 7 spots to fill here.

Personally, I feel that Taulupe Faletau could find that the pandemic leaves him with too little time to prove himself back to top form, so I can see him missing out here in favour of Billy Vunipola and CJ Stander, who can also cover openside flanker and will be keen to shine in the Test squad to show the Springboks just what they missed out on. They are the only specialist 8s I have going, with Ross Moriarty finding himself too far down the list with so many options at back row, however Josh Navidi has experience playing the position at international level and has the strength to hold his own against larger players. Navidi can be used at 8 due to the inclusion of fellow opensides Justin Tipuric and Hamish Watson, who both bring a lot to the attacking game in open play as well, while Sam Underhill can come in to fill the role of reliable tackler that Gatland used to see filled by Dan Lydiate, while he can also pick his moments to attack the breakdown. With so many other similar options, Jamie Ritchie and Tom Curry both see them missing out this time around in favour of Aaron Shingler, who provides a lineout option and more ballast at 6 to nullify the size of the South African packs.

Scrum half

Moving into the backs and scrum half was probably the hardest position for me to fill, just because I think that a lot of the current starters have serious questions about them. Wales are in the early days of trying to figure out their depth chart at 9 under Wayne Pivac, but Gareth Davies was so successful under Gatland that I’m confident he will go, while Rhys Webb was another Gatland favourite until his move to France made him ineligible.

For the other 2 spots at the position, I considered the Scottish pair of Ali Price and George Horne but don’t think Price has done enough to stand out from the crowd, while I see Horne being considered too small and not enough of a game manager to make the party this time around. Tomos Williams has been largely impressive for Wales, but I also see him missing out as I can’t see Gatland picking 75% of the scrum halves from the same nation. So that brings us on to England and Ireland, who wee both going through the Six Nations with players who were in the 9 shirts through the strength of their name and history rather than their recent performances. If we’re looking at the form performer before the pandemic, that was clearly John Cooney, and I think that he will get the recognition from Warren Gatland if he can continue the performances once rugby returns, especially as he also provides an option off the tee. This leaves a race between Conor Murray and Ben Youngs, and I think that based on current form, Ben Youngs has the slight edge, while he also has the running game to complement his tactical kicking that Murray lacks.

Fly half

So at fly half, I felt comfortable that Gatland would look to go for 3 specialists, with the potential for a couple of selections elsewhere in the back line also being able to cover the position in an emergency.

So immediately this throws up the question of where to class someone who will clearly make the squad: Owen Farrell. Farrell is perfectly capable of playing both fly half or centre, so could very easily be classed as a centre, allowing for another specialist fly half to be called up to the squad. However, for reasons that I will discuss shortly, I see him being looked at more as a fly half. Dan Biggar also makes the list as he continues to put in great performances that may not lead to super flashy attacking play, but effective, pragmatic play. Both Farrell and Biggar were picked alongside Jonathan Sexton in New Zealand, but I can see the trio being broken this time as Sexton’s poor form will see him left out in favour of Finn Russell, who probably won’t make the Test 23 but will prove a great attacking talent for the midweek games.

Now, on the off-chance that Farrell does make the squad but is considered more as a centre, I still don’t see Sexton getting picked barring a massive upturn in form, which leaves that final spot to be fought between Gareth Anscombe, Adam Hastings and George Ford. For me, Hastings loses out due to his lack of experience leading a team at this point, so it then comes down to the fitness of Gareth Anscombe. It’s worth remembering that he was set to be the starter for Wales at the Rugby World Cup before his injury against England, so if he can prove himself fully fit and back to top form, then I think his ability to also cover 15 will earn him the spot over George Ford, while any questions over Anscombe’s readiness will see Ford get the nod.

Centre

Owen Farrell being classed as a centre means that there are 5 spots to fill at the position in this squad. Now, when picking his centres, I think that Warren Gatland will take a moment to consider the opposition they are likely to face and choose to go for a highly physical set of midfielders to combat the Springboks.

As arguably one of the best 13s in the world, Jonathan Davies seems certain to make the squad provided he is fit, while I also think that Manu Tuilagi will be guaranteed a spot if fit. Hadleigh Parkes’ move to Japan has made it unlikely that he will be selected. The Scottish midfield seems somewhat unsettled at the moment, which I think will hinder them getting any representation at the position. For Ireland, I think that the physicality of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw, combined with their experience playing together, will see the pair selected.

Now, these 4 players will do a good job bringing physical parity to the match, but there’s not much in the way of playmaking ability. This could be answered by utilising Farrell alongside one of them, but I can instead be the form of Henry Slade being rewarded with a spot in the touring party, as he has the extra playmaking ability from his time as a fly half earlier in his career, while he has also demonstrated surprisingly impressive physicality over recent years to make the England 13 shirt his own.

Back 3

And so we come to the back 3 and if you were counting, you’ll know that I’ve left 8 spots free to cover this area.

Stuart Hogg is the first person named here as an obvious selection at fullback and will be hoping to get his shot in the Tests after being forced to leave the tour of New Zealand early. Also joining him will be fullbacks Liam Williams and Anthony Watson, who will also be able to play on the wing if Gatland desires. Jonny May and Josh Adams have been 2 of the form wingers in the Six Nations in recent years so will be hoping to secure the wing spots for the Tests. And that leaves 3 spots for players who I think can have hugely positive impacts on the tour but will need some incredible fortune to make the Test squad as things stand. Darcy Graham has looked highly impressive for Scotland and will benefit from the experience of being on this tour with a view to competing for a Test spot on the next tour. Andrew Conway has taken over from Jacob Stockdale as the top Irish winger at the moment, while Stockdale will actually miss out on the final spot to bolter James Lowe, who becomes eligible through residency later this year and has averaged a try every 1.7 games though his time with the Chiefs and Leinster.


So, that’s my prediction. Who do you think Gatland will take with him?

Bracket Breakdown: Schmoedown Innergeekdom Tournament 2020

Bracket Breakdown: Schmoedown Innergeekdom Tournament 2020

The Star Wars tournament is underway on Twitch and in just a week’s time, the Innergeekdom tournament will also be underway. 18 players preparing to go on a (hopefully) long run to victory… all starting Monday 1ˢᵗ June (or Thursday 4ᵗʰ for the general public.

mts kevin smets innergeekdom beltAt the moment, it is not confirmed whether the winner of the tournament will earn a title shot (though with current Champion Kevin Smets and #1 Contenders Mara Knopic & Chandru Dhanadapani not involved, it would make sense), but with things tight at the top of the faction standings, this could be the moment for a faction to take control of the league, while someone struggling like KOrruption could suddenly find themselves back in contention.

I recently tried to predict how the Star Wars tournament would play out and was proved wrong straight away with Andres Cabrera’s play in match victory over Josh Quevedo, so now I’m hoping that I can go a little better.

MTS innergeekdom tournament bracket

Play in games

mts kate mulligan ben goddard grace hancockJim Vejvoda v Ben Goddard: Kate Mulligan’s call to give Saul the guaranteed place in the tournament may have backfired as Ben Goddard now finds himself in one of the play in matches, against Jim Vejvoda. This is an interesting call from Roxy Striar as Vejvoda’s IG knowledge has never really been seen in the Division, so he could be a dark horse, but this will be his first match competing on his own, going up against a student of the game who knows Middle Earth back to front and has frequently shown to have a good all-round knowledge. Right now, I see Goddard qualifying for the main tournament and furthering his campaign for Rookie of the Year.

Greg Alba v Warfather: With Mara Knopic currently deactivated, I was shocked that Coy Jandreau did not look to add at least one Innergeekdom specialist. This has led to him entering the Reel Rejects as his representatives for the tournament. Now Greg Elba Alba looks like he knows his stuff when it comes to IG categories, but there will be questions about his ability to get the deeper cuts that you expect in the division, while this will also be his first match outside the Teams Division. The Warfather, by comparison, comes with 2 matches to his name, both competing alone and one in the IG Division. As far as debuts go, the Warfather looked good, so I think that experience could give him a strategic advantage. As much as I hate to see Robert Meyer Burnett celebrating a victory, I have Warfather earning the final spot in the 16-man bracket.

Round 1

The Barbarian v Adam Hlavac: The Barbarian has been one of the most impressive rookies so far this season and is already looking an absolute steal as a 6ᵗʰ Round pick, with superb performances in his Singles debut and the Jurassic Park Exhibition leading to talk that he wants to be the first person to hold all 4 belts. He faces a tough opponent in the experienced Adam Hlavac, his confidence makes me feel that he is able to hang with even the best. Is Hlavac one of the best though? He may be one of the more seasoned Schmoedown Pros in the division and will make some categories look easy, but he has some gaps in his knowledge that he has so far failed to cover and I can see these leading to an early exit. I have The Barbarian advancing to the next round.

Jeannine “The Machine” v John Humphrey: This is an interesting match-up between 2 veterans of the league who are both going to be making their IG debut. I get the feeling that John Humphrey has good knowledge of the IG categories, but I do question his competitiveness, especially going up against Jeannine, who will be looking to get her career back on track after losing her last 3 Singles matches against tough opposition (Mike Kalinowski x2, Mark Reilly). I have The Machine pulling out an important win here.

mts paul oyama chance ellisonChance Ellison v Paul Oyama: The first 2 Schmoedown Pros promoted from the fan leagues will meet for the second time in the Schmoedown in what I predict could be one the closest matches in the round. Oyama got the win in Singles on the way to winning the title, and will now be making his Innergeekdom debut. Chance Ellison may be 0-1 in the division, but he put in a super-impressive performance in that loss and has the benefit of having 2-time Innergeekdom Champion Mike Kalinowski as his study partner. I’d have picked Oyama over a handful of other winners that I will be picking in this round, but in this match-up, I have to give Ellison the advantage.

Robert Parker v Ben Goddard: “The Bandit”‘s prize for winning his play-in match is to be thrown into “The Spider”‘s web. I like the look of Goddard and his performance in the Middle Earth Exhibition against Parker, Alex Damon and Kevin Smets left me confident that he has a good career ahead of him in the division. However, Parker showed in his debut that he is just on another level, not missing a single question, which will put Goddard under heavy pressure to keep up. I think Goddard can force his opponent to answer in Round 3, but I have Parker winning this one.

Brandon Hanna v Saul: The match that most of us are currently looking forward to, it was clear this would happen the moment Kate Mulligan included Saul in the tournament over Hanna. Fresh off a trade to The Burning Droogs, Hanna has been on a quest to become the most hated person in the league, taking shots at Mulligan, Call To Action and even the darling of the league Brett Sheridan. What do we know about Saul? Saul can cut a good promo, but he is untested at this level and is against an opponent keen to prove that he is “nothing more than a Collider Live phone call that got through the line one too many times.” I have Hanna making it clear to Kate that she made a big mistake leaving him out.

mts alex damon star wars beltAlex Damon v Jen Kempe: Jen Kempe finally gets the chance to make her official debut after a cameo at last year’s Free 4 All and it will be interesting to see how she gets on. I have heard those in the know hold her in high esteem from the fan leagues, but I always got the impression that she was more of a Singles threat than IG. Meanwhile, Alex Damon comes in 1-0 in the division and will have been training since Atlanta in preparation for his next match. We know he knows Star Wars, but he is also a big fan of Indiana Jones and showed in the recent exhibition that he can do well in Middle Earth. Expect the Force to be with Damon in this one.

Emily Rose Jacobson v Eric Zipper: I must admit that I was surprised to see Zipper picked up as The Dungeon’s 3ʳᵈ pick at the Draft (after 2 IG specialists) but his recent loss in Singles impressed me as I could see that he is putting in the effort to succeed and was clearly improving. Now moving back to IG but knowing the fans’ focus will be on other matches, this is a great chance for him to pull off an important victory for The Dungeon. Jacobson showed a big improvement between her first 2 IG matches but looked out of her depth in Atlanta. The virtual format may help her here, but she needs to be more accurate and play a more strategic game. I see Zipper making it to the next round.

Mike Kalinowski v Warfather: Warfather will be coming in with some momentum following a win over Greg Alba, but he will be facing a much harder test in Kalinowski. The former champion had a match to forget when he lost the title to Smets at Spectacular and was taking a break from the division, but the faction’s place in the standings has seen him return to his strongest division to pull KOrruption up the standings. Honestly, I can’t see anything but a Kalinowski win here.

Quarterfinals

mts tale of the tape craig gaynier the barbarian singlesThe Barbarian v Jeannine “The Machine”: This is not an easy pick right now with so little IG-related gametape on the pair, but I have to make a pick here. Jeannine will surely have been benefiting from The Usual Suspects’ close links to former Innergeekdom Champion Rachel Cushing, but The Barbarian‘s knowledge looks insane at this point and right now, I can’t look beyond him for a place in the semis.

Chance Ellison v Robert Parker: Chance Ellison continues to get screwed in brackets. He has lost the opening round of the last 2 Singles tournaments to Ethan Erwin and William Bibbiani, and now after one of the harder opening rounds in this tournament, comes up against Robert Parker. The pair come in with the backing of the best sparring partners in Mike Kalinowski and Kevin Smets to extend the Dungeon v KOrruption IG rivalry even further. Kalinowski has been impressed by Ellison’s knowledge and I think he can push Parker close, but I expect Parker to reach the final 4.

mts brandon hannaBrandon Hanna v Alex Damon: This is where we will see the level Alex Damon can reach in the Innergeekdom Division. Brandon Hanna enters the tournament the 6ᵗʰ most accurate all-time in the division (4ᵗʰ among active Schmoedown Pros), despite having a 2-2 record and I would say that he can beat anyone in the division on his day. Damon looks good but I’m not sure if he has quite the breadth of knowledge as Hanna right now, but if he can hit Star Wars in Round 2 and on his 5-pointer, it will give him a good shot. I think Damon will show that he can hang at this level and be competitive, but I have Hanna progressing.

Eric Zipper v Mike Kalinowski: The second match-up between The Dungeon and KOrruption in this round is one with a bit more history, following KOrruption humiliating him ahead of Kaiser picking him up last season. Zipper will be going into this match with no pressure on him as everyone will expect “The Killer” to win, which could play into his favour, but I think that Kalinowski will have enough to continue on in the tournament.

Semifinals

The Barbarian v Robert Parker: And so the left side of the bracket comes down to a battle between 2 likely contenders for Rookie of the Year. It’s always hard to call this so fa in advance with so little game-tape but I can see this going down to the 5-pointers and right now I need to give the benefit to the Schmoedown Pro I’ve seen more game-tape on: Robert Parker.

Brandon Hanna v Mike Kalinowski: Another match that could easily go either way, both Kalinowski and Hanna have the potential to go near-perfect but also have a bad day and struggle with their accuracy. Hanna will be keen to prove his quality with a win against a big name in the division, but I think he will have to wait for this as I see Kalinowski‘s experience earning him the win here.

Final

Robert Parker v Mike Kalinowski: And so my bracket comes down to the 2 faourites in the final. Mike Kalinowski played a key part in making the Innergeekdom Division what it is, while Parker is part of the new breed looking to take things to a new level. Now if this was a 3-round match, I think I would give Parker the advantage, but with this being a 5-rounder I think that Kalinowski could benefit from his experience of playing the format within the Schmoedown. Add to that, I recently heard Kalinowski talking about how he had changed his study techniques to bring them closer to when he was cutting a swathe through the division. When planning my bracket, I had Parker to win… but in the heat of the moment I’m switching to Kalinowski.

 

So that’s what my bracket looks like, what about yours?

Bracket Breakdown: Schmoedown 2020 Star Wars Tournament

Bracket Breakdown: Schmoedown 2020 Star Wars Tournament

With Free Agency now in the rear-view mirror and the final taped studio match (The Pride v the Reel Rejects) dropping tot he public on Friday, the thoughts of many Schmoedown fans are turning towards the upcoming tournaments, which will see the league continue online as we work through the current COVID-19 pandemic.

mts star wars 2020 tournament entrants napzok dimalanta sullivan cabrera damon witt quevedo kelly scrimshawNext week will see the beginning of the Star Wars tournament with the play in match on May 20ᵗʰ, with the tournament proper starting May 25ᵗʰ. The entire tournament will be broadcast exclusively on the Schmoedown’s Twitch channel, a first for the league. The prize for the winner of the tournament: a Championship Match against Alex “The Demon” Damon, with the current intention that this match will be played once the league can return to studio/live events.

And now, with the official bracket released, there is just one thing left to do… predicting the outcome of the matches!

mts star wars twitch tournament bracket 2020

Play in game

mts trade jte josh quevedoJosh Quevedo v Andres Cabrera: With Alex Damon ineligible due to his status as the Champion, it was a smart move from Roxy Striar to pick up a second Star Wars specialist to give her a chance to earn some much-needed points in the tournament. However, she first needs Josh Quevedo to make it into the tournament proper, and to do that, he will have to take out the former host of Collider Jedi Council, Andres Cabrera. With the pair being the only ones to have never played in the Star Wars Division previously, they were the obvious picks for the play in game. As an untested rookie, Quevedo is something of an unknown quantity, whereas Cabrera has some experience of playing the game and will be looking to prove himself after a disappointing loss to Robert Parker in Innergeekdom. However, Quevedo is a Star Wars specialist and given how previous matches have shown that one wrong answer could be enough to lose a match, I have to feel that Quevedo‘s focus on the division will see him advance to the tournament.

Quarterfinals

Mollie Damon v Adam Witt: Both Witt and Damon come in with 0-1 records and very little game tape, so this is a hard one to call. As one half of the YouTube channel Star Wars Explained and wife (and study-partner) of current champion Alex Damon, Mollie clearly knows her stuff and I personally think that she will benefit from this not being in front of a live crowd. Witt’s 5-point pull against Sean Sullivan showed he has the knowledge, but he made some tactical errors, which you would expect he will have moved beyond by the time of this match. What this could come down to is the state of preparedness for each of these Schmoedown Pros, and for that reason, I give a slight advantage to Witt due to his extra match experience.

mts andrew dimalantaJoseph Scrimshaw v Andrew Dimalanta: Don’t count out Dimalanta because of his 0-2 record, this guy is a legit competitor and a fan of the league, which means that he understands the strategy behind the game as well as knowing the difference between an Ewok and a Wookiee. That said, if you can answer every question correctly then not much strategy is needed, and I would consider Joseph Scrimshaw the most knowledgeable in the tournament. Dimalanta will have a big fight on his hands and I expect him to fall short against Scrimshaw.

Laura Kelly v Sean Sullivan: Sullivan enters the tournament off the back of a debut win against Adam Witt but will face a stern test against KOrruption’s Laura Kelly. Sullivan clearly showed that he knew his stuff, but Laura Kelly has been highly impressive over her first 3 matches and is another I think will benefit from the comfort of playing fro home rather than in front of a crowd. Sullivan’s time will come, but I’ve got this as a much-needed win for KOrruption and Kelly.

Ken Napzok v Josh Quevedo: Josh Quevedo’s prize for winning into the tournament is a match against the inaugural Star Wars Champion. Now Quevedo could be the next Alex Damon, but right now we just don’t know, whereas Ken Napzok has played more matches in the league than anyone else in the tournament, so his experience will be key here (as long as he can stay away from quotes). I have Napzok bringing an end to a losing streak that started at Spectacular II.

Semifinals

Adam Witt v Joseph Scrimshaw: Not gonna lie, it was pretty much a coin flip between Adam Witt and Mollie Damon, both of whom I think could have lost to Dimalanta had the draw gone differently. So considering I have already predicted Scrimshaw beating Dimalanta, there’s only one way I can go here. I get the feeling this could be one of the most entertaining matches in the tournament, ending in a win for Scrimshaw.

mts Movie-Trivia-Schmoedown-Grace-Hancock-Ken-Napzok-KOrruption-1024x576Laura Kelly v Ken Napzok: The old guard takes on the new generation in the second semifinal. Ken Napzok knows more about Star Wars than many people will forget in their lives, but I am 99% certain that he is just going into this tournament with his base knowledge rather than studying, which could prove especially costly if he is forced to deal with quotes – a weakness that has cost him in multiple matches. Laura Kelly, however, is a studier and after coming so close to the title last season, I think she will want to earn another shot at Alex Damon. I have Kelly winning and with more potential rookies entering the Division, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last time we see “The Pitboss” competing in the league.

Final

Joseph Scrimshaw v Laura Kelly: And so we reach the final, to be fought between the 2 active Schmoedown Pros who have come closest to taking down Alex Damon. This is going to be an incredible match and I legitimately feel that whoever drops a point first could prove costly. While Laura Kelly looks a fantastic player judging by last year’s performances, Joseph Scrimshaw has the extra experience of the game and I would consider him one of the 5 best Schmoedown Pros to have never (to date) won a belt. This could be his chance though, as I see Scrimshaw winning the tournament to set up a rematch with Alex Damon.

mts alex damon star wars belt

So that’s what my bracket looks like, what about yours?

2019 Ultimate Schmoedown Teams Tournament: My Bracket Prediction

2019 Ultimate Schmoedown Teams Tournament: My Bracket Prediction

It’s hard to believe, but “The Magic Season” of the Movie Trivia Schmoedown will soon be drawing to a close. The Singles Tournament is reaching a climax and Spectacular is just around the corner. But before all that, there’s the little matter of the Teams Tournament. Starting on 4ᵗʰ November, 16 teams will be fighting it out for the chance to face off against the defending Champions – either KOrruption or the Founding Fathers, depending on the result in Orlando.

Who will be the challengers? Well the joy of the tournament is that we know the bracket in advance, allowing us to trace each team’s potential route to the final and try to predict who will be challenging for the title. And that’s what I’ll be trying to do today: working through the bracket to predict the tournament winners.

Let me know your brackets in the comments!

Teams USD2019 Bracket

First Round

The Odd Couple v Only Stupid Answers

As deep as the Teams Division has become this season, with 16 teams involved there will always be some matches in the first round that seem a foregone conclusion. Sam Bashor and DJ Wooldridge are 2 great personalities and do know their stuff, but are relatively inexperienced in the league and have a 2-1 record as a pair – that win coming against the Wildberries. Compared to The Odd Couple, who have defeated the Shirewolves and held the Team Title this season and it’s hard to see this ending any other way than a win for The Odd Couple.

Shazam! v The Movie Guys

2 rookie teams will face off in this match that could play a role in the race for Rookie of the Year. Brendan “The Kid” Meyer and Paul “The Powder Keg” Preston have both had fantastic seasons in the league and I think will be closely matched, so this will likely come down to their partners. Adam Witt’s Schmoedown experience so far contains 1 round at the Free 4 All and a loss to Inky and The Brain, whereas The Kid is paired with former Singles Champion William “The Beast” Bibbiani, arguably one of the best in the game in terms of pure knowledge. Advantage: The Kid and Shazam!

Time Machine v Scream Queens

A team that was announced at the season-opening live event in New York, Time Machine have been hotly anticipated but limited to just one match together so far: a Sudden Death Win against the Paddington Two. The Scream Queens come in with a 4-4 record, but beyond that have limited experience in the league. Taking on a team made up of the former Singles Champion and someone far better than their 3-5 Singles record suggests looks to be a step too far for Haleigh Foutch and Kalyn Corrigan. I’ll be shocked if Time Machine don’t progress to the next round.

The Loony Bin v Self-Righteous Brothers

One of the hardest matches to predict in this round as each team only has one previous appearance to their name, while Witney Seibold is the only one to have a substantial Schmoedown history outside of these teams. “VIDEODREW” and “Tom” are very much an unknown quantity and it will be interesting to see if they are able to build on a strong first outing against the Loose Cannons. As for the Self-Righteous Brothers, they looked very impressive in the first round exit during last year’s Anarchy tournament and I expect more of the same from the pair here. An upset wouldn’t shock me, but I’m going for the Self-Righteous Brothers.

Who’s The Boss v Inky and the Brain

So let me start by making it clear, my allegiances lie with the Horsemen, so I’m hoping that Ben and Reilly win the tournament and face off against the Founding Fathers for the title. I am however going to do my best to remain objective throughout this bracket. The pair looked like one of the favourites to take the title off the Shirewolves, but the pair haven’t played together since losing to The Odd Couple in Chicago. Inky and the Brain have showed they are not to be underestimated (especially Rachel Silvestrini) and they will be dangerous if they can hit Disney/Will Smith in Round 2, but Who’s The Boss will be a tough task. Bateman is tactically one of the best in the game and his recent back injury has given him time to catch up on a number of movies he hasn’t seen, while his partnership with Mark Reilly makes for a great combination. I fully expect to be celebrating a victory for Who’s The Boss.

Loose Cannons v Crimson Fury

Another difficult match to predict due to both teams having only played once together. “Primetime” Paul Oyama’s weak matches are still strong enough to beat many of his opponents and he currently looks nailed on for Rookie of the Year and a strong run with Eric Zipper could confirm it. Crimson Fury on their day have the potential to beat anyone and Stacy Howard has made a habit of busting brackets, but her results are inconsistent. Tim “The Tank” Franco has looked strong but is somewhat of an unknown quantity with just 2 matches to his name. It’s so hard picking against Crimson Fury here and I can see Stacy Howard busting my bracket, but right now I can’t look past Paul Oyama and the Loose Cannons.

The Family v Wildberries

Wildberries! I’m so glad to see them in the tournament as I always enjoy watching them and can’t wait to see how they interact with The Family. Eliot Dewberry gave a timely reminder of his potential in their victory over Late to the Party, while Josh Macuga is the original master of pulling answers out of his ass. By contrast, Drew McWeeny is one of the most knowledgeable in the game and Drew Ghai is no slouch, and I think their combined knowledge will give them a wide and deep enough base to earn a win for The Family.

Evil Geniuses v The Paddington Two

This is an interesting one. At first, I was picking the Evil Geniuses straight away due to JTE’s experience in the league. Then I remembered that he was no longer a member of the team, having been replaced by Simon Thompson. Thompson comes in as an unknown and “The Professor” has had an average season up to now. Matt Atchity and Alonso Duralde may not compete regularly but they have shown in the past that they have a base of knowledge. I usually go against Atchity due to his issues remembering the rules, but this time is a case of “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” and I’ll give the win to The Paddington Two.

Quarterfinals

The Odd Couple v Shazam!

Such is the quality in the league, there will be no such thing as an easy match in the quarterfinals, certainly not in this match! Both Shazam! and The Odd Couple look to have formed great partnerships and it could be argued that either team is capable of winning the entire tournament. While both teams are strong, I feel that The Odd Couple are more likely to struggle if things don’t go their way, whereas Shazam! can fall back on “The Beast’s” impressive knowledge and strong runs of form for both Bibbiani and Meyer (both made the semifinals of the Singles Tournament). It’s hard going against a former Team Champion, but I give Shazam! the slightest of advantages.

Time Machine v Self-Righteous Brothers

What an incredible match this could be! Ethan Erwin and Jeannine “The Machine” both have incredible knowledge and complement each other very well, so I’m confident in saying they have the potential to be a Top 5 team at least. Witney and Marc Edward Heuck have shown themselves to have a high level of knowledge, but I think that Jeannine & Ethan have a greater tactical knowledge that will likely give the victory to Time Machine.

Who’s The Boss v Loose Cannons

This will be by far the biggest challenge for the Loose Cannons so far. Ben and Reilly cover most categories pretty well between them and while Oyama will be a threat, Zipper has limited experience in big matches. If Reilly and Bateman can both play to the best of their abilities (a distinct possibility as Bateman is in fine form), it’s going to be very hard to stick with them, especially if they can hit Movie Release Dates or Oscar Movies in Round 2. I won’t rule out Oyama and Zipper, but I still see Who’s The Boss as one of the best teams in the league and see them progressing to the semis.

The Family v The Paddington Two

This match comes down to tactics. Drew Ghai is one of the best in the league when it come to tactics, which is a massive benefit to Drew McWeeny, who can then focus on the trivia. Meanwhile neither Alonso Duralde nor Matt Atchity are regular competitors and Atchity never seems able to remember the rules. Add in Ghai causing disruption with his antics and I see The Family getting the upper hand in this match.

Semifinals

Shazam! v Time Machine

What a match this would be! Matches between Ethan Erwin and William Bibbiani are a thrill to watch, then add in the talents of Jeannine and “The Kid” and you have a potential Match of the Year contender right here! Bibbiani has had the upper hand in his Singles matches with Erwin, but they have been close affairs. I really think this match could come down to whatever the wheel lands on in Round 2. Right now, my heart says Shazam!

Who’s The Boss v The Family

The Action Civil War makes a return in the semifinals as Ben Bateman faces off against Drew Ghai for the first time since Houston. Again, I can see this coming down to the spin of the Wheel in Round 2 as we know McWeeny can smash through 80s just like Bateman can Movie Release Dates. While it’s harsh to say, I think this could come down to how Drew Ghai performs. If he’s struggling with his questions, the it could allow Who’s The Boss to pull away, while I think they’ll be able to ignore any heel-ish attempts to put them off. In the Action Civil War, I’ve gotta go #TeamBateman and pick Who’s The Boss for back-to-back tournament finals.

The Final

Who’s The Boss v Shazam!

And so we reach the final, which I feel will be the teams version of the final of the Singles Tournament. William Bibbiani and Brendan Meyer versus Ben Bateman and Mark Reilly. This will be an incredible match to watch and it’s so hard to predict a winner, so what I will look at here is the format. The finals are played in the 5-round format, with the betting round and speed round joining the usual 3 rounds. Now “The Kid” has not played in the 5-round format under the lights, whereas all the other competitors have, and I can’t help feel that this little bit of extra experience could prove vital and set up Who’s The Boss for the victory and a shot at the title.

MTS Teams USD2019 Bracket Prediction

NFL Pick’Em: Divisional Winners

NFL Pick’Em: Divisional Winners

Football is back! It feels like forever since Tom Brady and Bill Belichick won yet another Super Bowl and while we have had the Draft, Hard Knocks and preseason to keep up going for a bit, this is where the fun really begins.

Last year, 3 friends and I decided to challenge ourselves to predict the 8 Divisional winners in the 2018 NFL season and the teams that would compete in Super Bowl LIII. This year, Ed (the Baker Mayfield-obsessed Patriots fan) and I are returning to see if we can do any better. However, this time we will be looking at just the Divisions – we were gonna pick the Super Bowl too, but neither of us could narrow down the field enough in the AFC!


AFC North

Pittsburgh missed out on the playoffs last season as Le’Veon Bell sat out the entire season. With both him and star receiver Antonio Brown gone (putting more attention on JuJu Smith-Schuster), it’s going to take a lot for them to be at the top. Baltimore finished the regular season well with Lamar Jackson under centre, but did not look comfortable as they lost to the Chargers in the Wild Card Round and do not have great options behind him in RGIII and rookie Trace McSorley. As for the Bengals, it is hard to imagine them even reaching 8-8, especially with star receiver A.J. Green injured. Though they have been a joke for so long, I can actually envision the Cleveland Browns topping the division as the WR pairing of OBJ and Jarvis Landry and the RB pairing of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt (once he returns from suspension) will give Baker Mayfield every chance of avoiding a sophomore slump, while they also have a high level defence to keep games close.

Ed’s pick – Cleveland Browns

America’s new favourite team, the young and talented Cleveland Browns look to provide us with a lot of excitement this year. Mayfield has shown his class, and with receiving options Landry/OBJ with breakout Nick Chubb and soon to be Kareem Hunt, this side can go places with the strong Defence they already boast. That being said this is the Browns, and the wary Ohio fanbase may not be riding the hype the rest of the country (and I) am. Pittsburgh almost look a different side this year with 2 of the big 3 departing in unceremonious style, however with emerging talent in Juju and Conner that loss won’t be as big as it sounds. This side knows what it takes to win and will push the relatively inexperienced Browns right to the finish line. We shouldn’t count out the Ravens who will continue to be competitive fronting a fresher, younger side than we have seen in previous seasons. The success or failure will be defined by how Lamar Jackson can handle the starting position with no room for excuses following Flacco’s exile. Unfortunately I can’t see the Bengals keeping up with the other three in what is one of the NFLs increasingly numerous competitive divisions, one feels that until they finally part ways with Dalton they are never going to be above average.

AFC East

The Jets were one of the worst teams in the league last season and while the RB corps (now featuring Le’Veon Bell) may take some pressure off Sam Darnold and Robby Anderson, it is hard to imagine them reaching .500, likewise for the Miami Dolphins who have traded half their stars away and are looking at Fitzmagic to lead the team and likely make way for Arizona reject Josh Rosen once his performances go downhill. The Bills roster screams mediocrity and I think that a winning season will be a success for them. All this goes to suggest that it will be another easy season for the Patriots, despite Gronk no longer being on the roster. Let’s be honest, while Brady and Belichick are there, it is brave – if not stupid – to bet against them!

Ed’s pick – New England Patriots

Unfortunately a year on this is still the weakest division in the NFL, it will be interesting to see how the QB class of ’18 all progress this year, facing the ageless Brady. The Jets have made some solid improvements bringing in a stud RB in Bell who will be fresh following his infamous holdout last year and Sam Darnold seems the pick of the QBs and the type who could really blossom in his 2nd year. The Bills meanwhile have spent the offseason crowding Josh Allen with experienced wideouts and backs, and have a fairly reasonable schedule to begin the season. That being said I cannot see a universe where either of these sides even challenge the Brady/Belichick Pats who although without Gronk will have no problem winning here. Small shout out goes to the Miami Dolphins who are actually still an NFL franchise and my favourite for Pick no. 1 next April.

AFC South

The Jaguars have finally moved on from Blake Bortles at QB and now need to hope that Nick Foles can replicate his Eagles form rather than his Rams form. I had the Colts winning the division when I initially wrote this, but following Andrew Luck’s retirement, I see them struggling. Tennessee have a good roster but need to hope Marcus Mariota can stay fit (though Ryan Tannehill is a good backup) and need to hope Derrick Henry produces throughout the season rather than just towards the end; Taylor Lewan’s suspension is not gonna help this at all. The Texans may have lost Lamar Miller to injury but Duke Johnson is a great pickup from the Browns and I think they have enough stars on either side of the ball to take the top spot in the AFC South.

Ed’s Pick – Houston Texans

The AFC South has been turned on it’s head with Andrew Luck announcing his retirement – a sad day for the sport that has made the division very level indeed. Indy have dropped from my no.1 seed here down to a lowly 3rd place as a result. It just looked like this was their year with a roster that looked like it had no holes… but now has a gaping one in the most important position in sport. This does however open the door to the challengers. The Texans seem the most likely to take advantage. They underwhelmed last year when you look at the strength they posess on their roster with annual MVP candidates Watt, Hopkins and Watson. It never came together truly came together last season but if Watson can be protected these guys can fly. I will admit I have no idea what the Jaguars will throw up, their Defense is filled with confidence but if that overflows things can go wrong, and whilst they moved on from Bortles’ inconsistent and short arm I’m not easily convinced Foles is the guy who will bring the party… but we’ve heard that before… Unlike the previous divisions I don’t see the Titans being a bad side like with the Fins or Bungles, but here is another division that will be tough to shine in. Mariota’s health continues to concern me and entering a contract year has a lot to prove not only me but his own front office. Is this year going to be Corey Davis’ year, backed up by Humphries and rookie AJ Brown the Titans may finally have something to shout about at the position.

AFC West

The Antonio Brown show is more likely to derail the Raiders’ season than save it. With Mike Mayock brought in as GM, this looks to be a franchise building towards the future, but Hard Knocks has not shown me anything to make me confident in their success this year. Emmanuel Sanders and Von Miller look wasted in a franchise that looks like it may be starting Joe Flacco at QB. I expect this season to be another fight between the Chiefs and Chargers for the top spot with the other likely to earn a Wild Card spot, however with Hunt no longer in Kansas City and defences now having a season of footage on Patrick Mahomes, I give the advantage to the Chargers, as long as Melvin Gordon ends his holdout soon and then stays fit.

Ed’s Pick – L.A. Chargers

I don’t know why I have a slight obsession with the Chargers, but I am sticking with these guys as my pick for the AFC West once more. They boast an impressive depth chart in almost every position, with and without the ball and showed that when they play, they can beat anyone. The question is can Rivers be consistently good, because I believe Mahomes will continue to be. With Hill looking like he won’t miss any time (a decision I cannot understand) there will be TDs flowing at Arrowhead once more, but with the 31st ranked Defense in 2018 Mahomes will have to be slinging at MVP pace just to keep the points difference positive and this could ultimately cost them another Superbowl chance.
Whilst he boosts any roster AB continues to be AB and if he manages to start the season it’s only a matter of time before he misses games for one reason or another. Without him the side looks starved of high level talent and Hard Knocks isn’t doing anything to prove me these guys will mount any sort of challenge. Similarly Denver have lost their reputation of being one of the toughest outfits to play and now seem welcome relief after big games. Can gritty defensive coach Vic Fangio bring back the No Fly Zone of old – with a pass rushing duo of Miller and Chubb it’s possible, but it’ll have to work hard if Flacco can’t find a good start, I wonder whether we will be seeing Drew Lock sooner rather than later…

NFC North

Detroit finished bottom of their division in 2018 and such is the strength of the NFC North, I can’t see them doing much better this year. Aaron Rodgers will keep any team competitive but this is not the strongest of Packers rosters by any stretch and it will be interesting to see how Matt LaFleur does in his first head coach role. The Chicago defense is incredible, but there are still questions over Mitchell Trubisky, whereas I think that the Vikings will do better this year with a season now that Kirk Cousins has had a year to get used to playing in Minneapolis. It will be close, but I give the Vikings a slight edge over the Bears.

Ed’s pick – Green Bay Packers

The first game of the 100th season of the NFL could prove to be the decider in the NFC North, which looks to be a close scrap between the Packers and Bears. Matt Nagy’s second year defensive juggernaut has drafted wisely and rookie RB David Montgomery is making a name for himself in the preseason. They’ll likely go head to head with the new duo of LaFleur and A-Rod who whilst fit is a proven winner assuming his Defense can limit points against. I wasn’t far from adding the Vikings to a three way battle, they have strength in every position and the return of Dalvin Cook is huge – but can Kirk Cousins be the player he was paid to be… I have never really believed the hype and I think he is more of an anchor preventing progress than he is given credit for. Detroit can be safely removed from the others and look to be comfortably propping up the division. Patricia needs to put his stamp on this team, and get the ball moving but that 10,000 day playoff drought doesn’t look like its ending this season…

NFC East

Alex Smith’s injury is a huge hit to the Redskins, so their hopes rely on Case Keenum… gulp! Daniel Jones was a shock selection 6th overall in the draft so the battle between him and Eli Manning seems underwhelming and not something Giants fans will be looking forward to. Philadelphia has a strong roster but needs to hope Carson Wentz can get to his pre-injury form, whereas the Cowboys can overcome the lack of an elite QB (though he is still above average) with one of the best RBs in the league, a receiving corps that was boosted by the addition of Amari Cooper and a strong defense.

Ed’s pick – Philadelphia Eagles

The NFC East starts the season with big question marks over each team, will the Zeke holdout continue in a fashion similar to Bell’s last year? Can Carson Wentz stay healthy now postseason extraordinaire Big D*** Nick has moved on? Who will start under centre for the Redskins and the Giants?
Assuming all goes to plan the Cowboys look to be one of the best sides they have had in a long time with genuine playoff credentials, if they can keep last seasons momentum rolling they would be a franchise no one should take lightly. Philly also look a very strong beast with very few holes who will be going head to head with the Boys, a lot rides on Wentz and whether he can win over the locker room and fans to take the Eagles into January where their fans believe they belong.
I can’t say the same for the other two sides, losing OBJ, Vernon and Collins won’t help the already lacklustre chances for Big Blue who continue to maintain Eli will take the reigns to start the season. It might not be long before we see shock 6th overall pick Daniel Jones on the hot seat and whether the gamble paid off… We have another rookie QB in Washington in Dwayne Haskins who will be competing with Keenum for the starters spot following an up and down pre season. But in an aging team devoid of playing and coaching talent it’s hard to see those empty seats being filled anytime soon.

NFC South

I can’t imagine Buccaneers WR Mike Evans is too thrilled that he will be catching passes from Blaine Gabbert, Jameis Winston or Ryan Griffin… he deserves better! Carolina need to find some wideouts to complement RB Christian McCaffrey and the ageing Greg Olsen… and hope that Cam focuses more on the football than his outfits. The Falcons have some great players on offense but need to improve defensively if tey are to live up to their full potential. If the Saints can replicate last season’s form, they should be able to push for a #1 or #2 seed.

Ed’s pick – New Orleans Saints

This division has sent a team to the NFC Championship game for 3 of the last 4 years, and is rightly regarded as arguably the most competitive in football. The Bucs have stagnated in recent years and have moved on from Doug Marone to Bruce Arians in an attempt to stop the rot, can he bring the best out of Jameis Winston and turn the ship around? It will undoubtedly be hard within the division but there are some favourable fixtures outside of it. The other three sides all remain with huge playoff plus potential, New Orleans have a Super Bowl ready team with superstars on offence (Thomas & Kamara), an experienced elite QB in Brees and a better defence than they are credited for. It looks to me like they will just pip the Falcons, devastated by injuries last year they bring a whole new crew of co-ordinators to a talent filled roster who barring a shock should perform to a wildcard round level. I’ve only heard promising reports about Cam Newton this offseason and if he can be the “stud” he really should be with his build and his arm, with McCaffrey fulfilling his potential at his side we could see even more competition in this division. Unfortunately Superbowl Cam haunts me and his injury record and dress sense could quickly turn him into the flop potential he certainly possesses.

NFC West

With a 3-13 record, the Cardinals were the worst team in the league last season and Kyler Murray will need to grow quickly into his role as an NFL starting QB, so will need plenty of help from David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. San Francisco’s 2018 season was ruined by injuries to Jerick McKinnon and Jimmy Garoppolo; if they can keep their roster fit then an 8-8 finish is possible. The Rams will surely be pushing for the playoffs again, but there are questions over Todd Gurley’s health and I think that they will find things harder now teams have a season of game footage – just look at how the Patriots nullified them in the Super Bowl! My Divisional Champions are the Seahawks, who always find a way to remain not just competitive but extremely strong in the division and recently added yet another defensive star in the form of Jadeveon Clowney.

Ed’s pick – Los Angeles Rams

The InstaRams and their fans will be fuming on social media after losing in the Superbowl last year, but with McVay’s brain filling the void in Goff’s head these guys aren’t going anywhere and remain odds on favourites to win the division. No one knows what is going on with Todd Gurley but with or without him we will see an exciting, high scoring side once again. The other three in this division for me are very much of an unknown entity, with each going through individual identity crises. The 49ers (Jimmy G’s) huge preseason hype was ended far too early last year for us to know just what we will get from him and he remains the key in answering this question, Shanahan and co. will be hoping Joey’s brother Nick at pick 2 will be a difference maker on the other side of the ball. The Seahawks’ unknowns lie all over the field, will we see running back by committee or a favourite emerge from the pack, can Lockett and rookie DK Metcalfe provide Wilson with enough power, and with only one member of the Legion of Boom returning in Bobby Wagner, albeit surrounded by a plethora of talented young players how will the once feared Defense fare? Similarly the Cardinals, last years laughing stock now have a fully fit David Johnson and #1 pick Kyler Murray back with old pal Kliff Kingsbury, have had an up and down preseason and who knows what we will see from this outfit. I suspect the Hawks have enough talent to push in this division, but I’m not so sure about the others…


Not gonna lie, I think Ed has put me to shame with the thought he has put into this – I’m going to blame a little something called the Rugby World Cup being on the horizon!

Who do you think will win the divisions?

RWC2019: Knockouts Predictions

RWC2019: Knockouts Predictions

We are just weeks away from the beginning of the World Cup. 20 teams vying to become Champions and lift the Webb Ellis Cup. To date, only 4 nations (New Zealand x3, Australia x2, South Africa x2 and England) have won the tournament… Will we be seeing a 5th nation added to the list this year?

Last week, I posted an article as part of my “Journey to RWC2019” series where I tried to predict how the pool stages would go, along with 2 of my close friends, Phil and Gez. Today, we are back looking at the knockouts and trying to ultimately pick who will lift the Webb Ellis Cup on 2nd November.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


As a reminder, to get this out when I have, Phil and Gez did have to make their picks before most nations had finalised their squads, which could have impacted their selections.

How do you see the knockouts going?

Quarterfinals

England’s reward for topping Pool C is a match against Australia. While both of these teams can be great or poor, I think that England are that bit more consistent, with Owen Farrell’s boot likely to be the difference. Meanwhile, South Africa’s victory over New Zealand in Pool B will see them take on Scotland. Coming in off the back of Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship, I think that the Springboks will be too strong for the Scots, who will see themselves knocked out by a South African for the second World Cup running (too soon?).

On the other side of the draw, Ireland’s topping of Pool A leaves them the hard task of taking on the All Blacks. A year ago, I would have had the Irish winning this, but they have dropped off since and I think that the All Blacks will be getting on a roll by now. Finally, Wales take on France in possibly the hardest match to predict in this round. If Les Bleus can get things together like they often do in World Cup knockouts, they will be a tough opponent, but I think that Wales have the defensive solidity and attacking quality to get the win.

My predictions: England beat Australia, South Africa beat Scotland, New Zealand beat Ireland, Wales beat France

Phil’s predictions: England beat Australia, New Zealand beat Scotland, South Africa beat Ireland, Wales beat France

Gez’s predictions: Wales beat England, South Africa beat Scotland, New Zealand beat Ireland, Australia beat Argentina

Semifinals

After beating Australia, England will face much more of a challenge in the semis against South Africa. This will be the point where England’s weaknesses will be fully exploited by a team on the up, while England fans will be left thinking what could have happened if Eddie Jones had selected the players on form.

Elsewhere, Wales will fight hard against New Zealand and while I think that their defence will make it hard for the All Blacks, I think that the New Zealand attack will still be able to cross the line a couple of times to put up a score the Welsh will be unable to match.

My predictions: South Africa beat England, New Zealand beat Wales

Phil’s predictions: New Zealand beat England, South Africa beat Wales

Gez’s predictions: South Africa beat Wales, New Zealand beat Australia

Bronze Final

One of the great rugby rivalries is renewed in the third place playoff, as Wales and England face off in an attempt to finish the tournament on a high. These teams will know each other so well, it will be a close affair, where I think Wales’ defence and discipline will see them take the bronze.

My prediction: Wales beat England

Phil’s prediction: Wales beat England

Gez’s prediction: Wales beat Australia

Final

The showpiece event sees the winners of the last 3 tournaments face off for the second time in this tournament. South Africa may have got the win in the pool stages, but I think that the All Blacks will have grown into the tournament by this point and their non-stop culture of success (they were ranked #1 in the world for over 500 consecutive weeks) will see the “three-peat” happen, bringing a successful end to Steve Hansen’s tenure.

My prediction: New Zealand beat South Africa

Phil’s prediction: New Zealand beat South Africa

Gez’s prediction: New Zealand beat South Africa


As we get close to RWC2019, I will be running a fantasy rugby league on the rugby magazine website, and you are all invited to join! Simply follow this link and use the Unique Token: b6c1e40d48e6

RWC2019: Pool Stage Predictions

RWC2019: Pool Stage Predictions

We are just weeks away from the beginning of the World Cup. 20 teams vying to become Champions and lift the Webb Ellis Cup. To date, only 4 nations (New Zealand x3, Australia x2, South Africa x2 and England) have won the tournament… Will we be seeing a 5th nation added to the list this year?

That is what I have set out to predict over the next 2 articles, as I continue my “Journey to RWC2019” series with a look at the tournament itself in an attempt to predict how the tournament will go. To make this more fun, I have also invited back 2 friends to also predict the tournament: Phil, who joined me for the England squad prediction, and Gez, who was involved in predicting the Wales squad.

Today we will be looking at the pool stages, and the knockout stages will follow in a few days. In the interests of fairness, I want to make clear that I asked Phil and Gez for their picks ahead of many nations finalising their squads, which could potentially have impacted some of their selections.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


How do you see the pool stages going?

rugby RWC2019 pools

Pool A

Ireland had a very disappointing Six Nations campaign as so many of their stars failed to hit form, but I think that they will be comfortable in qualifying for the knockouts even if they must grow into the tournament. Likewise, I think that Scotland have created a deep enough squad to comfortably qualify along with Ireland (despite a short turnaround before facing Japan), with their match deciding who tops the pool. Of the remaining 3, Samoa have been going through a bad period off the field, which is also impacting them on the field, while Russia do not get to play opposition of this quality often enough and have had some poor results in their warm-ups. As such, I think Japan will get third, while Russia and Samoa will be looking to avoid finishing bottom.

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

Phil’s prediction: 1st Ireland, 2nd Scotland, 3rd Japan, 4th Samoa, 5th Russia

Gez’s prediction: 1st Ireland, 2nd Scotland, 3rd Japan, 4th Samoa, 5th Russia

Pool B

Let’s be honest… barring the mother off shocks, New Zealand and South Africa are guaranteed to qualify and their match (the opener for both of them) will decide who tops the group. South Africa have been one of the few teams to cause the All Blacks some real issues in recent seasons, and I think that they will start the tournament the stronger team and get the win here, especially with Brodie Retallick unlikely to feature in the pools. Beyond that, Canada are not as competitive as they used to be and Namibia again struggle to play regularly against other nations of this quality, so I see these 2 teams fighting for 4th while Italy take 3rd place and the final automatic qualifying spot for RWC2023.

My prediction: 1st South Africa, 2nd New Zealand, 3rd Italy, 4th Canada, 5th Namibia

Phil’s prediction: 1st New Zealand, 2nd South Africa, 3rd Italy, 4th Canada, 5th Namibia

Gez’s prediction: 1st South Africa, 2nd New Zealand, 3rd Italy, 4th Canada, 5th Namibia

Pool C

Boy do I feel sorry for the USA here. They are a team clearly on the up with the successes of the MLR and USA 7s team, while more players have been making themselves regulars in the top European leagues. Unfortunately, I can’t see how they are going to pull off a result against any of England, Argentina and France, while they have a short turnaround against Tonga in what will likely decide the bottom 2 positions. Moving to the top 3, Argentina have so much potential if they can get it together in the moment but are on a poor run of form and have left out some of their biggest stars due to a reluctance to pick players based outside of Argentina. France have a habit of getting things together in the World Cup despite being dismal ahead of time and England are in a place where one week they look like world beaters and the next look awful, you feel that they could (and should) be so much better if Eddie Jones picked the players that were on form. I think that England’s consistency (compared to the other 2) gives them the advantage over their rivals here, while some questionable omissions from Mario Ledesma and the time France have had together since their squad was announced gives France the advantage in the race for 2nd.

My prediction: 1st England, 2nd France, 3rd Argentina, 4th USA, 5th Tonga

Phil’s prediction: 1st England, 2nd France, 3rd Argentina, 4th USA, 5th Tonga

Gez’s prediction: 1st England, 2nd Argentina, 3rd France, 4th USA, 5th Tonga

Pool D

Wales’ Six Nations Grand Slam gives them the top spot here by a wide margin. Australia are well off their best and could be at risk in their opening match against Fiji, however I think their win over New Zealand showed enough to suggest they can come out on top in this fixture. Following on from that game, I think that a 3-day turnaround before facing Uruguay is doable for Fiji, who then have 7 days before taking on Georgia, giving them a good chance of putting 3 wins on the board before facing Wales in the final round. Assuming Australia beat Fiji, I see them having enough to make the top 2, but if they do lose to Fiji, I can’t see them beating Wales and the lack of momentum may see them struggle to put enough points on against Uruguay and Georgia (who will come in with an extra 2 days rest and less travelling) to take advantage if Fiji were to slip up against someone. As for Georgia, the short turnaround before playing Fiji probably kills their chances of finishing in the top 3 unless Australia completely fall apart, which leaves Uruguay likely to finish winless. Basically, the Wallabies could finish anywhere from 2nd to 4th!

My prediction: 1st Wales, 2nd Australia, 3rd Fiji, 4th Georgia, 5th Uruguay

Phil’s prediction: 1st Wales, 2nd Australia, 3rd Fiji, 4th Uruguay, 5th Georgia

Gez’s prediction: 1st Australia, 2nd Wales, 3rd Georgia, 4th Fiji, 5th Uruguay

 


As we get close to RWC2019, I will be running a fantasy rugby league on the rugby magazine website, and you are all invited to join! Simply follow this link and use the Unique Token: b6c1e40d48e6

RWC2019: Predicting the Australia Squad

RWC2019: Predicting the Australia Squad

With club rugby over for another season, the thoughts of many fans have been turning towards the upcoming World Cup and the squads that their teams will be selecting. However, for the teams of the Rugby Championship, their focus has had to be initially on a shortened version of their annual tournament.

Australia were not in a good place in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup, but Michael Cheika’s appointment a year before the tournament righted the ship and saw them make it out of a strong group to finish as losing finalists. Now, Australia are in a bad spot again with just 4 Test victories in 2018, while they have also lost one of their star players in Israel Folau after his social media outbursts. A huge win over New Zealand in the Rugby Championship suggested some light at the end of the tunnel, but questions remain after they were held scoreless at Eden Park a week later. In a pool containing Wales, Fiji and Georgia, they will need to get the selections right if they want to avoid embarrassment in the tournament.

As I have done with a number of other nations, I will be continuing my “Journey to RWC2019” series one final squad prediction: the Wallabies. With the Rugby Championship being so close to the World Cup, I am using the squads they have picked for this tournament as the basis for my squads, but I have also looked at some notable names who have not been selected to this point. To remind you, this is not the squad that I would pick, but instead the squad that I think Michael Cheika will take.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


So without further ado, I predict that Australia’s 31-man squad for the World Cup will be:

Hooker

Folau Fainga’a had a huge season for the Brumbies, finishing with 12 Super Rugby tries (3rd most in the tournament). Tolu Latu has been a regular of late, but off field issues may hamper him here. I think that he will still make the squad, especially following his performance against New Zealand, provided that there are no further issues, but I also expect them to take Tatafu Polota-Nau, who may not have had the best of seasons with Leicester but brings a lot of experience to the squad, making it in ahead of Jordan Uelese, who has had limited chances in the national team.

Prop

Scott Sio has been a regular starter for the Wallabies of late, so will make the plane, while the other 3 regulars in the 23 have been Sekope KepuAllan Alaalatoa and the “Tongan Thor” himself, Taniela Tupou. Though there is already plenty of caps in this group, I think that the Wallabies’ recent struggles will see them look to another experienced operator for the final spot, which will lead to a spot on the plane for James Slipper, who had a strong Rugby Championship.

Second Row

So to start with, let me make it very clear: If Will Skelton suddenly returns to Australia, then he makes the squad as he has probably been in the best form of his career this season with Saracens. However as a return has only been rumoured, I will be basing this on the idea that he is not eligible. Adam Coleman and Izack Rodda have been regular starters, while Rob Simmonds has also been a regular in the 23. Rory Arnold takes the final spot, but he needs to hope that Will Skelton doesn’t get himself a contract back in Australia.

Back Row

Ned Hanigan’s omission from the Rugby Championship squad appears to suggest that he has dropped down the pecking order, despite his ability to also cover at lock. As captain, Michael Hooper is an obvious pick, as is the best 7 in the world, David Pocock, provided he recovers from injury in time. Pete Samu had a strong season for the Brumbies and will surely make the squad if he can recover from the injury that saw him come off at halftime in their Super Rugby quarterfinal. Jack Dempsey appeared to be the incumbent in the 6 jersey but appears to have dropped down the pecking order. Instead, it looks like Isi Naisarani and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto will be on the flight to Japan as they have made a strong trio with Hooper in Pocock’s absence. Should Pocock or Samu fail to recover in time for the tournament, I think that Reds jackal Liam Wright and Luke Jones (who is listed among the locks but was a regular on the bench in the back row position during the Rugby Championship) will come in to replace their respective stars.

Scrum Half

Such has been the Wallabies’ reliance on Will Genia, there is no way he doesn’t travel if he is not fit. Given how little time on the pitch any other scrum halves have been given in the national team over recent years, I think that Cheika will only take one other specialist at the position. Nick Phipps has usually been the go-to backup of late, but his omission from the Rugby Championship squad suggests that he is out of the reckoning. Joe Powell has been the other Australian-based option and benefits from a strong season for the Brumbies, however I think that his kicking game is questionable and could lead to him missing out on the biggest stage this time around. Instead, I think that Nic White’s return to his homeland and regular appearances in the Rugby Championship have secured his place in the squad, as he has a strong tactical kicking game and has spent recent season playing in a very successful Exeter side.

Fly Half

After a strong start to the season, things went downhill for Quade Cooper and his omission from the Rugby Championship squad and the subsequent announcement of his upcoming move to Japan means that we have likely seen the end of his international career. Bernard Foley has been the go-to at 10 for much of the current World Cup cycle so is certain to travel, while it looks like he may have lost the starting spot at the eleventh hour to the Brumbies’ Christian Lealiifano, who has made a great return to the squad.

Centre

The Wallabies have usually taken 4 centres to recent tournaments, but due to the versatility of some players, I think that they will take 5 in this squad. Samu Kerevi was one of the stars of this season’s Super Rugby and has carried his form into the Test matches, while Tevita Kuridrani brings experience and will be a good backup to him. Kurtley Beale’s versatility (being able to cover 10, 12, 13 and 15) will see him in the squad, along with Matt To’omua, who again provides cover at fly half. James O’Connor has revitalised his career with Sale and has likely earned himself the 13 shirt following a great return to the Wallabies starting XV in their win over New Zealand, despite a quieter performance a week later.

Back 3

Dane Haylett-PettyMarika Koroibete and Reece Hodge have all been regulars in recent squads, so I expect them to all travel despite Haylett-Petty appearing to have dropped down the pecking order. Beyond that, Folau’s sacking makes things very interesting for the final positions. Adam Ashley-Cooper is highly experienced and versatile, and his inclusion at Eden Park makes me think that he will earn a spot in the squad alongside Tom Banks (2nd in Super Rugby this season for carries and metres carried, 9th for defenders beaten), meaning that Jack Maddocks, (10 tries was the joint-5th highest in this season of Super Rugby) just misses out.

Who do you think will make it to Japan?


As we get close to RWC2019, I will be running a fantasy rugby league on the rugby magazine website, and you are all invited to join! Simply follow this link and use the Unique Token: b6c1e40d48e6

RWC2019: Predicting the New Zealand Squad

RWC2019: Predicting the New Zealand Squad

With the shortened version of the Rugby Championship over, the attention of rugby fans will now be turning to the upcoming World Cup. Though it is hard to believe it has been almost 4 years since the All Blacks lifted the trophy in London, we are just a matter of weeks away from the deadline for teams to name their squads for the tournament.

Having won the World Cup at home in 2011, the All Blacks became the first nation to ever defend their title when they won again in 2015, becoming the first team to win the tournament 3 times. Now, having been ranked #1 in the world since late 2009, the All Blacks have the chance of the first “three-peat” in Rugby World Cup history. Having coached New Zealand since 2004 first as an assistant coach and then from 2012 as head coach, this will be Steve Hansen’s last World Cup with the team as he will standing down after the tournament, so it’s safe to imagine that he will want to go out on a high, though some people will surely be wondering if that is possible after a less than stellar Rugby Championship campaign.

As I have done with a number of other nations, I will be continuing my “Journey to RWC2019” series with predictions of each 31-man squad for the Rugby Championship teams, and today we will be looking at the All Blacks. With the Rugby Championship being so close to the World Cup, I am using the squads they have picked for this tournament as the basis for my squads, but I have also looked at some notable names who have been selected for the Maori All Blacks or not included in either squad but could come into consideration. To remind you, this is not the squad that I would pick, but instead the squad that I think Steve Hansen will take.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


So without further ado, I predict that Steve Hansen’s 31-man squad for the World Cup will be:

Hooker

New Zealand regularly take 3 hookers to the tournament and considering the injury history of Dane Coles over recent years, I expect that trend to continue here as he is too good to leave out, but precautions must be taken. Codie Taylor has done a great job in Coles’ absence to the point that I wouldn’t be wholly surprised to see him given the starting shirt. As for the 3rd hooker, things become more difficult. Nathan Harris and Ash Dixon look to be out of luck after being assigned to the Maori All Blacks this summer. I initially thought that Asafo Aumua would get the nod as they begin to look to the future, but I now believe that it will be Liam Coltman who goes to Japan, as he has been the next man up during the Rugby Championship.

Prop

For the rest of the front row, I will not be looking beyond the Rugby Championship squad due to the importance of scrums in the international game. The Crusaders pair of Owen Franks and Joe Moody have become regulars when available. Karl Tu’inukuafe was one of the breakout internationals last season but appears to have fallen out of favour this season and would likely require injuries ahead of him in order to make it to the tournament. Ofa Tu’ungafasi will travel to provide cover for Moody, while Nepo Laulala will provide cover for Franks. For the final spot, I will go for Angus Ta’avao, as Franks appeared to struggle in the first Bledisloe match so may not have the starting spot as secured as he would have hoped.

Second Row

The first 3 names in the All Blacks second row corps pick themselves. Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are one of the best lock pairings in World Rugby, while Scott Barrett can easily come in with no real drop off in quality. However due to Barrett’s ability to play in the back row, I expect Steve Hansen to also pick one more. While Jackson Hemopo also provides cover for the back row, I think that the spot is more likely to be filled by Patrick Tuipulotu, who has more experience at this level. The big question here though is on Retallick’s fitness after he left the South Africa match with a dislocated shoulder. If he’s fit, then he travels. If there is any delay in his recovery, however, I expect Hemopo to take the spot that opens up.

Back Row

Captain Kieran Read is the obvious selection here, while Sam Cane and Ardie Savea will surely both travel to compete for the 7 jersey – or potentially even play together as a 6/7 combination. For the final 2 spots, things get harder to judge. Akira Ioane is a talented player but with Savea able to cover 8 and Kirean Read there, he is still stuck with the Maori All Blacks and likely won’t be capped until after the tournament. Vaea Fifita looked to be their next star at 6 a few seasons ago but has since falling down the pecking order. Dalton Papalii has been the recent inclusion, but the Blues’ struggles and lack of international experience could hurt him. Liam Squire is currently asking to not be selected for the All Blacks but could come back into contention if he makes himself available for the World Cup. Shannon Frizell burst onto the scene in his first couple of caps but had a limited impact on later matches in last year’s Rugby Championship. While part of me is thinking that none of these players will make it and Hemopo may even take the spot as a utility forward, I’m going to pick Vaea Fifita here as he has experience in the second row and provides another option in the lineout. The final spot goes to jackal Matt Todd, who was one of the stars of the Super Rugby final and made Super Rugby’s top 10 for offloads and tackles completed.

Scrum Half

The top 2 pick themselves here as both Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara are among the best in the world at the position. Bryn Hall’s success with the Crusaders and link with Richie Mo’unga does not appear to have been enough to see him promoted from the Maori All Blacks. While Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi has been the usual 3rd man since Tawera Kerr-Barlow moved to France, he has spent most of the season on the bench while his teammate Brad Weber has had a stunning Super Rugby season, so I see him making the squad instead of his more established rival.

Fly Half

He may not be my pick for the number 10 jersey, but Beauden Barrett looks set to lead the line at the World Cup, while Richie Mo’unga is the clear option behind him given Damian McKenzie’s injury. Or they may even both make the starting line-up with Barrett at 15. As a 3rd fly half, I expect that they will rely on cover from elsewhere in the squad after Josh Ioane was one of the first players cut, most likely Jordie Barrett.

Centre

I could have easily picked 6 or 7 players at the position but in line with previous squads have limited myself to just 4. Jack Goodhue is one of the best all-rounders in the centre corps, while Ngani Laumape has had a stellar season for the Hurricanes. Anton Lienert-Brown may not have had the best matches when starting but is lethal off the bench around the hour mark. As none of the centre options are that experienced covering other positions, I can only imagine Steve Hansen taking 4 centres, which means a big name will be missing out. With these 3 making the plane, I expect a more experienced presence to take the final spot. Ma’a Nonu rolled back the years with his performances from the Blues but it feels like his time is over, while Sonny Bill Williams has missed most of the season through injury and not looked close to his best during the Rugby Championship. New Zealand can look a little questionable defensively at times, so I expect Ryan Crotty to take the final spot by virtue of his stellar defence. However, he did pick up an injury in the Super Rugby semifinal and if he does not recover in time, then I see a fit Williams taking the spot.

Back 3

Again, Damian McKenzie’s injury leads to some big decisions at this position, further hampered by the retirement of Israel Dagg. Jordie Barrett and Ben Smith will compete for the 15 jersey (assuming that Beauden Barrett is not given the jersey fulltime), while Smith is also very experienced on the wing for New Zealand and Barrett has played there for the Hurricanes too. Rieko Ioane’s 22 tries in 24 Tests guarantee him a place on the plane. Ben Lam does not appear to be in consideration despite another strong season for the ‘Canes. Nehe Milner-Skudder’s chances of a second World Cup seem gone after a torrid series of injuries stopped him from jumping on from his starring role at RWC2015. Waisake Naholo is also currently not involved with either the Rugby Championship or Maori All Blacks squads as he comes back from injury, so I think that he is left to play in the Mitre 10 Cup before making his way to the Premiership, while Crusader fullback/winger George Bridge comes in to cover the back 3. The All Blacks showed with Milner-Skudder’s selection 4 years ago that they are not afraid to bring in a winger with just a few caps as a bolter into their World Cup squad. I can see that happening again this year in the form of Sevu Reece, who just finished this season as the top try scorer in Super Rugby.

Who do you think will make it to Japan?


As we get close to RWC2019, I will be running a fantasy rugby league on the rugby magazine website, and you are all invited to join! Simply follow this link and use the Unique Token: b6c1e40d48e6

RWC2019: Predicting the South Africa Squad

RWC2019: Predicting the South Africa Squad

With club rugby over for another season, the thoughts of many fans have been turning towards the upcoming World Cup and the squads that their teams will be selecting. However, for the teams of the Rugby Championship, their focus has had to be initially on a shortened version of their annual tournament.

Despite coming 3rd at RWC2015, the loss to Japan in the pool stages meant that this was a roller-coaster of a tournament for them, which has continued over the following years, with a loss to Italy in 2016 and a 57-0 embarrassment at New Zealand some of the biggest low points. Though results still may not have gone their way, they have looked better since Rassie Erasmus replaced Allister Coetzee in the head coach role and have even had a couple of great results against the All Blacks. This is a team that look on the up.

As I have done with a number of other nations, I will be continuing my “Journey to RWC2019” series with predictions of each 31-man squad for the Rugby Championship teams, continuing today with the Springboks. With the Rugby Championship being so close to the World Cup, I am using the squads they have picked for this tournament as the basis for my squads, taking into account the performances from the first 2 rounds but also looking some notable names who are not included but could come into consideration. To remind you, this is not the squad that I would pick, but instead the squad that I think Rassie Erasmus will pick.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


So without further ado, I predict that South Africa’s 31-man World Cup squad will be:

Hooker

South Africa generally take 3 hookers to recent World Cups, so with Bismarck du Plessis left out of the Rugby Championship squad, this looks pretty easy to pick. Malcolm Marx is one of the best hookers in the world currently and when he is at the breakdown, it is like having another flanker on the pitch, while Bongi Mbonambi has been the go-to replacement for him. The final spot goes to Schalk Brits, who retired from rugby but ended up playing again for the Bulls this season and gives a different skill-set for the opposition to defend in open play.

Prop

Vincent Koch is a key part of the Saracens scrum and will split time at tighthead with Frans Malherbe. At loosehead, Tendai Mtawarira provides experience and Steven Kitshoff has quietly become one of the best at the position over the last couple of years. Thomas du Toit has dropped down the pecking order and now looks 4th choice at best at loosehead, behind Lizo Gqoboka, who started every Super Rugby match for the Bulls this season. However, I feel that both will miss out in favour of Trevor Nyakane, who started against Australia and came off the bench against the All Blacks.

Second Row

With 4 locks likely to travel, it was pretty easy to narrow down the options here. Franco Mostert’s work rate is incredible and he will likely start at 5, while the 4 shirt probably belongs to Eben EtzebethRG Snyman has been the next man up of late, but Lood de Jager is a quality player who could push his way into the 23 and will surely make it on the plane to Japan as well.

Back Row

As captain, Siya Kolisi is sure to travel, provided he recovers in time, while I think he would be joined in a 1st choice back row by Duane Vermeulen and Pieter-Steph du Toit, who would also provide extra cover at lock. Francois Louw has continued to be a regular despite playing for Bath in recent seasons, while a strong performance in the number 8 shirt against Australia was a timely reminder of his versatility and surely confirmed his seat on the plane. Judging by previous squads that included just 5 back rowers, this leaves just 1 spot. Dan du Preez had a fantastic season before a rib injury ended it prematurely. Rynhardt Elstadt started against Australia, but I do not feel there was enough in his performance to earn him a space in the squad. Warren Whiteley has had a torrid season with injuries limiting him to just 4 Super Rugby appearances but has the experience his rivals lack (including having previously captained the team). Instead, I think that Kwagga Smith will go as his experience playing for the Blitzbokke provides a different style of play for a South African back rower, while he can also cover 8 as well as openside flanker.

Scrum Half

3 scrum halves appears to be the norm recently for the Springboks at World Cups, and though it looked like Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier were being brought on for the World Cup, it looks like they have dropped down the pecking order at just the wrong time. Faf de Klerk has looked incredible since joining Sale and has worked his way not just back into the South Africa squad, but also the conversation for best 9 in the world. Cobus Reinach was also in the international code but was arguably the best 9 in the Premiership this season. Even before the Rugby Championship began this season, I felt that Herschel Jantjies had done enough to make it onto the plane as a 3rd option, but his performances against Australia and New Zealand now make me think that he will be pushing for significant playing time in the tournament.

Fly Half

Had he not been forced to retire, I imagine Pat Lambie would have come into the reckoning. However, with him unavailable and Sale-bound Robert du Preez not included in the Rugby Championship squad, it looks like Elton Jantjies and Handrè Pollard will travel to Japan as the 2 specialist 10s.

Centre

This was a very difficult selection to make, with 5 players (6 if you include Jan Serfontein who is currently injured but has been mentioned by Rassie Erasmus) fighting for probably no more than 4 spots. Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel have been the preferred pairing of late, so will surely travel. Frans Steyn has impressed off the bench in both Rugby Championship matches and his experience, versatility and monster boot off the tee lead me to believe that he will travel. With 2 inside centres also selected, it looks like André Esterhuizen will miss out following a poor performance against Australia, while outside centre Lukhanyo Am put in a great defensive performance against the All Blacks that likely cemented his place in the squad.

Back 3

Aphiwe Dyantyi is one of the new stars coming through in South African rugby and has most likely earned a space in the XV, while Cheslin Kolbe and his lightning fast legs will surely travel even if he only makes the bench. Willie le Roux did not have the best of seasons in a struggling Wasps side, but I think his experience and playmaking ability will still earn him a call-up. If he can recover in time to prove himself, I expect Damian Willemse to travel and gain more experience for the future while also being an emergency cover at 10. The final spot goes to Makazole Mapimpi, who has been in fine try-scoring form over recent years and has been given the full 80 minutes – but not been given many chances to attack – in both Rugby Championship matches so far. If Willemse fails to sufficiently recover, Curwin Bosch would have been the obvious like-for-like replacement, but the inclusion of Steyn at centre and Bosch’s omission from the wider squad leads me to believe that they would rely on Kolbe and le Roux to cover 15 and instead select S’busiso Nkosi.

Who do you think will make it to Japan?


As we get close to RWC2019, I will be running a fantasy rugby league on the rugby magazine website, and you are all invited to join! Simply follow this link and use the Unique Token: b6c1e40d48e6