England seem the front runners in this competitive pool. They are the northern hemisphere’s form side and most commentators pick as the best placed to challenge South Africa and New Zealand. A potent blend of physical ball carriers, in Sinckler, Genge, the Vunipolas and Tuilagi, the electric pace of May, Daly and Watson, and the incisive, unflappable accuracy of Owen Farrell, England are a force to be reckoned with.
Whilst travel arrangements may have been disrupted, Eddie Jones has been cleverly manipulating their warmup fixtures so as to ensure they are prepared for all eventualities. Delaying the coach to Twickenham to simulate hold ups in Japan and deliberately fatiguing the team ahead of the Italy game are two such examples.
Los Pumas have been in dire form and are currently ranked eleventh in the world. However, they have a tendency to peak at the World Cup, perhaps because they are given a chance to settle as a squad, and do not have to complete any of the gruelling long haul flights that are an intrinsic part of their international calendar (and the Jaguares Super Rugby season).
Ultimately, the Argentinians quality is beyond dispute, and, ominously for the rest of the competition, they were ranked twelfth in the world ahead of the 2015 tournament only to rip through to the semi-finals in sensational fashion. With Creevy, Matera, Sanchez and Boffelli all on song they will challenge anyone.
Parallels between the Argentinians and France are therefore obvious. Like Argentina they tend to peak at the World Cup, in fact, France’s record is comfortably the best of those nations not yet to win the tournament. Both France and Argentina are capable of topping the group, yet so unpredictable and inconsistent are they, a bottom placed finish is not beyond the realms of possibility either.
Wildly unpredictably, chaotic and talented, this may be one World Cup too soon for the alumni of France’s consecutive U-20 World Championship winning sides, but they will, as ever, be entertaining. Keep an eye on their three incredible scrum halves: Antoine Dupont, Maxime Machenaud and Baptiste Serin – how Jacques Brunel would love to enjoy such quality at 10.
Whilst not to be underestimated and possessing that typically dangerous blend of Polynesian flair and physicality, Tonga were ran ragged by the All Blacks last weekend, conceding 90 points, and do not appear to be in the best shape. The USA beat Canada 20 – 15 in their last warm up fixture and possess a number of top European players. Shocks aside however, a solitary win over Tonga appears to be the reasonable limit of their expectations.
Player to Watch: Antoine Dupont
Potential Upset: Tonga vs France
Written by Joe Ronan