The prospect of two passionate Northern Hemisphere rugby nations with an age old rivalry being lined up in the same Rugby World Cup pool is always exciting. Add to that, an ever improving home team full of confidence, as well as a hard-hitting, historically fan-favourite Pacific nation and you have a mixed bag full of potential upsets, overwhelming crowd reactions and make-or-break moments.
Pool A, therefore, is one that will be watched eagerly by both die-hard supporters and neutral fans alike as the two pool favourites, Ireland and Scotland, will have their hands full whilst fighting off teams fuelled by passion and superior crowd backing.
Team analysis and predictions:
The world’s current top ranked team, Ireland, are rightfully favourites to finish first in Pool A. Even though their performance in this year’s edition of the Six Nations was underwhelming to a large extent, the current squad is by far the most confident and well-balanced they have sent to a World Cup. They will be eager to pounce on the opportunity to go the whole nine yards having achieved victories over the All-Blacks, Australia, Wales and England over the past 18 months.
In what should be their biggest challenge, Ireland face Scotland in their opening match of the competition. Having won six out of their last seven matches, it would be considered quite an upset though if the Scots were to pull off a win. Two tough challenges await the Irish in hosts Japan and the hard-hitting Samoans respectively, but they should be able to shrug these contests off with relative ease. Expect full points from the men in green when they face off against wooden-spoon front runners, Russia.
Scotland have been relatively underwhelming in the build-up to this year’s World Cup. Though big in margin, their recent victories over Georgia have been unconvincing to say the least. That being said, the Scots have a knack of rising to the occasion in “big” matches.
It is with this in mind that they will set out to try and cause the first upset of the competition when they face pool favourites Ireland in their opening match. If the Scots fall short against the Irish as expected, the closing game in Pool A against hosts Japan should be a juicy prospect which will ultimately determine the fate of the pool and their participation in the tournament going forward. In terms of their other two pool matches, the men in navy blue should score a narrow victory over Samoa and a more convincing win over the Russians. Scotland should have just enough to make up for the disappointment of not advancing to the knock-out phase in 2011 and have another shot at erasing those last minute nightmares that came from the controversial finish to their quarter-final with Australia for years ago.
Host nation Japan has featured in every instalment of the World Cup tournament since its inception in 1987, gradually improving with every edition. From nightmare losses at the hands of the All-Blacks in 1995 (losing 145-17) and 2011 (losing 83-7) respectively, to the famous victory over the Springboks in 2015, they are by far the most improved team in the World Rugby over the past decade. Boasting a number of foreign-born players, the Brave Blossoms will be out to claim another scalp or two in this year’s competition. The passionate home crowds will fuel their expansive and enterprising brand of rugby, believing that their team possesses the ability to immitate the fortunes of the South Korean football team in the 2002 Fifa World Cup tournament.
The Japanese will struggle to beat top ranked team Ireland, but will have their eye on an upset victory against Scotland in the final pool match. Though not an easy task, they should score victories by narrow margins over Samoa and Russia respectively, as both will eye Japan as a team they could beat in the pool phase.
The men from Samoa have faced their fair share of difficulties leading up to this year’s World Cup, having to qualify for the tournament in a play-off scenario against Germany, as well as some stalwarts making themselves unavailable for selection. A challenging prospect for any team over the past seven instalments of the competition, the Samoans will once again rely on their physical ability to potentially overpower and outmuscle opposition.
Though matches against Ireland and Scotland may prove a bridge too far for the Pacific Islanders, they will target their matches against Japan and Russia as opportunities to score much needed victories. This could provide them with an outside chance to progress to the quarter-final stage for the third time, depending on other favourable outcomes in the pool.
Russia find themselves in a difficult pool this year which consists of the top ranked team in the world, Ireland, seventh ranked Scotland, home nation Japan and Samoa. Add to that an unfavourable fixture list and the Russians are in for a tough time in this year’s instalment.
Starting with an intimidating fixture against Japan in the opening match of the tournament, followed by a bruising encounter with the Samoans, the players will barely have an opportunity to recover adequately before facing the daunting tasks of facing up to the Irish and Scottish back to back. It should be an all too familiar scenario for the Russians at the end of the pool phase as they will in all probability suffer the same fate as in their only other World Cup appearance in 2011, when they finished Pool C winless.
Final Pool A Table Prediction:
Ireland vs Scotland 22 September 2019; Yokohama
Japan vs Scotland 13 October 2019; Yokohama
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