The Springboks versus the All Blacks.
Arguably the most anticipated group stage match at this year’s World Cup and the only real defining match of Pool B. This mouthwatering contest, which is also the first fixture for teams featured in Pool B, will define who finishes the pool first and second respectively. Such is the superiority of the two Southern Hemisphere powerhouses, that the rest of Pool B, consisting of Italy, Namibia and Canada, are in all honesty only there to make up the numbers.
Team analysis and predictions:
South Africa go into this World Cup with a sense of confidence they haven’t experienced since they won the coveted trophy in 2007. Add to that a psychological edge gained over the All Blacks over the past two years and you sit with a very dangerous team that could very well go all the way. The Boks will put everything into their opening encounter with the old rivals and capitalise on the rare opportunity to face an All Black team that has been far from dominant over the last couple of years. At stake is a top of the log finish and a much easier path into the final rounds of the competition.
In Rassie Erasmus, the men in green possess a coaching mastermind that would have been planning for this match meticulously since his first day in charge, which should lead to a great start and ultimately, a top of the table finish. The Boks should shrug off other top tier nation, Italy, with relative ease and cruise past neighbours Namibia and Canada.
New Zealand have dominated world rugby for such a long period of time that it’s very difficult to remember when last they weren’t the favourites to win the World Cup. Though they will be considered favourites again this time around, one cannot deny that some unwanted inconsistencies and insecurities have crept into the All Blacks’ game over the past year or two. This is underpinned by coach Steve Hansen’s recent comment that “it’s not the end of the world” if they lose to their opening game against the Springboks.
The thought of the All Blacks losing to any opposition has, over the past decade, seldom crossed the minds of rugby pundits and fans alike.
Having suffered defeats against Ireland and Australia over the past 12 months, it would be the fact that they failed to beat the South Africans in New Zealand in two attempts that will prove to be the biggest contributing, psychological factor in what may very well be their first loss in their opening match of a World Cup. If this happens, the prospect of a colossal battle with a confident Irish side awaits them in the quarter-finals. Should they be able to pull themselves together and eliminate the unforced errors and lapses in concentration that have bugged them over the past couple of months. T
he All Blacks, as always, can and will in all probability go on and make it three titles in a row.
When the draw for the 2019 World Cup pool phase initially took place, Italy would have considered themselves unlucky being drawn into a pool with both New Zealand and South Africa. They would, however, have been somewhat optimistic about their chances of possibly causing an upset against the Springboks as at the time they were in a position where they recently scored a victory over the Boks and the South Africans were in a bad space results and ranking wise. The landscape has changed significantly in the lead up to the World Cup though, with a resurgence in confidence for the Springboks and an extended run of poor form for the Azzurri. The Italians’ only victories since the start of 2018 have been against Japan, Georgia and Russia.
Although coach Conor O’Shea recently mentioned that they have targeted their match against the Springboks as one they can win, it will take something spectacular for his men to achieve anything beyond wins against Namibia and Canada. Grouped with two high-flyers and the two bottom ranked teams, the Italians will in all likelihood finish the pool stage in the midst of mid-table nothingness.
Playing in their sixth consecutive tournament, Namibia are yet to achieve their first victory in a World Cup. This year will most probably be no exception to the rule and the lowest ranked team in the competition will extend their World Cup losing streak to twenty three. The Welwitschias will set their sights on a maiden win against Canada and a decent performance against Italy, but will struggle to avoid big margin losses at the hand of the All Blacks and South Africa.
It has been a tough year for Canada leading up to the World Cup as they have only managed one win in eight matches, beating Chile at home in February. Recent losses to Uruguay and Brazil emphasize the sad deterioration of Canadian rugby as they are now ranked the second lowest team in the competition, behind them is only Namibia. The 1991 quarter-finalists find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to face up to three tier one nations in Pool B, as well as a Namibian side that will give all they’ve got to register their first World Cup win when they square off with the Maple Leafs. This being said, one should expect nothing more than 3 comprehensive losses and one narrow margin victory from the Canadians in their ninth World Cup.
Final Pool B Table Prediction:
New Zealand vs South Africa 21 September 2019; Yokohama
Follow Arno on Twitter: @ArnoOB01