Pool posers for Boks

JON CARDINELLI has the​ measure of the Springboks’ pool opponents at the 2015 World Cup.

Ranking: 13th
Best World Cup finish: Pool stage
Match against the Boks: 19 September, Brighton Community Stadium, Brighton

Eddie Jones is well known in South African rugby circles. He steered the Brumbies and Wallabies to glory in 2001, and Australia to a silver medal at the 2003 World Cup. Jones served as the Boks’ technical advisor at the 2007 global tournament, and made a telling difference to the team’s attack. He has since worked with several South African players at Suntory Sungoliath in Japan, and is set to coach the Stormers in 2016.

Since Jones took the Japan coaching reins, the Brave Blossoms have recorded some relatively notable results. In 2012, Japan scored their first victories in Europe when they beat Romania and then Georgia. They followed that up with a first win against Wales (a side weakened by British & Irish Lions call-ups, but a Test side nonetheless) in 2013.

Unfortunately, their form in 2015 has been less consistent. Japan lost three of their four matches in the Pacific Nations Cup to finish fourth in the six-team tournament. Their performances and results over the past month have been more encouraging. They’ve scored two wins against Uruguay as well as a victory against Georgia.

Japan boast some skilful backs and will look to play the game at high tempo. However, those strengths are likely to be nullified by a superior South African pack. They would do well to prevent the Boks scoring in excess of 40 points this Saturday.

Ranking: 12th
Best World Cup finish: Quarter-finalists
Match against the Boks: 26 September, Villa Park, Birmingham

Due to club commitments in Europe, the best Samoan players have rarely been available and this has impacted on the national side’s results. Nevertheless, Samoa have recorded some notable victories over the past four years, such as the win against Wales in Cardiff in 2012, as well as the successes against Scotland and Italy in the 2013 quadrangular series played in South Africa. They lost to Japan in Tokyo last year, but will be a more potent prospect in 2015 now that many of their best players are back.

In July, a strong All Blacks team toured Samoa for the first time. The world’s No 1-ranked team fought tooth and nail at the breakdowns and collisions, and scored just one try in their 25-16 victory. New Zealand deserved the win, and yet, it was an encouraging performance by the Pacific Islanders. That would have boosted their confidence in the buildup to the 2015 World Cup.

Samoa pushed the Boks close in the pool encounter at the 2011 World Cup, and ultimately the final scoreline of 13-5 flattered the South Africans. Samoa will believe that they can match the Boks, at least physically, in the pool clash at the upcoming tournament. However, the Boks should be the better organised of the two teams, especially up front, and their superior kicking game will also contribute to a victory.

Ranking: 10th
Best World Cup finish: Semi-finalists
Match against the Boks: 3 October, St James Park, Newcastle

The period between 2012 and 2015 has witnessed very few wins of significance. The die-hard fans may have hoped Scotland had turned a corner when they beat the Wallabies in Australia for the first time in 30 years (in 2012). Sadly, that is the only positive result they have recorded against one of the southern hemisphere giants.

Scotland have beaten Argentina regularly in this period between World Cups, and may feel that their win against Samoa in Apia back in 2012 bodes well for the coming pool encounter with the Pacific Islanders.

However, their Six Nations form has been consistently poor. Scotland have won just three of the past 20 Six Nations matches. They finished the 2012 and 2015 campaigns winless. Take Italy out of the equation, and Scotland have managed just one victory against a major northern hemisphere contender during this four-year period. That result came against Ireland in 2013.

More recently, Scotland won two World Cup warm-up matches against Italy, and then lost narrowly to France in Paris. The optimists may feel that this bodes well for the coming tournament. However, the Bravehearts will have to show more than guts if they are to advance to the quarter-finals.

Scotland have managed to frustrate even the best teams at the breakdown in recent years. The Boks will need to win the battle at the gainline and ensure that their breakdown cleanouts are on point if they are to come through the clash at St James Park with a comfortable win.

Ranking: 15th
Best World Cup finish: Pool stage
Match against the Boks: 7 October, Olympic Stadium, London

The powers that be have worked hard to boost the profile of rugby in the USA over the past four years. Unfortunately, the Eagles haven’t obtained much of a return as far as results are concerned.

USA have won just 11 of their last 30 Tests. While they have beaten fellow minnows like Canada and Japan during this period, they have lost consistently to Samoa, Fiji and Tonga. USA finished fifth at the recent Pacific Nations Cup.

The All Blacks smashed USA 74-6 in Chicago last year. Australia fielded a second-string side against the Eagles earlier this month, and still came away with a 47-10 win. The Boks should also field a weakened side against USA when the teams meet in London on 7 October, given the fact that the game takes place just four days after South Africa’s key clash against Scotland in Newcastle. That said, the Boks should be too strong for the Eagles, particularly in the forwards, and one would expect the South Africans to rack up at least 40 points.

Photo: Ryan Pierse/ Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli