DYLAN JACK unpacks the remaining pool games in the World Cup, highlighting the big clashes to come and the permutations for the playoffs.
A pool that was supposed to be predictable got turned on its head when Japan outplayed favourites Ireland in a 19-12 win. While Ireland got their campaign back on track with a bonus-point win over Russia, all but securing their place in the playoffs, there is still a question over whether Joe Schmidt’s side will finish first or second in the pool.
Ireland currently lead the pool on 11 points, ahead of Japan on nine and Scotland, who are third with five points and only separated with Samoa by points difference. Ireland’s remaining match sees them line up against the Samoans next Saturday, a game they should be able to win with a bonus point to finish top of the pool and potentially lock in a quarter-final against South Africa.
Meanwhile, Japan’s remaining games are against Samoa this Saturday and Scotland the following Sunday. The latter match is undeniably a crucial one, and possibly the biggest remaining match in the pool, if Japan hope to progress to the playoffs for the first time in their history.
Big result: Japan 19 Ireland 12
Big match: Japan vs Scotland (Sunday, 13 October, Yokohama)
Pool B has gone pretty much as predicted with the All Blacks opening win over the Springboks putting them in pole position to finish top of the pool. Italy made a short challenge for the playoff places, but their hopes were crushed by their heavy loss to South Africa in Shizuoka.
The results put the Springboks tied with the Italy on 10 points each, one ahead of the Kiwis, with their final game against lowly Canada, who have scored just one try in their two matches.
The All Blacks have easily winnable games against Namibia and Italy to come and bonus-point wins in each will move the New Zealanders to first place, with the Springboks in second. Italy’s hopes of progressing will hang on upsetting the odds and beating the All Blacks.
Big result: New Zealand 23 South Africa 13
Big match: New Zealand vs Italy (Saturday, 12 October, Toyota City)
England have handled the ‘Pool of Death’ with relative ease, claiming five points each against the USA and Tonga to sit top of the table. However, matches against Argentina and France will provide a sterner test of England’s title credentials and play a crucial role in which team could join them in the playoffs.
France gave themselves a big boost in this regard by claiming a narrow 23-21 win over Argentina in their first match of the tournament, a result which moves them three points ahead of the Argentinians.
Both teams have to play England in their remaining two fixtures, but Argentina possibly have the easier draw as they face the USA while France will be up against Tonga. It is likely that France will hold onto their three-point advantage, even if they do lose their last match against England, and go through.
Basically, Argentina need to beat England to keep their hopes alive. Failure to do so could result in them failing to progress past the pool stages for the first time since 2003.
Big result: France 23 Argentina 21
Big match: England vs Argentina (Saturday, 5 October, Tokyo)
Wales have taken control and kept their playoff hopes in their hands by holding on to beat Australia 29-25 in the crucial encounter of the pool. That win had Warren Gatland’s side top the pool heading into the final round three points ahead of the Australians.
Both Wales and Australia have two games left to play. Wales face Fiji and Uruguay, while the Wallabies take on Uruguay next and finish with Georgia.
The Wallabies will need Fiji to produce the next World Cup upset and beat Wales, who would have over a week to prepare for the fixture.
It therefore looks likely that Wales will finish top of the pool and face either France or Argentina in the quarter-finals, with Australia set to face England in the playoffs.
Big result: Australia 25 Wales 29
Big match: Wales vs Fiji (Wednesday, 9 October, Oita)
Photo: Getty Images/Reuters