As a contrarian it’s impossible for me not to see a few upsets coming in the next few weeks but I’ll to try suppress my inner anarchist for the purposes of this document.
That said there’s a real chance that Japan are the surprise package in Pool A (if a home nation can be a surprise). The weather conditions are more likely to suit Japan and maybe even Samoa (although their player base is scattered all across the world these days), baring that in mind I can see Japan qualifying in second place behind Ireland as the disconnect between Scotland’s players and Gregor Townsend grows.
Pool B is pretty easy to predict as New Zealand and South Africa are the only teams who can progress but there should be some very interesting games between Canada, Italy and Namibia. An upset of sorts could come in first game where South Africa could continue their good run against New Zealand because I’m not sure Steve Hansen prioritises winning the first game of a tournament over winning the final game of a tournament so I think the Springboks top the pool and New Zealand finish a close second.
Pool C is probably the trickiest to call because France and Argentina both have a very high ceiling but an incredibly low floor. England should progress quite calmly but it wouldn’t be a huge shock if the Pumas or les Bleus came a croper against the newly professional USA Eagles. England will almost certainly top the Pool but France and Argentina’s meeting on Saturday should decide which team takes the most confidence into the tournament and I think France under a new coaching regime will finish second.
Pool D is very much a matter of head over heart for me, obviously I hope Wales will top the standings, but I can’t see how they make it through a whole Pool without getting a harsh red card, devastating injury or comical officiating error leading to farcical result so I’m going with Australia as Pool winners, mostly because Michael Cheika scares the bejesus out of normal people. Wales should finish second but I’m not writing anything off.
So Quarter final 1 projects as England v Wales which could all come down to who is fit by then. England hope to have Mako Vunipola and Jack Nowell back by then and Wales should have Cory Hill and Adam Beard back from injury. If both squads are at full strength it should be an absolute epic and Wales won’t have anything to fear with 2 wins in their last 3 games but they’ve both been in Cardiff so I can see England winning but I’m inclined to believe that Wales’ extra conditioning training will be crucial in the brutal weather that Oita will serve up, so they will progress.
Quarter final 2 will be South Africa v Japan in Tokyo Stadium and South Africa battered the brave blossoms 41-7 just over a week ago so that seems pretty straight forward.
The 3rd quarter final would be Australia v France and this is toss of the coin stuff. Australia haven’t been in great form for about 3 years largely because David Pocock has been injured and if France have a slightly untested area in their squad its in terms of an experienced breakdown operator in the back row, Camara only has 13 caps, Aldritt 5 and Francois Cros is uncapped. So if Pocock is fit I would have to make Australia favourites to make the semi finals purely because they have a more stable bass to build from buy its definitely beyond France to shock everyone at every turn.
Ireland get another craic at New Zealand in the final Quarter final, now that has to be worth waiting for. I’m not sure Ireland will have the firepower to stop the All Blacks soul crushing machine in a game of such magnitude, after 4 Pool matches Steve Hansen might have even worked out who his best 10 is (spoiler alert – it’s Beauden Barrett).
Semi final numero uno would be the clash would be Wales v South Africa and as much as that suits Wales I’m not sure even a super fit and powerfully motivated Welsh side could stop what by now looks like Rassie’s destiny becoming fulfilled.
The final semi final will be Australia v New Zealand and very much like the Wallabies Quarter final this one could definitely go either way but the general rule when these teams meet is when the All Blacks keep 15 players on the field they win, so baring a controversial officiating decision the first game of Pool B will also be the RWC final, New Zealand v South Africa.
So, these 2 teams play each other an awful lot and this could be a really ugly bar brawl of a game because there’s certainly no love lost between the teams but I think that New Zealand will have the edge. They have an uncanny ability to soak up pressure and throw it back at their opponents in the last 5 minutes of the first half and of the game. I’ll be hoping for a nail biter but Hansen’s men could do it with time to spare.
Now would be a good time to point out that all of the previous predictions are very much dependent on typhoons not playing a huge part in the results. Along with North Korean missiles, seismic activity and the very small possibility of Godzilla arriving in Tokyo Bay.