Sunday 19 November 2017 / 04:41 AM

Rugby World Cup – Pool B Preview

POOL B

Two-time champions South Africa tower over a group that doesn’t contain any out-and-out minnows, although Scotland and Samoa are destined to battle it out for the second quarter-final slot from Pool B. The Scotland-Samoa and Japan-USA clashes promise to be among the closest of the tournament’s group stage.

 

 

South Africa

On the third line of betting to win their third World Cup, the Springboks should breeze through their pool – but the road gets tough thereafter. If results go according to plan, South Africa will face Australia or England in the quarters, before a semi-final meeting with New Zealand. The Boks went down in tight games to the Wallabies and All Blacks during the Rugby Championship, before a shock loss at home to the Pumas. Controversy over the quota of black players in the squad has provided an unwanted pre-tournament distraction, but in the form of cast-iron veterans Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Jean De Villiers and Bryan Habana, and young guns Jesse Kriel, Lood de Jager and Handre Pollard, South Africa has the physical presence and game-breakers to rattle any team in world rugby.

 

IRB World ranking: 3

RWC all-time record: Won 25, Lost 4

Best RWC finish: Champions – 1995, 2007

RWC 2011 finish: Quarter-finalists

 

 

Scotland

After missing the quarters for the first time at the 2011 World Cup – losing to England and Argentina, and scraping past lowly Georgia and Romania – Scotland will be hell-bent on reaching the quarter-finals on their own doorstep this time around. The Scots were impressive on home soil against the All Blacks at the end of 2014, but were winless in the Six Nations at the start of 2015, before gearing up for the World Cup with home and away wins over Italy and narrow losses to Ireland and France. Coached by Kiwi Vern Cotter and led by veteran halfback Greig Laidlaw, Scotland aren’t flashy but have some handy young backs in the shape of flyhalf Finn Russell and fullback Stuart Hogg, complementing a gritty forward pack.

 

IRB World ranking: 10

RWC all-time record: Won 19, Lost 13

Best RWC finish: Fourth – 1991

RWC 2011 finish: Third in pool (won 2, lost 2)

Samoa

Manu Samoa are chasing their first quarter-final berth since 1995, but will need to improve on their recent form to advance out of a tricky pool. After a gallant 25-16 loss to the mighty All Blacks in July’s historic Test in Apia, Samoa were somewhat disappointing in the Pacific Nations Cup, squeaking past USA and Canada before going down to Fiji in the final. They boast a solid core of experienced Test campaigners based in Europe – including captain Ofisa Treviranus, who plays for London Irish –while they will be looking for spark from the likes of former Chiefs star Tim Nanai-Williams, ex-Hurricanes centre Ray Lee-Lo, and 34-year-old wing powerhouse Alesana Tuilagi. The crunch showdown with Scotland on October 10 will be compelling viewing.

 

IRB World ranking: 12

RWC all-time record: Won 13, Lost 11

Best RWC finish: Quarter-finalists – 1991, 1995

RWC 2011 finish: Third in pool (won 2, lost 2)

 

 

Japan

Japan’s World Cup underachievement is a mystery, competing in all seven previous tournaments but winning just one game – a 52-8 thrashing of Zimbabwe in 1991. In 2011, the Cherry Blossoms were swamped by Wales and Australia, edged out by Fiji and drew with Canada. After a disappointing Pacific Nations campaign that included a loss to pool-mates USA, Japan scored two convincing wins over Uruguay before scraping past Georgia in their last hit-out before the tournament. Coached by ex-Wallabies mentor Eddie Jones and captained by Chiefs flanker Michael Leitch, Japan possesses quality players such as Highlanders back-up halfback Fumiaki Tanaka, but probably don’t have the muscle or firepower to test Pool B’s three big guns.  

 

IRB World ranking: 13

RWC all-time record: Won 1, Lost 21, Drew 2

Best RWC finish: Third in pool – 1991

RWC 2011 finish: Fifth in pool (lost 3, drew 1)

 

 

USA

The Eagles may be the lowest-ranked team and biggest outsiders in their group, but they’ll fancy their chances of an upset or two against their Pool B rivals. USA have impressed on the international stage this year, twice downing neighbours Canada, beating Japan, and pushing Samoa and Tonga in honourable losses. The Eagles will also have been heartened by their performance in their recent 47-10 loss to the Wallabies in Chicago, trailing by just 14-10 during the first half. Halves Mike Petri and AJ MacGinty provide sound direction for a wholehearted squad that won’t die wondering.

 

IRB World ranking: 15

RWC all-time record: Won 3, Lost 18

Best RWC finish: Third in pool – 1987

RWC 2011 finish: Fourth in pool (won 1, lost 3)

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