Rugby World Cup: Pool C: Wallabies dare not lose to Wales; Fiji quarter-final dreams real possibility; Pool B: No 1 vs No 2 in world as Ireland, SA do battle to top standings; Pool D: England close in on last-eight place; Pool A: Italy must keep winning | France to start getting in groove?
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 19/09/23 3:49pm
We look ahead to a huge weekend of Rugby World Cup action, as Australia face a must-win Test vs Wales, while Ireland and South Africa clash looking to avoid a quarter-final versus hosts France…
Pool C: Wallabies dare not lose to Wales; Fiji quarter-final dreams a real possibility
Only one place to start, and that is Pool C, after Fiji’s stunning and thoroughly deserved victory over Australia in Saint-Étienne last weekend.
With two teams from five progressing out of each World Cup pool, it is now a three-way shoot-out between Wales, Australia and Fiji for two spots, marking Wales vs Australia in Lyon on Sunday as a mammoth World Cup Test.
Australia need to win, or know their World Cup campaign is virtually over, barring Fiji slip-ups against both Georgia and Portugal. And slip-ups would be needed in both, as the next tie-breaker after pool points is head-to-head results, meaning the Wallabies cannot overtake Fiji now if they are level on points.
For Fiji, the task is simple with the head-to-head rule in mind. If they beat Georgia (Saturday, September 30) and Portugal (Sunday, October 8) with bonus-point wins, they will secure a quarter-final slot on 16 points, no matter what Australia do, as 16 points is the the maximum the Wallabies can reach.
The fact Fiji registered two points from their controversial defeat to Wales (four try bonus point and losing bonus point for defeat within seven points), means, in actual terms, they basically drew the Test, and are now in a superb position.
The Wallabies must go out and aim to beat Wales, and deny Warren Gatland’s side a losing bonus point. Should they do that, it could be Wales staring at a World Cup pool-stage exit, as the maximum points they could reach would then be 15, and Australia would sit above them via head-to-head should they follow it up with a bonus-point win against Portugal.
Wales know a win has them through, but Australia will be desperate to take the points themselves, or the decision to bring Eddie Jones back pre-tournament will be viewed as a failure.
Pool B: No 1 vs No 2 in the world as Ireland and South Africa do battle to top the standings
On Saturday in Paris, Ireland face the Springboks in a huge clash as the world’s No 1 ranked side meets the No 2 ranked.
With the draw for this World Cup being done 1,000 days in advance of the tournament, it left things horribly lop-sided in the world’s top five all being in the same half (Ireland, South Africa, France, New Zealand, Scotland) and on course to meet in devilishly tough quarters-finals.
With Les Bleus having accounted for the All Blacks on the opening night, Andy Farrell and Jacques Nienaber’s charges know the winner of Pool B will avoid France and the massive challenge of facing Fabien Galthie’s side on home soil in the last eight.
New Zealand would hardly be a simple quarter-final, but would appear the lesser of two evils at this point, and so both Ireland and South Africa will be going hammer and tongs for victory at the Stade de France.
Should South Africa win, they are virtually assured of topping the pool, having already beaten Scotland in Marseille. Victory for Ireland would leave them odds-on to top the standings, but with the caveat they still have to face Scotland in Paris on October 7.
Speaking of Scotland, they face Tonga on Sunday in Nice, and need victory to keep their own World Cup knock-out hopes alive.
Tonga may have been well beaten in the end by Ireland in Nantes, but possess undoubted quality and huge power. It’ll be far from plain sailing for Gregor Townsend’s Scots.
Pool D: England in touching distance of confirming a quarter-final place
With Steve Borthwick’s England having already beaten the highest-ranked opponents in their pool – Argentina and Japan – despite the negative coverage that has surrounded their style of play, a big win against Chile on Saturday in Lille would nearly assure them of a quarter-final place.
Samoa lie in wait, but with Japan, Argentina and the Samoans all having to play each other yet, and likely to take points off one another, England moving to 14 points, as expected, with a first bonus-point victory this World Cup, would virtually have them through.
They will likely have to wait until the final weekend of pool games to know their potential quarter-final opponents, as each of Wales, Australia or Fiji from Pool C are still in play.
Skipper Owen Farrell is back from suspension on Saturday, but in his absence, George Ford has kicked magnificently for England in two Test victories. Suddenly, Borthwick has a touch of a conundrum, if not this week than certainly for the final pool clash versus Samoa and the quarter-finals.
Does he recall his skipper and main man Farrell at fly-half? Does Ford keep his place? Does he shoehorn them both in?
“It’s a confusion they don’t need. To have the clarity to say: ‘George, take a breather after two tough games’, you’ve got two fly-halves available now and send them out there to let rip in the game, and see what the picture looks like after that,” Jonny Wilkinson said on Sunday.
“It’s not just about the fly-halves, it’s about the energy and how the team connects going out there. There is an opportunity here to make a clear decision. To think about this team and say: ‘You do your job to build the spirit for the rest of the squad for whoever plays the game after.'”
Pool A: Italy must keep winning to have a chance | France to start getting in the groove?
The pool with the least action of significance this weekend is Pool A, with the All Blacks not playing, Italy facing Uruguay and France hosting Namibia.
France have rather stuttered in parts through their wins over New Zealand and Uruguay to date, and their match against Namibia in Marseille on Thursday night should give them an opportunity to open up, rack up a big score and bank a first try bonus-point win of the tournament.
For Italy, having their two biggest pool games versus New Zealand and France to come, they must keep winning to stand a chance of reaching the quarter-finals.
The Azzurri have never beaten the All Blacks in their history and haven’t beaten France for a decade, meaning their progression would constitute an almighty shock. But first things first, they have to see off Uruguay in Nice on Wednesday.