How have England and their Six Nations rivals faired in Japan?
England carried high-expectations as they made their big trek out east to compete in Japan. After building up some strong momentum in their warm-up matches, including big victories over Wales and Ireland, the first phase of their World Cup campaign has now been successfully completed. England will be lining up in the quarter-finals having won their pool, and it’s time to check in on how they and their Guinness Six Nations rivals have fared in the tournament so far.
There was considerable disruption from Typhoon Hagibis over the final weekend of pool stage action. England v France and New Zealand v Italy were called off, as was Canada’s match with Namibia. One of the biggest games under threat was Japan v Scotland, but after a late inspection it got the green light. Teams involved in cancelled games were awarded 2 points each for a 0-0 draw.
The Red Rose started as one of the front runners to lift the trophy. The dramatic label of the Group of Death was placed on England’s pool, but they took it all in their stride. A perfect record in their first three fixtures set them up for their pool decider against France. Mother Nature had different ideas for the highlight match of the pool, forcing it to be called off.
George Ford was handed the starting fly-half role, and his decision making has been superb. He’s been the catalyst for England’s superb forward progression.
England get an extra rest with no further risk of game-day injury because of the cancellation of “Le Crunch”. It’s going to be a clash with old foe Australia in the quarter-finals for them. Triumph there and England could find New Zealand waiting for them in the semi’s. But as it stands, in terms of depth and younger players having been bedded in, England look in very good shape for the future. Not only in this World Cup, but for next year’s Guinness Six Nations. They have outshone their other northern hemisphere peers in Japan.
There have been excellent moments from England, more serious questions of their defence will be asked though.
France missed their shot at trying to beat England to top spot in the pool because of Hagibis. Like England, they won their three completed games in the pool stage but collected two fewer bonus points than the English. It’s been a rollercoaster for the French, who have shown character in holding out for narrow wins but only after digging massive holes for themselves. They have looked explosively brilliant and ponderous up front in equal measures.
Alivereti Raka may well walk off with the player of the tournament award if France win the title. The winger is a havoc-wreaker with outrageous pace.
France are a clear dark horse who could easily raise their game for one big occasion and claim a major scalp. Also in not playing England in the pool stage, they will have been able to keep their big-match potential under wraps. France have a massive pack, fantastic runners in Penaud and Raka, but the technical side of their defence is far from convincing. Also, they are prone to badly switching off in matches.
The pieces of the puzzle are there, but too unreliable when it comes to concentrating and performing for a full 80 minutes.
Wales, ranked number one in the world last month, have produced a wonderful team effort at Japan 2019. That’s without being spectacular or having individual headline grabbers. Their togetherness in fighting off tough opponents in the pool stage was exemplary. Notably in fending off a fightback from Australia. They have momentum and if it keeps going, England may have a tough time of wrestling the Guinness Six Nations title away from them next year.
Having someone to finish tries is a glorious thing and Josh Adams has done that for Wales. The Cardiff Blues winger is in fine fettle out wide.
Wales will likely be facing familiar opposition in France at the quarter-final stage. The Welsh won in Paris in this year’s Guinness Six Nations, so likely won’t be too worried. Warren Gatland’s Wales have tremendous grit, but to progress further, they may need to find a little extra clinical output from their half-backs. But they don’t look far away and remain a threat to anyone who they come up against in the knockouts.
Superb teamwork and team mentality, just lacking a little incisiveness in the centre.
The Irish had their setbacks in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations and had a major one in the group stage of the World Cup when they were toppled by hosts Japan. But Ireland still secured a place in the knockout stage, as they avoided any fixture cancellation in the last round of group stage action. But in only finishing as runners-up in their pool, will that prove to be costly for them come the quarter-finals?
Johnny Sexton, of course. Ireland look as if they are lacking a bit of spark, but Sexton’s always the man for the big occasion.
The Irish look just that little bit unsure of themselves. Bigger wins against easier opposition in the group makes it harder to judge how they are going to cope in the knockout stage. It is across their second row where they just seem to be missing a bit of a beat. Competing at the breakdown in matches has been a bit lacking. The other aspect for Joe Schmidt’s men is that second place in Pool A puts Ireland head to head with New Zealand in the quarter-finals. Pull off a success there and they could potentially meet England in the semi finals.
Ireland are going to crush weaker opponents all day, but inconsistency in the forwards may hurt their title chances.
The arrival of Typhoon Hagibis threatened to eliminate Scotland by taking their fate out of their own hands. But, their final pool stage match survived to be played. Scotland couldn’t avoid elimination however, as Gregor Townsend’s men lost against Japan. They had been so keen for that final game to go ahead, so keen to prove themselves, the exit will likely weigh very heavily on them.
Even though exciting new creative players are coming through the Scottish ranks, Finn Russell can still come away from the tournament in high regard as one of their best.
Scotland fought the weather and a buoyant Japan for a place in the knockout stages of the competition. They beat the former, not the latter. So that really sets the Scottish back because getting to the knockouts had to have been a minimum expectation. On the front foot, they can look good, but Scotland are massively fragile in defence. What direction do they take next ahead of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations?
A couple of flash performances can’t paper over the clear defensive cracks that Scotland have against higher-quality opposition.
Italy’s shot at reaching the quarter-finals was hinging on them beating New Zealand in their final pool stage match. Would that have happened? Probably not, but the Italians were denied the chance because of the weather and unfortunately no opportunity to reschedule the match. It’s an early exit for the Azzurri.
Tommaso Allan has been the star of the Italian campaign by his points tally for them. A try to his name and accuracy with the boot makes him the pick of the Italian bunch.
It was always a tough situation for Italy in a group alongside New Zealand and South Africa. While they were, more likely than not, going to bow out and miss knockout stage action once again, there isn’t much that they will have learned from their experience to carry forward.
Spirit and passion can’t cover up the fact that Italy is still a long way short of most of the other Tier 1 nations.
So it’s the unbeaten England and Wales who get higher marks so far for their efforts. England menacingly grew in stature in their pool stage fixtures, while Wales won all four pool stage matches including their huge effort against Australia. France, who were also undefeated in the pool stage have the potential for a better grade, as do Ireland. Scotland and Italy may need to get back to the drawing board.
Welcome England back to Twickenham in 2020
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