Here we go, the Rugby World Cup is almost here! I’ll be sharing my Superbru picks for each round of matches, and you can play against me in The Rugby Blog’s Predictor league here – it’s free, simple and lots of fun so get involved and set up your own office pools.
Japan v Russia
I fear for Russia in this World Cup, based on their warm-up matches in which they were thrashed by Italy and then beaten by Jersey on their pre-season tour. The bookies have the hosts as 40-point favourites on the opening night in front of their own adoring fans, but the pressure might just lead to errors and some wasted chances – but they’ll still win comfortably.
Japan by 33
Australia v Fiji
Rumour has it that the Fijians are targeting this match for a win and a chance to qualify for the knockout stages. They do look like the strongest tier 2 nation, but the gap still feels too significant and I fancy Australia to win fairly comfortably. People are talking up Fiji’s chances so much so that Michael Cheika won’t take them lightly and make sure the Wallabies get off to a strong start.
Australia by 21
France v Argentina
This should be fascinating viewing for England fans as their two pool rivals go head to head, and the result will have a huge bearing on which teams make it through to the quarter-finals. The Pumas are a great World Cup team, and can now mix with the likes of Australia and South Africa in the Rugby Championship, but France have also had their fair share of World Cup success and their current trajectory feels more positive than their opponents. Louis Picamoles is only on the bench, whilst Virimi Vakatawa starts at 12 but I still fancy them to win this one despite a rather interesting team selection.
France by 7
New Zealand v South Africa
Excitement is building for this one, and whilst both teams should emerge from a relatively straightforward pool, the route to the final for the winner looks much kinder. The two teams wouldn’t meet again until the final, and should both make it that far, the winner of this opening match may have a psychological edge. The last 4 meetings between these teams have been decided by 2 points or fewer, including a draw in the most recent clash in July, and I anticipate this being a close contest too. Heavy rain is forecast, which could also have a bearing, and I think that tips the balance ever so slightly in favour of New Zealand.
New Zealand by 4
Italy v Namibia
Sunday’s schedule starts with an easier pick, with the Azzurri expected to win this one comfortably. Namibia have been beaten twice by Russia in the last 12 months, and have only had a couple of warm-up games against the Kings in South Africa, whilst Italy will surely be better-prepared having played four international matches in the tournament build-up. There’s heavy rain forecast again, and whilst that might keep the score a little tighter, it could also expose inferior skill levels.
Italy by 38
Ireland v Scotland
It wasn’t long ago that Ireland were being talked up as potential world champions, but now many people doubt that they’ll make it to their first ever semi-final. They haven’t become a bad side overnight though, and they are clear favourites for this match and subsequently to win the group. They have had the best of recent meetings between the teams – even in an underwhelming Six Nations campaign, Ireland still won at Murrayfield, and on neutral ground I think they’ll win fairly comfortably this weekend.
Ireland by 16
England v Tonga
The England team has not been named yet, but I would assume that the first-choice lineup will be selected for this one, with their understudies coming in to play the USA on Thursday. I’ll be checking the teamsheets before locking my pick, but this should be a big win if my assumptions are correct. Tonga did manage a win over Canada in August, but have also lost to Samoa by 8, Japan by 34, Fiji by 10 and New Zealand by 85!
I’ll write a bit more on this one once the teams are announced.
England by 48
Wales v Georgia
The Georgians often become crowd favourites at World Cups, and with Mamuka Gorgodze coming out of retirement, they’ll have plenty of support once again. They are a big, passionate team that will give everything to the cause, and whilst I don’t think they’ll trouble Wales, they’ll be eyeing up 3rd place in this pool and automatic qualification for the next World Cup. I think Rob Howley had a tenner on Wales to win this one, and I’m backing them too.
Wales by 28
Follow Hutch on Twitter: @Hutch_James