Round 2 was slightly disappointing following the strong start in Round 1, with 7 correct picks out of 10 beating the community average, but I was just outside margin point range on a few picks and I had Australia rather than Wales in the big game of the round.
England v Argentina is the headline fixture in Round 3, although Japan v Samoa and South Africa v Italy are pretty important in terms of pool standings.
France v USA
World Rugby have informed both teams that this game could be abandoned due to the weather, which would be a huge boost to England and Argentina as the match would be recorded as a draw. The more likely scenario is a big French win with a bonus point, and 5 points on the table, but you never know. There are 12 changes to the team that beat Argentina, but some of them make them stronger, such as the return of Louis Picamoles, and arguably Camile Lopez at fly-half. The USA have a few players missing through injury, as well as the suspended John Quill, and if the weather permits, I’d expect a very comfortable France win.
France by 33
New Zealand v Canada
The truth is that any All Blacks lineup looks like a strong one, but Canada should be worried about this side. Both Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett are selected again, with Kirean Read at Number 8 and Sonny Bill Williams at 12, and I suspect this will be the biggest score of the World Cup so far. Yes the gap has been closing, but Canada were awful against Italy, who scored 48 points against them, and you’d think that this New Zealand side is at least 40 points better than Italy.
New Zealand by 72
Georgia v Fiji
Fiji currently sit bottom of Pool D, despite their pre-tournament ambition of qualifying for the knockout stages. That surprise defeat to Uruguay has left them all but out of the tournament, and Georgia will have their eye on third place and automatic qualification for France 2023. I haven’t seen the teams yet, but I can’t see the Fijians being as poor and disinterested as they looked last week, and Georgia could struggle with such a short turnaround time between their matches.
Fiji by 13
Ireland v Russia
There is barely time for Ireland to lick their wounds before they are back in action, and that could be a blessing. There will likely be some changes to personnel, but they should still win comfortably. Russia’s attack has been very limited so far, scoring just 19 points in total against Japan and Samoa, and Ireland shouldn’t give them many opportunities. You’d think Ireland’s attack should be capable of scoring at least 8 or 9 tries, letting out a bit of frustration against the Russians.
Ireland by 48
South Africa v Italy
Alongside England, Italy is the only team to manage a maximum 10 points from their opening two fixtures, and they temporarily sit atop Pool B ahead of South Africa and New Zealand. Italy did beat the Springboks back in 2016, but South African rugby has emerged stronger from that difficult period, and they’ll likely name their strongest team for this one, before using the second string against Canada in their final fixture. I think Italy have been made to look good by Namibia and Canada so far, and the order should be restored in this pool by the final whistle here.
South Africa by 28
Australia v Uruguay
I’ll be interested to see Michael Cheika’s selection for this one, because I think he got it wrong against Wales, and even though this will likely be an under-strength lineup, it should give us some clues as to his current thinking. I can’t see anything other than a big Wallaby win, although it might not be quite the 65-3 as it was when these teams met in the last World Cup.
Australia by 46
England v Argentina
This is a huge fixture in the context of Pool C, where a win for England would likely knock out the Pumas, whilst an Argentina win would open it all up again. England’s defence has been solid so far, albeit without the sternest of tests, and there are question marks over Argentina’s attacking game as they appear to be caught between different styles of play. England need to sharpen up in attack, but if they can keep the Pumas out, that will be half of the battle won and I am confident they will prevail on Saturday – yes Argentina are a great World Cup team, but England generally have the measure of them whenever they play.
England by 13
Japan v Samoa
The Samoans were very disappointing against Scotland, and whilst the conditions were very difficult, not to even grace the scoreboard is poor. Japan will likely be superior in every facet of play, and if both sides deploy their fast, chaotic gameplans, it will be great to watch and Japan will win. Add in home advantage and the potential of winning the pool, Japan could win comfortably.
Japan by 23
New Zealand v Namibia
Just as the Namibians have dusted themselves down from a 54-point thrashing by the Springboks, the All Blacks come to town. There will be plenty of different faces for New Zealand with a short turnaround, but as mentioned above, there isn’t really a weak All Blacks team and this will be another thrashing.
New Zealand by 68
France v Tonga
I expect that the frontline players will be restored for this fixture, and that France will win fairly easily, setting up a huge battle on the final weekend that writers everywhere will label Le Crunch.
France by 26