The Rugby World Cup is underway!
In amongst the various team news, player ratings, opinion articles generally focused on match days, I’m aiming to do an update each day of the group stages, looking back at the key talking points and then looking ahead to the next day’s fixtures. The action comes thick and fast, and I was already a bit late with day 1, so we’ll see how it goes!
I’m also planning to have a bet on the handicap on every match, so along with my Superbru predictions, I’ll share the details here and we can see how that goes too!
Japan kicked off the tournament with a hard-fought win over Russia, eventually winning 30-10. They looked nervous in the opening stages, dropping the initial kick-off and then Will Tupou got nowhere near a high-ball that led to Russia’s Kiril Golosnitskiy scoring the first try of the World Cup. Remember that name for the post-RWC quiz!
After that it was all about how long Russia could hold out, and with a combination of determined defending and Japanese errors, Russia led until just before half-time, but in truth Russia never looked like winning the match. The bookies had Russia +40, which looked generous and that meant my possibly ill-judged RWC betting got off to a winning start.
Pretoria-born Kotaro Matsushima scored a hat-trick and must be the new poster-boy of Japanese Rugby, and whilst a defeat here would have been a disaster for Japan and the tournament, I didn’t see much that would trouble either Ireland or Scotland in terms of qualifying from Pool A.
What did you think of the opening fixture?
Day 2 Fixtures
This could be the greatest day of the World Cup, with two huge fixtures and another that might just spring a surprise or two.
Australia v Fiji, 05.45
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.
I’ve actually gone for quite a big win in this one, Australia by 21 and Australia -16 with the bookies.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Reece Hodge, 13 James O’Connor, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 David Pocock, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 21 Will Genia, 22 Matt To’omua, 23 Dane Haylett-Petty
Fiji: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Semi Radradra, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Peceli Yato, 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu (c), 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Tevita Cavubati, 3 Peni Ravai, 2 Samuel Matavesi, 1 Campese Ma’afu
Replacements: 16 Tuvere Vugakoto, 17 Eroni Mawi, 18 Manasa Saulo, 19 Tevita Ratuva, 20 Mosese Voka, 21 Nikola Matawalu, 22 Alivereti Veitokani, 23 Vereniki Goneva
France v Argentina, 08.15
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.
I’ve gone for France by 7 on Superbru, and France -1 with the bookies, so let’s hope I’m right.
France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Virimi Vakatawa, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Thomas Ramos
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (c), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 23 Santiago Carreras
New Zealand v South Africa, 10.45
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.
There’s lots of optimism around the Springboks in my office full of South Africans, but I find it hard to pick against the Kiwis in a World Cup when they haven’t lost a RWC match since 2007. I’ve picked New Zealand by 4 on Superbru, but I have South Africa +6 on the handicap, so an exact Superbru pick would do me nicely.
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Ardie Savea, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Sonny Bill Williams, 23 Ben Smith
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel
Let us know your predictions for the huge matches on Day 2, and I’ll do a Day 2 update on Saturday afternoon.