Will they play? Won’t they play? It’s been a frantic build up to what was already being billed as the biggest day of pool play even before typhoon Hagibis showed up. Qualifying for the quarter finals, qualifying for the Rugby World Cup 2023 or just picking up your only win of the tournament, it’s all on the line in the final day of pool play. It is the biggest day of matches in the World Cup and it kicks off with Namibia taking on Canada out of pool B, followed by the USA vs Tonga from pool C, next up Wales will be up against Uruguay out of pool D and then finally, the big one, with so much resulting from it, it is hosts Japan vs Scotland to decide pool A! Strap yourself in, it’s going to be a big one! Take a bet how many cards we will see? Or even if we will see all the games?
Namibia vs Canada – Pool B
Two sides without a win in the World Cup so far and this will be the best and last chance to do so. Namibia will be relying on the key performers that stood up in their last matchup to do the job again with a winnable goal in mind. Captain Johan Deysel has been a standout performer in a team on the wrong end of some big scores. What he can conjure up alongside JC Greyling and Johan Trump will be critical if Namibia can put points on the board. It will be a young fly half Cliven Loubser who will run the show at ten, but has plenty of experience inside him with Eugene Jantjies at scrumhalf. The back row is where this game is really going to be interesting, some massive matchups there will be a big factor for which side can control their own ball and overall control possession.
This is where I think Canada may have an area that could be huge in getting an advantage over Namibia. Lucas Rumball, Matt Heaton and captain Tyler Ardron have had a very good World Cup against some very good opposition flankers. If those guys can do a good job controlling the game in the breakdown area, it will give a lot of opportunities to the quality back five that Canada possesses. We are going to see the best of these two sides either way it goes, in a match up that will suit the level of these two sides. It will be even and should have a good pile of points in it and hopefully not be dominated by cards like most World Cup games have been recently. This one is tough to pick but I think Canada has a little edge in quality if they can make it show for the first time in a while.
RESULT = Canada by 3
USA vs Tonga – Pool C
A very similar matchup to the first one today. Both sides also winless heading into the final fixtures and no one wants that wooden spoon. Regardless of result, both sides will be heading home without troubling the pool top teams. USA’s highlight was their first 60 minutes against France where they defended spectacularly. The USA forward pack should take a lot of credit for how that about and will be looking to them to do the same hard work again against Tonga. Tony Lamborn has been a standout performer and leader for the Eagles pack during the World Cup. The real area they will want to pick up is their attack, heading into this game with only 33 points in the tournament so far. They have a mountain of ability in the backs but just haven’t seen enough from them. The Eagles have again opted to keep one of their main attacking threats, Marcel Brache, on the wing to allow both Paul Lasike and Bryce Campbell to link up in midfield. They will need more ball to get out to Brache and captain Blaine Scully to match up with the Tongans who will want to score tries above all else.
Tonga have some real weapons in this side but much like the USA, have failed to put many points on the board, with a total of just 36 points to their name. Their defence, on the other hand, has been much better conceding 39 less points over their opening three games than the Eagles. Expect some more fireworks from Zane Kapeli who will start as the openside flanker for Tonga. His brutal defence could rock the Americans but that is provided its legal and they keep fifteen men on the field. James Faiva has been an excellent addition at ten since coming in as an injury replacement. Telusa Veainu is electric enough to tear this game to shreds if given the space and will certainly be one to watch for the USA defence. It’s another close match to predict here, especially again with the unknown factor of cards. USA have been on a good raise lately and this could cap off their World Cup journey just nicely.
RESULT = USA by 4
Wales vs Uruguay – Pool D
The equation is simple for Wales, beat the bottom placed Uruguay and qualify top of the pool and into the quarter finals to take on France. Wales have really taken no chances this World Cup, often putting our the best side and rarely resting players. Today they have done a bit of that. A whole new look to the pack and only Hadleigh Parkes and Josh Adams keeping their place from the win against Fiji. It’s still a very strong Welsh squad and the combination of Aaron Shingler and new captain Justin Tipuric on the flanks of the pack, should be a very dynamic duo. Rhys Patchell gets a start in the number ten jumper and with his excellent performances off the bench for Dan Biggar recently its a well deserved selection, possibly pushing Biggar, which would be tough to see happen in the crunch finals games. Wales will dominate this game in the pack and run riot in the backline. It’s been much talked about in this stage of the tournament with the minnow sides struggling to keep the momentum up this late in the World Cup. Wales will have no troubles with that and will rack up some points with players looking to make that last ditch impact to feature later in the World Cup.
Uruguay have surprised many during this World Cup, defeating Fiji in the pool will be a historical highlight for the nation for a long long time. They have given us a few World Cup icons during the games, none more so than captain Juan Manuel Gaminara, whos passion has been fantastic to see. For a side like Uruguay, having a quality halves combination has been a key feature of its play. Santiago Arata and Felipe Berchesi have been fantastic in directing this side and will have another test tonight against Wales. Lastly it’s worth giving praise to hooker German Kessler who shows the clear ability of even the smaller teams to develop with the games positional changes. It may be a long night for Uruguay but they have given all they have and a win to take home will be a lot more than they would have expected but nothing less than they deserve.
RESULT = Wales by 36
Japan vs Scotland – Pool A
Here it is, the game of the day. Will it even go ahead? At this stage of writing it still is! This has a massive amount riding on it. Japan, Scotland and Ireland are all in the running for the top two spots in pool A but of course three cannot go into two. Should Japan win, they will go top of the table and face South Africa in the quarter finals. Should Scotland win, then more than one result may come into play. Bonus points would dictate if it would be Japan as runner up or Scotland and Ireland will go through top instead. A lot of water has to go under this pool A bridge yet.
Looking at the Japanese side there is a few things that take my attention instantly. The selection of William Tupou at fullback raises question marks after his dreadful performance earlier in the tournament. The strength of having Rikiya Matsuda and Ryohei Yamanaka on the bench will be an asset for Japan if this match goes very late in the piece. Kenki Fukuoka will finally return to the starting lineup to complete an exciting wing and midfield combination. Of course one of the form men of the World Cup has been Kotaro Matsushima who will be on the right wing, hes had great service from Tim Lafaele and Ryoto Nakamura in midfield. Shota Horie starts back at hooker and Michael Leitch gets his captaincy back on the blindside. Kazuki Himeno has been another Japanese standout and will again start at number eight. A really strong looking Japan side that will be hard to beat for anyone with this massive crowd behind them. Only problem we may all have, is if this game will even go ahead…….
Scotland have changed things up a bit more than I would have expected for this game. Tactical selection genius or overthinking coach? Scotland have had back row issues ever since Hamish Watson went home injured after their opening game and have against mixed it up there again with Blade Thompson starting at number eight, gives me the feeling they still don’t feel it’s right. Sam Johnson gets a new friend outside him, Chris Harris will wear the number thirteen for this crunch game. Above all of the selections, it’s the game plan that worries me the most about Scotland. Too many times with the Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg combination, we have seen every little play have to go through their hands. Yes, we know they are the best players out there and they want them to influence the match as much as possibly, but it also makes them highly predictable. Sam Johnson has had a brilliant World Cup and the electric pace of Darcy Graham is something Scotland need to use more than just when he gets the chance out wide. Those kinds of x-factor plays to mix things up is what will throw Japan off, if they keep things too obvious, Japan will shut it down pretty quickly. They are too well coached to let it slide. Big eyes must go on how Scotland will deliver their gameplan. World Cup qualification on the line, who will step up to the mark? For me, the hosts just look good enough to test even the biggest side during this tournament and how worried will the Springboks be if Japan comes rolling their way again. They look fit, they look well coached and they look ready.
RESULT = Japan by 10
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