The penultimate round of games at Rugby World Cup 2019 have been completed. Only Pool A and B’s qualifiers are to be decided. In Pool B it is unlikely that Italy will cause a major upset to knock the two-time defending champions out of the competition, so the last game of the pool stages between hosts, Japan and Scotland is set up to decide who goes through. The other Pools have their positioning to be decided, and which route they will take to a potential final place.
So, the final match is the showdown that was always hoped to take place. Most pundits had expected this to be a do or die for both Japan and Scotland, but the Japanese upset of Ireland, has really put the cat amongst the pigeons. It is possible that the top three all finish with 15 points and one defeat each. Then it would come down to points difference for first place, and it looks like it would be Scotland due to their 61-0 victory over Russia. The second place would then go Japan as 2nd/ 3rdwould be down to the head to head. After Scotland’s defeat by Ireland, nothing really changed for the Scots. Their fate was always going to come down to this match. Along with the hosts, both teams will have been aware of the magnitude of this match from the moment the draw was finalised. However, the size was increased by the surprise defeat for Ireland to the hosts, and the controversial bonus point victory by the hosts over Samoa. While the decision of Jaco Peyper to award a free kick for a crooked feed against the Samoan scrum half Pele Cowley, was correct by the letter of the law, it was not consistent in any way. At the start of the tournament, World Rugby said that they would ensure consistency in decisions across the matches. This decision wasn’t in keeping with the same match as the following scrum had a feed that was crooked as well. It may seem like sour grapes, but it does appear that the decision may have been down to the fact that it was the hosts and that they would be a preferred quarter finalist. Even the non-confrontational Gregor Townsend questioned the decision as did the Samoan coach Steve Jackson. World Rugby will be hoping that the decision does not have an impact on qualification, or they may need to apologise (or blame the referee), as they did after Craig Joubert erred in the Quarter Final between Scotland and Australia four years ago. At least that decision changed the guidelines for TMOs who can correct on field decisions if they adversely impact the game. It has been enlightening to see scrums being reversed if a knock -on has been seen in the same phase after a subsequent phase. As for how Pool A will pan out! I reckon that Scotland will beat Japan, but whether they can prevent Japan get a Losing BP may be beyond them. I think Ireland will beat Samoa and scrape a Try Bonus Point so will top the group.
As for the Pool C showdown between England and France, I can’t see anything but an English win. France have really been their typical self. Moments of magic, followed by some dreadful phases of play. The prize for winning will be a QF against Australia, as the remaining games in Pool D should go with form, and expect two comfortable victories. The losers will play Wales. It is in the SFs that it gets interesting! If it goes to form and England win the group and the subsequent QF, they will face New Zealand! I know that you have to beat the best teams to win the tournament, but they may fancy the other route which would be a SF against South Africa or Ireland. I am not saying that Eddie Jones will be thinking that way, but it does open up a question.
So, the QF line up should be
New Zealand v Japan
South Africa v Ireland
England v Australia
France v Wales
Although the Ireland and Japan positions could easily be interchanged with each and Scotland.
There may be a spanner (or a Typhoon) that may have a say in this! Typhoon Hagibis is scheduled to hit land in Japan at some time over the weekend. It was originally going towards the South Island, now it may be the North and it may be the Saturday or the Sunday! A bit like the good old Met Office and BBC Weather. They think that it will hit Suzuka, which is hosting the Formula 1 Japan GP, and potentially the Scotland and / or England games. If the games are rescheduled, it is mooted they will be played on Monday, but failing that the games would be a no score draw. While that would not effect the England-France game, it would mean that the hosts would qualify as group winners and Scotland would be going home. World Rugby have called a news conference for 4am UK time to discuss the impact of the Super Typhoon. It would be a shame if the final qualifying slots were decided without a ball being played.