S.Africa v Japan (19th Sep, Brighton, 16:45)
Samoa v USA (20th Sep Brighton, 12:00)
Scotland v Japan (23rd Sep, Kingsholm Stadium, 14:30)
S.Africa v Samoa (26th Sep, Villa Park, 16:45)
Scotland v USA (27th Sep, Elland Road, 14:30)
Samoa v Japan (3rd Oct, Stadium MK, 14:30)
S.Africa v Scotland (3rd Oct, St. James Park, 16:45)
S.Africa v USA (7th Oct, Olympic Stadium, 16:45)
Samoa v Scotland (10th Oct, St James Park, 14:30)
USA v Japan (11th Oct, Kingsholm Stadium, 20:00)
The South Africans are one of the harder to predict teams in the tournament. Their performance in this tournament is exemplary. Since their first appearance in 1995 they have won 25 of the 29 matches that they have played in. Their opponents in this group won’t pose much of a threat from a quality standpoint, physically however they will be tested by the Samoans. The aging members of the squad will be a worry but all are proven performers for the Africans. Jean De Villiers and Fourie Du Preez are still incredible players despite their age.
The political nature of the team is always in question due to the country’s poor racial history. This has resulted in outside pressure that the team is “too white” however the players should be used to it by now. In Handre Pollard they have a young player for whom the future of South African rugby will be based. Their performance in the Four Nation’s tournament left a lot to be desired finishing dead last. They will need to try and stay injury free to play their usual abrasive style and hope that this year was an aberration rather than the start of a trend.
The Scots showed in their warm up game against Ireland that they might be a bit more prepared for this tournament then their Six Nations campaign let on. Their pack and backline, while not that impressive, should be capable of getting them out of their group. The question for Vern Cotter and his coaching staff is whether or not they go for broke in the opening two games against Japan and USA or do they try to keep something in reserve for the Samoa clash. That will be where their tournament is decided. The physical challenge will be daunting and it will be interesting to see if they play a weakened team against the South Africans to preserve their men for the Samoan challenge.
Japan have a terrible history in this tournament and will require a much better showing here. They will be hosting the next competition and need to improve to build a base for a stronger showing in 2019.
The American, much like the Japanese, will not be bringing much to the competition. Their final game will be interesting and competitive. They have some Irish representatives that will be of interest. The sport is in its infancy in the States with many colleges now starting to play it. The viewing figures that they get from American audiences may be more interesting than the team’s performance. The country represents a new market for the sport and I would not be surprised if there was serious thought to giving them the 2023 World Cup to launch a professional league to Ireland’s loss.
Undoubtedly one of the most physical of the sides in the tournament (violent might be more appropriate) they will cause some serious damage to opposition players throughout. Whether they have the actual ball playing talent to beat serious opposition might be moot if they injure enough of their starters. Expect the game against South Africa to provide more involuntary winces than “Man Getting Hit by Football”. If Scotland can survive the physical challenge they might well come out the victors. The winner of that contest will undoubtedly finish second.