Four years of preparation, the anguish of final squad cuts are in the rear view mirror.
Rugby World Cup Japan 2019 is ready for a spectacular kickoff this Friday with hosts Japan expected to win big against Russia to create national interest in the tournament.
In this blog post, Hawkeye Sidekick will outline his hopes, his fears and the all important predictions for this tournament.
Host nation competitiveness:
For this tournament to have a lasting legacy in Japan, the host nation must be competitive and a quarter final berth would be a sensational return. Japan are a team on the up; their Super 14 side Sunwolves provided key cameos in their attacking play with some notable scalps.
The performances of Michael Leitch will be crucial if and the all action forward can provide go forward ball, expect Japan to prosper. The Russian opening fixture is as perfect a opening fixture for Japan, expect a big win here for the hosts to create confidence ahead of key tussles against Ireland and Scotland in the pool. This World Cup needs to leave a positive legacy in Japan and Far East.
The hope is that the Rugby World Cup 2019 officiating crew sing off the same hymn sheet; no more of this NH / SH officiating interpretation. The breakdown and the third player flying into the ruck area unsupported has to be given zero tolerance. It is a reckless part of the game that needs to be stamped off, it is causing massive injury impact.
The aerial contest is one where I will be interested to see. The contest in the air if executed properly is a superb facet of the game. The officiating crews obviously must clamp down on the deliberate taking out of players in the air but there also has to be some level of aerial contest to allow teams who launch the aerial bomb the opportunity to win the ball back in the air.
Offloading the key
I hope that the weather provides the ambition for sides to be expansive and offload in the tackle. We do not need a tournament where teams are rewarded for dour, defensive structure.
The humidity and stifling conditions may create significant defensive gaps in pool games, expecting a lot of scores to come in second half of games. The hope is that the likes of Fiji, Samoa and even Japan come to the party early and throw the ball around with the rewards they deserve.
This could be a tournament where conceivably teams may be eliminated from the competition due to a cancelled pool fixture. The threat of torrential rain, thunderstorms and the ever risk of typhoons is a factor not discussed openly in the media circles yet.
Yokohama for instance has been hit with a deluge of rain this week and the weekend forecast does not look promising for the Ireland vs. Scotland game which might resemble a Junior Division 4 contest in March.
The fact that pool games will not be rescheduled (draws awarded) could be a decisive factor. I am hope I am wrong but it is an awful way to be eliminated from the tournament and would raise valid questions on how the host nation was awarded the tournament given the climate and weather factors.
It will happen. There is no way to shirt around the issue. There will be monster defeats in the pool phase. Russia in Pool A look completely vulnerable, isolated back field could see some devastating score concessions.
Pool B has South Africa and New Zealand and you fear for the other pool opposition. Italy, Canada and Namibia are looking at disaster recovery in those test match fixtures against either New Zealand or South Africa who may have lost their opening tournament fixture. Backlash central.
Pool C has Tonga and given their mess of a performance against a second string New Zealand team a couple of weeks ago, you don’t have to be a genius to deduce that there will be a couple of heavy losses for the Pacific Islanders.
Pool D has the relatively inexperience Uruguay and the lack of first tier test match exposure is a massive concern. There will be a 100+ point concession in this tournament if the weather conditions are ideal. It is a worry ahead of the tournament.
The thirty-one man squad is personally too small for the size and workload for teams in this tournament. Given the physicality and attrition expected, there is increased risk of injury for players on duty. The decision of some nations to only name two scrum halves only increases the risk and workload for these players during the tournament.
The level of injuries and subsequent player withdrawals could be a key headline in the opening weeks of the tournaments. The scheduling of pool games gives team’s little preparation to adequately regroup and recover. World Rugby must review the tournament scheduling going forward.
The pool predictions are going along familiar lines. The first name tops the pool.
Pool A: Ireland, Japan (edge Scotland in pool decider)
Pool B: New Zealand, South Africa
Pool C: England, Argentina
Pool D: Australia, Wales
England vs. Wales — England overall game plan too much for Wales.
New Zealand vs. Japan — New Zealand too much over the hosts.
Australia vs. Argentina — Argentina to upset Australia.
Ireland vs. South Africa — South Africa in a cliffhanger.
England vs. New Zealand — New Zealand half back masterclass
Argentina vs. South Africa — South Africa pack power key
New Zealand vs. South Africa — South Africa to learn from their pool loss to win the Webb Ellis!