In our Rugby World Cup preview, we asked Cyclones Director of Rugby, Sean Hedger, to cast his eye over the 20 teams competing as the tournament.
Which teams will be escaping the pool stages? Which squads will be going on an early Contiki tour of Europe after being bundled out?
Coach Hedger has his say!
Pool A: NZ, France, Italy, Uruguay, Namibia
The big two will progress - France and NZ. The opening game of the RWC will be a the same intensity as a Final; a great way to start the tournament.
Not many other threats in this pool. History shows that NZ are very good at taking care of the minnows - they have put big scores on many times in the past.
Will be interesting to see how NZ and France handle the “lighter” games after the opener.
I expect both to be extremely fresh come 1/4 final time.
Pool B: South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Tonga, Romania
I expect this pool to be dominated by the No. 1 & 2 teams in the world, with Tonga and Scotland providing good resistance.
Tonga in particular will be giving a much better account of themselves than previous World Cups. The change in eligibility will see some players who have previously represented Tier 1 nations, now playing for their country of heritage.
I expect South Africa to win the pool. The South Africa v Ireland pool match will be a highlight of the tournament, and I expect to see The Saffas prevail and roll on all the way to the decider.
Pool C: Wales, Australia, Fiji, Georgia, Portugal
I’m tipping this to be the “pool of shocks”.
Australia are 12 months short of where they need to be. Eddie has taken some big punts on his squad and I believe they will pay dividends - in the future. I think this preparation hasn’t been long enough for the for the amount of change that has occurred.
I believe Fiji will top the pool and Georgia are a strong chance of causing an upset.
Wales have gone through nearly as much disruption as Australia - I can’t see them getting past the pool stage. I am tipping Fiji to top the pool and be the big danger team of the tournament.
Pool D: England, Japan, Argentina, Samoa, Chile
Samoa will also benefit from the new eligibility rules, therefore they will be a strong and experienced unit. They will be a serious threat to progress out of the pool.
Japan have been poor since the last World Cup where they rode a tidal wave of support to make it to the quarter finals. While they (Japan) caught many by surprise with their speed of game and “high pass count” tactics, I can’t see England, Samoa or Argentina falling to them.
I tip Argentina to top this pool.
Their smothering defence and abrasive forwards will mean the game v England will be a dour affair. The Pumas have been together under Michale Cheika and David Kidwell for a number of years now, and are a harmonious group who know what their DNA is.
Argentina to finish top with England progressing also - although it will be close when they play Samoa.