RWC bar has been raised

Mike Greenaway

We’ve known it for some time but now this year’s Six Nations Championship has confirmed that the 2019 Rugby World Cup is wide open and will be the most hotly-contested ever!

This last weekend, South Africans marvelled at the jaw-dropping standard of the matches between England and Scotland, and Wales and Ireland. By comparison, Super Rugby looked amateurish, even bearing in mind it is a provincial competition and the Crusaders weren’t playing.

For so many years the Rugby Championship (formerly the Tri Nations) was regarded by the Southern Hemisphere as superior to the Six Nations, with justifiable arrogance, but after the 2015 World Cup the gap between the hemispheres quickly narrowed and is now, at the very least, on par with what New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina can dish up. Some would say it  has surpassed the Rugby Championship for consistent quality, Italy’s poor showing notwithstanding.

In 2015, the World Cup semi-finals were between South Africa and New Zealand, and Australia and Argentina, a Rugby Championship clean sweep. Four years on, you would have to say there is virtually no chance of Europe having no representation in the semis.

Looking at the four Pools for Japan, the top two ranked teams in each Pool will have little problem advancing to the quarter-finals where there is the prospect of a banquet of mouth-watering clashes.

From Pool A, it should be Ireland and Scotland that advance, from Pool B, New Zealand and South Africa, in Pool D, Australia and Wales look good, and then in the ‘Pool of Death’, two of England, Argentina and France are expected to reach the playoffs.

It will be a last eight line-up where anybody can beat anybody. Even the All Blacks, so overwhelmingly ahead of everybody else in 2015, will be in danger in what will be an almighty bun fight.

That said, New Zealand remain the best rugby team on the planet and will be outright favourites at the World Cup. But the pack of pretenders to the All Blacks throne has grown, and the gap behind the Kiwis has shrunk.

Wales, crowned Six Nations champions after their dismantling of Ireland in Cardiff, are very much the real deal. They are on a 14-match unbeaten run and years of planning by coach Warren Gatland is coming to fruition. The British and Irish Lions coach has been with Wales since 2007 and his parting gift to the Welsh is a genuine shot at World Cup glory.

The Irish can hardly be discounted because of their dip in form in the Six Nations that saw them beaten in Dublin by England and then overwhelmed in Cardiff. To be fair to them, this last Saturday in Cardiff was very much Wales’ day. It was always going to be tough to beat a Wales team with one hand on the Cup and in front of 80,000 fans.

Ireland are brilliantly coached by another outgoing Kiwi, Joe Schmidt, and lest we forget that they have downed the All Blacks twice in the last two years. Schmidt will have his side peaking at the World Cup and they travel to Japan with Paddy Power, their army of fanatical supporters.

Scotland will make a decent fist of the World Cup but if they are to be serious contenders they need luck with injuries because their depth is fragile.

England are, well, England. They were magnificent in the first half against Scotland before being seduced by the 31-0 scoreboard, and you can be sure that cunning Eddie Jones will have the Red Rose army in fine fettle come Japan.

France were a Six Nations disappointment, their crushing defeat of Scotland in Paris the only thing they had to shout home about. It is difficult to see them shaping up consistently in Japan.

Rassie Erasmus will have watched the Six Nations with keen interest. He will have observed that the bar for international rugby has been raised and that the Springboks have to respond accordingly.

Forewarned is forearmed.

- Mike Greenaway

Let's chat

  • Ulrich

    The biggest change in Wales’ fortunes is the depth Gatland has built with that squad over the last couple of years.

    I think this will be Eddie Jones’ 4th world cup – and third as head coach. He has achieved something in each of those tournaments so England will be ready.

    The All Blacks and their local franchises are all geared to this event which may have a little to do with their sub-standard (to their standards anyway) early SR form.

    Australia always perform at a world cup and their recent SR trajectory seems to confirm they are on the up.

    France, as always a bit of an unknown entity.

    Ireland know they can beat anyone and will be hell-bent on progressing past the QF (and making history in so doing).

    Springboks, well, not as bad as it was but probably a year too early. Lack of experience in key positions of 9 and 15 when incumbents are not available. That said, if everyone is available we have a world class pack, a world class 9 and 10 with a sprinkling of youthful exuberance on the wings.

    Our centres do not set the world alight, but they are by no means terrible. Willie can be either brilliant or not.

  • IRC

    While the 6 Nations has definitely improved in entertainment value and Wales deserve the praise they’ve received for winning, let’s not get seduced by their winning streak.
    It consists of beating Italy twice, France twice, Tonga once, an underperforming Australia once, a b-team South Africa in an exhibition match and Argentina twice. I think most teams could’ve managed that!
    But, Gatland has created a solid team which is high in confidence and it’s going to make the RWC interesting.

    • Dean Bright

      It was their B-team that beat ours. Did you forget that they beat our A-side last November? Go have a look at the team sheets. They just beat England and Ireland’s best 23’s.

      • IRC

        There’s no denying their great play in the last few weeks, but those two are the only quality opposition they’ve beaten. All I’m saying is that their winning streak is moderately impressive due to a lack of decent competition.

        Look at other winning streaks like the ABs and Springboks of the past – all their wins came against quality opposition.

  • Wesley

    The difference between NH and SH teams have always been a lopsided affair in terms of different seasons for both, and with clubs holding sway in NH, and players not being rotated enough in SH. The perception of the best players not always being available due to injury and club commitments have soured some tours over the years between the two, and the only way to get a true reflection building up to the WC is a global season being implemented and a global round fixture list (not this nations cup crap WR is proposing right now, a more inclusive and fair one).

  • John Comyn

    If it’s any consolation, SH players spend a lot of time playing in Japan and this may help in terms of being familiar with the environment and what to expect. It is also not the 1st time we’ve heard that the NH sides are on a par. I’m guessing this comes from the tired old SH sides losing a few games on the end of year tour. I’m not saying Greenaway has it wrong but I’m also not convinced he has it right. When they toured here in 2018 France got thumped by the AB’s, England got beaten by the Boks 2/1, Wales thumped Argentina and Ireland beat OZ 2/1. So all square I would venture.

    • Herman Schroder?

      John remember In the tests last year it was a weakened England team that toured and then still went on to beat the Boks at Newlands and again on the EOYT when closer to full strength. The fairly obvious Quarters would be SA ( assuming they beat Italy, lol ) v Ireland; NZ v Scotland, England v Australia; Wales v Argentina ( I believe they are calling up all their overseas top guys for the WC ). So NH shading the SH imo.

      Semi Finals – NZ vs England / Wales vs Ireland. Anybody’s guess who will contest the final with Rassie’s troops heading home to enjoy some more load shedding. Note three NH teams and one SH team as per the current world rankings. However who will be the ‘spoiler’ team if we are to have one this year ? Cheers.

    • Cobus Brits

      I agree. Big hype over homeground wins. Away games on another continent totally different story.
      Seems like Ireland would need more motivation to beat just the All Blacks. They were so focussed them that they forgot the rest.

  • Barry

    There remain some concerns over the make up of the Springboks squad. Whilst appreciating that Erasmus had little time to create back up and depth, some of the selections and some of the exclusions were puzzling! Will this be addressed – I doubt it, with so few tests left to settle the final squad, I am sure selection changes will be minimal!

    We also face the 50% mix on selection, which on the face of things is probably achievable, but it becomes really complex when you take potential injury into account. Other teams just slot in place their next best player, but we have to also consider the colour of the player. We don’t make it easy on our selves do we!

    Backline play and attack on the EOYT was poor. What have we done to address this? Swys De Bruin is again in charge of attack. Is that a good decision considering our poor attack performance not four months ago?

    Lastly, we have seen how the inclusion of high powered specialists can favourably impact team success at WC – Eddie Jones helped Jake. So the question is, should Jake White not be helping Rassie? Jake has won a WC, has huge experience both at WC and in Japan? Rassie needs more oomph in his assistants than he’s got, Jake would, I believe, add hugely to the level of experience!

    • Herman Schroder?

      Barry the Lions have had one of the best attacks in SR for the past few years with Swys in charge. So he obviously knows what he’s doing but has he got the game plan and suitably skilled players supplied to him by Rassie to bring the guys on ? I don’t think so and that will continue to be the problem in his squad going forward imo. At the end of the day it will all depend on the game plan and how effective the halfbacks will be. So far it’s been below par. Cheers.

    • Sharky

      Totally agree! I’m all for picking the brains of our best rugby minds. If I were Rassie I’d at least have a chat with the likes of Jake White, Nick Mallet, Gert Smal, Johan Ackermann and David Wessels. All of those guys have good rugby brains and diverse and extensive experience. I am sure that all of them would be able to contribute in some way by providing a different perspective and interesting ideas.

      Yeah sure, some of those guys may be difficult to get along with and have huge egos (I’m talking to you Nick Mallet), but what does Rassie have to lose by reaching out to those guys?

  • Nick

    Because Jake White would have absolutely nothing to offer Rassie.

    • Barry

      People have differing views on Jake’s ability, but to suggest that he would not offer Rassie anything, is a little silly!

      None of his management team have been to a World Cup – compare that to New Zealand, England or Ireland for example and you’ll appreciate just how thin we are on experience. I think most would agree that a number of his management team shouldn’t really be there anyway, but that just adds to the need for support consultants!

      Jake’s credentials speak for themselves, so I’m not getting into a nebulous debate on this – he’s pretty much done it all! To my mind though, his experience in Japan is probably the biggest plus of them all. It’s a difficult country to negotiate and having someone in your corners that’s “acclimatized” would be a huge help!

      • Tobokani

        Jake White is the Mourinho of rugby, he believes in himself too much and seems to not to want to accept that times and methods of doing things evolve. He keeps harping on about winning a world cup in the same manner that Mourinho bangs on about his past successes but unfortunately past successes don’t guarantee future successes especially if you refuse to accept that the game has moved forward. It’s really important for any team that wants to be successful in any sport to have a progressive coach which I do fear that Jake White isn’t.

    • Sharky

      And that bald statement is based on what?

  • Safmarine

    Barry – Jake is good but seems to have rubbed some people the wrong way in the SA rugby establishment. For us it will be all about how many of our top players will be available fitness wise to actually play in the world cup. On current form, we will at the very least have to have Malcolm, Eben, Duane, Siya, Faf, Pollie and Willie all healthy come Japan. If they can survive till then, we can assemble a decent squad around them.

    Specialist coaches can be superfluous. Rate him or not, it will be Rassie and his team and whatever he conjures up will either work or it won’t. AB’s still favourites in my book. Wales, England and Ireland will be formidable. Boks and Aussies in with a shout as always.

    • Barry

      You are probably right, He can be a bit prickly, but them most of the good ones are.

      If not Jake, them perhaps one of our other gurus. We are very thin on WC IP, I think we need some one to support us through it that has been there and done it before!

  • Nick

    And before we’re all told ‘He won a world cup’, some of us will say they won it DESPITE the coach. That was the most talented Bok team in generations.

    • Dean Bright

      Lol really Nick? He was voted best local coach in the Japanese league last year. They won the Japanese League Cup last year and btw Kieran Read is joining them after the RWC. He’s in the IRB Hall of Fame. He’s on the panel of coaches that consult for the IRB. The 3rd most successful Springbok coach by win percentage, not even Mallett won a World Cup.

      Titles: World Cup 07 and Tri Nations 04. U21 World Cup with the Junior Boks.
      Took the Sharks to the semi-finals in Super Rugby, they haven’t been there since. They won the
      conference and finished 3rd on the log that year.
      Took the Brumbies to 2nd place after they were 7th the season before.
      European Challenge Cup winner with Montpellier and 2nd on the Top 14 log. They currently sit 9th with Vern Cotter as coach. Prior to Jake White arriving they were placed 8th.

      If you can’t see that Jake is a winner, then you never will. His achievements prove it. Rassie is yet to achieve those things.

    • Barry

      Nick, one of those nebulous statements, based on personal opinion and without anything to substantiate it!
      We certainly had a good squad that year, but it takes more than just a bunch of good players to pull off a Rugby World Cup! If that was not the case, why bother with coaches at all Nick, why not just send the players along?

    • Safmarine

      True. World class players in a number of positions. Worlds best front row, locks, no 9, centres, wing, it goes on and on…

  • Nick

    Totally my personal opinion. Unapologetically.

    • Barry

      Fair enough, but don’t get upset when people challenge your opinion, as you did mine initially. If you’re going to sway option on an issue you need to offer more than just a personal view, particularly if you are trying to discredit what has already been said!

  • Nick

    I see you are fond of the word nebulous. I do not see one single fact in the haze of opinion you have expressed here on this thread.
    Allow me to express mine. Duffus.

    • Winger

      Oh, Nick is back with his sweeping statements and name calling.

    • Barry

      No haze Nick, just google “Jake White” Wikipedia and you’ll have 25 years of solid fact to talk about.

      That’s my point, Jake White has credentials, you don’t, unless you have some fact to support your view, which you haven’t, and that’s why it’s Nebulous!

      It’s funny how the simple ones with no backup to their views always resort to name calling, I guess they’ve got nothing else to offer!

  • Nick

    You’re right Barry. I have nothing to offer you…. ‘but don’t get upset when people challenge your opinion,’ you say?

    Lol…I’m Upset? I completely understand you’ll disagree with me and I’m happy with that.
    Here’s another opinion Barry.
    You’re an ignoramus.

    • Barry

      No problem at all with differing opinions on my post, that’s what blogs are about, but as I have already said, if your going to discredit that view then at least offer some fact to support it.

      I see you at least agree that you have nothing to offer.

      Maybe have a re-read of the thread – it’s certainly not me getting upset nor me that has resorted to name calling is it?

      • Winger

        Barry, do you really want to argue with this guy. He has nothing to offer except baiting and name calling.

        • Barry

          Thanks Winger, point taken!

      • SweetAz

        The support team in a country as alien as Japan will be important hence it would be good to have as many with Japanese experience as possible, Jake White would be an excellent addition to any coaching team I’m just not sure if he’s able to work as an “assistant”. Having a lot of players with Japanese experience may actually give Southern hemisphere teams a bit of an edge, the Boks, AB’s, Pacific Islanders and Arsies have many players who have played in Japan,—Euro teams not so much.
        Many areas of Japan are still regarded as being in Summer during September with monsoon-like conditions and even the odd typhoon. This will definitely impact the kind of rugby required to be played and is perhaps the reason we are seeing so many teams revert to the kick-chase strategy, with greater rewards to be gained in not having possession.
        Southern hemisphere teams are good in the South and the Northern teams likewise in their conditions. Japan is unlike either and that will level the playing field, I believe the most adaptable team will win this as over the course of the RWC Japanese weather will change markedly.

        Personally, I don’t think the Boks have a snowballs hope in hell, at least the players will have a nice holiday in a place where the lights are on and you don’t need to cook your food over an open fire in the backyard.

        • FlynnZA

          LOL… when you said “at least the players will have a nice holiday in a place where the lights are on and you don’t need to cook your food over an open fire in the backyard.”

          I was laughing so hard.

          My 2 cents in this debate: In 2007 Jake White had Eddie Jones and we all know what happened. Jake is currently in Japan, and if Jake puts up his hand to help, Rassie should take that help. So what if Jake has pissed off the powers that be. We as South Africans need to move on from this limiting mindset. If someone is good and will benefit the country put that person in. I hope Boks surprise us in Japan.

        • John Comyn

          To answer your question re Jake being an assistant! The answer is yes if the money is right. Jake is a mercenary and he worries about Jake. Finish and Klaar. Still one of the best in the world and bringing him in should be a no brainer.

        • Barry

          Yes Sweet, the “assistant” issue is real, though he is a bit older now and one assumes a little more flexible. As I recall Eddie Jones was never an assistant but rather an advisor, which makes it a little less in the day to day running of the squad.

          New Zealand have Mike Cron and Ian Foster as assistants for example, we have Matt Proudfoot and Zwandile Stick. If we’re going to have a proper go at this, we need support for our management team, in some shape or form.

          Oh, and befor we get a “short story” they also have that Lions bloke! Lol

          • Herman Schroder?

            Barry, look what Rassie gives Swys to work with. Most of those guys can’t even string three passes together at SR level never mind test matches, lol. When you get a bunch of guys who haven’t got the skills or vision to play effective attacking rugby you are on a hiding to nothing. Springboks should not be taught basics while representing their country. That’s why we have so many average “Bok” players running around our Franchises these days. Cheers

          • SweetAz

            Jaaaaa swaer, the “attack guru”.

  • SweetAz

    Jake White has improved every single team he has been involved with, anybody who can’t see that is a fool. It’s probably just because his name is White they hate him.

  • Ulrich

    For all we know Jake may yet help out his old mate Eddie.

    I find it astonishing he has not landed another job as international head coach.

    People don’t like him because he enforces certain standards. I believe Matfield took issue with Jake requesting he cut his hair and keep it tidy for example and the Sharks players moaning he was very strict with training regimes.

    Then Matfield went on to say Heyneke is a better coach than Jake. I don’t have anything against Heyneke, but we lost to Japan – thanks for that.

    I cannot fathom that having ever happened with Jake at the helm.

  • Nick

    Sighh…..

    For your perusal and general enlightenment.

    https://www.rugbyworld.com/tournaments/top-14/70450-70450

    • SweetAz

      So a bunch of xenophobic frogeaters don’t like Jake, Whoop de friggin doo,-if that’s what you base your opinion on, you’re even stupider than what the general tone of your comments display.

  • Nick

    Lol… Don’t let any inconvenient details upset your well worn narrative. That would be stupid! Use it or lose it you twat.

    • SweetAz

      Lay off the tik mate, you’re incoherent.

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