Last place to be decided this month
There is little less than a year to go until Japan hosts the rugby World Cup from September 20 to November 2. It will be the ninth staging of the event.
The rugby World Cup falls in what some will regard as a comparatively “quiet” year for international sport given there are no major soccer championships (apart from the annual African Nations Cup) nor an Olympics. Though the cricket World Cup will take place in England and Wales. More on this in a future issue.
Already 19 of the 20 rugby participants are known and later this month at a tournament in Marseilles, France, the final place will be decided. Teams in the frame are from Canada, Germany, Hong Kong and Kenya. Of these, Hong Kong is the highest ranked side.
The 19 teams already qualified are (in alphabetical order): Argentina, Australia, England, Fiji, France, Georgia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Namibia, New Zealand, Russia, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Tonga, United States, Uruguay and Wales.
It is always difficult to look beyond New Zealand when considering potential winners but recent results suggest South Africa may have something to say about that.
In September, the Springboks shared the spoils with Australia, winning by 11 points and losing by five. Then they beat the All Blacks by two points in Wellington before losing by the same margin on home soil.
Bookmakers rank New Zealand as favourites followed by Ireland, England, South Africa and Australia in that order. Given recent performances I’d say England are ranked too high though I think it highly likely the winners will be one of these five.
Before trying to choose a winner, I’m planning to wait to see the outcome of the Autumn Internationals where teams mainly from the southern hemisphere travel north to face the top sides from Europe.
The opening weekend (Saturday November 3) sees England take on South Africa at Twickenham. It’s a nice 3pm kick-off (10pm in Thailand). Indeed, all four of the England games in the autumn start at this time.
However, this may not prove the truest of tests for England. South Africa are likely to be missing five of the players who featured in the recent narrow defeat to New Zealand. Among them are the influential scrum-half Faf de Klerk and full-back Willie le Roux.
This is because the players are on the books of English Premiership teams who are not obliged to release players for this particular game.
Fifteen minutes earlier than the England and South Africa match Wales will line-up opposite Scotland and at 8pm UK time (3am on Sunday in Thailand) the Irish will face Italy at Soldier Field in Chicago. Yet another bid by the rugby authorities to promote the sport in North America. Strangely the Irish face the USA later in the month, but in Dublin. Surely a case for this game being staged in Chicago instead of the Italy clash?
Ireland apart, England will face the other three top five fancied teams. So, a good work-out and maybe some indicators for what might happen a year hence.
I’m not sure the Irish will learn a whole lot from playing Italy and the USA in terms of where they stand going into World Cup year.
I don’t understand why Wales will play Scotland. Maybe a lack of other suitable non-European opponents. But at least the Welsh will get to test themselves against Australia and South Africa.
Scotland will only face South Africa from the top five. Not the best of preparations I would suggest.
Of course, the so-called home nations (they’re not ‘home’ if you are not from the UK) will also get the opportunity to line-up against each other in the Six Nations which starts early next February.
Ireland V England is (for me) the pick of the opening fixtures though, sadly, it will kick off late on the Saturday Thai time (11.45pm on February 2).
A while back the Independent newspaper in the UK announced that the Six Nations is the best attended sporting event in the world, averaging 72,000 per match. Only 15 games and big stadia helps a lot. This beats soccer’s World Cup and American Football.
I discovered this after being told some of the questions from a quiz staged in Pattaya!
By Dave Buckley
The full line-up of Autumn International rugby fixtures is (all times shown are Thai time):
Week 1 – Saturday November 3
Japan V New Zealand (Tokyo) 12.45pm
Wales V Scotland (Cardiff) 9.45pm
England V South Africa (London) 10pm
Ireland V Italy (Chicago) 3am on November 4
Week 2 – Saturday November 10
Italy V Georgia (Florence) 9pm
Scotland V Fiji (Edinburgh) 9.30pm
England V New Zealand (London) 10pm
Wales V Australia (Cardiff) 0.20am on November 11
Ireland V Argentina (Dublin) 1.30am on November 11
France V South Africa (Paris) 2.45am on November 11
Week 3 – Saturday November 17
Italy V Australia (Padua) 9pm
Wales V Tonga (Cardiff) 9.30pm
England V Japan (London) 10pm
Scotland V South Africa (Edinburgh) 0.20am on November 18
Ireland V New Zealand (Dublin) 2am on November 18
France V Argentina (Lille) 2.45am on November 18
Week 4 – Saturday November 24
Italy V New Zealand (Rome) 9pm
Scotland V Argentina (Edinburgh) 9.30pm
England V Australia (London) 10pm
Wales V South Africa (Cardiff) 0.20am on November 25
Ireland V USA (Dublin) 1.30am on November 25
France V Fiji (Paris) 2.45am on November 25
There will also be a game between the Barbarians and Argentina on December 1 at 9.30pm.