Tue, 12 Dec 2023

Who's through and who's going home as the group stages draw to a close at France's 2023 Rugby World Cup?

England's rugby players moved into the last eight at the World Cup on Thursday night without even exerting themselves. Japan's 28-22 defeat of Samoa left England sitting pretty at the top of Group D with 14 points.

A win over Samoa on 7 October will confirm their spot at the top of the pool.

Assuming Argentina waltz past World Cup debutants Chile, they and Japan will battle it out for the other quarter-final berth from Group D on 8 October.

On the face of it, nothing unusual so far.

But England went into the 10th rugby union World Cup in abject form. They had lost seven of their nine games in 2023 before the tournament.

And the calamitous air hovering over the squad seemed to be lingering. Tom Curry was sent off three minutes into their opening game against Argentina for a dangerous tackle.

But rather than a 77-minute countdown to ignominy, up stepped George Ford, a man with a spiffy haircut.

Straight of back and firm of purpose, Ford rallied the troops in Marseille on that balmy September night and with his boot bedazzled the South Americans with all of England's points in the 27-10 win.

He orchestrated an equally gritty victory over Japan, which set England fair before Owen Farrell returned from suspension to lead the 71-0 romp against Chile.

And then the calendar did the rest.

Australia in the balance

The timetable could put Australia out of their misery on Saturday afternoon.

Should Fiji beat Georgia in Bordeaux and gain a bonus point, the Australians will be eliminated at the group stages for the first time in the 36-year-history of the competition.

Fiji head coach Simon Raiwalui rejected the idea that his side was through to the last eight thanks to Wales' victory over Australia in Lyon last Sunday.

"Georgia are a very good team," said Raiwalui. "They're fit, they've obviously prepared well. They love to play with that physicality - something that we like to do as well.

"We're at similar stages of our development, we're looking to get further and move up further with bigger matches outside the World Cup.

"We have the utmost respect for Georgia and what they're doing and we understand it's going to be a very tough match."

As Fiji ponder the knockout stages, Australian rugby union chiefs have reached their quo vadis moment. Fans and pundits are asking exactly in what direction the team is going.

Head coach Eddie Jones has come under intense criticism following defeats to Fiji and Wales but has refused to resign.

He says that his squad of neophytes will need to suffer before it can flourish.

Looking to 2027

But such agonies have not been the Australian way. Teams from the land have won two World Cup crowns and been runners-up twice.

The Australians are on a timescale too. They will host the 2027 World Cup.

"This is the youngest team in the competition," said Australian sports minister Anika Wells, who was in France during the tournament on a fact-finding mission.

"They've got a lot of heart," she added. "And I was encouraged that so many stepped forward to take responsibility for the result against Fiji.

"That really does show leadership and a cohesive team. And that will put us in great stead for the years to come."

Whether Jones will be there to mastermind the surge remains to be seen.

Scotland's chances

But should Fiji slip up against Georgia, Australia will have a chance to heap pressure on the Fijians with victory over Portugal on Sunday afternoon in Saint-Etienne.

Equally, the Fijians will get another chance to reach the quarters for the first time since 2007 with a win over Portugal on 8 October.

In Group B, Scotland's chances of reaching the last eight depend on a trident of factors: thrash Romania on Saturday night in Lille to get a bonus fifth point and then revel in Tonga's shock victory over South Africa on Sunday in Marseille.

The Scots then need to go to Paris on 7 October and see off Ireland - the world's top ranked team.

And why not?

"Without five points this weekend we can't even talk about next weekend," said Scotland skipper Grant Gilchrist.

"That's a good challenge for us as players," he added. "A better performance really launches us into next week. If we can do that we'll put ourselves in the best position to kick on again.

"We know that we have to be better again week on week."

Namibia out

At least the Scots might be able to extend their interest until next week.

The Namibians, though, are finished. Their four games were packed into 18 days. Three batterings and a frustration would best describe the campaign at a seventh World Cup.

No chance against Italy, New Zealand and France, they led Uruguay 23-12 but lost their discipline and the match 36-26.

Namibia skipper Deysel banned for six games for horror tackle on France's Dupont

"It's a bitter pill to swallow," said Namibia fly-half Andre van der Berg.

"Because we were doing everything that we wanted to do. We started off really quick and also after half-time.

"And then just two cards, which you can't do at this level. I think that's that's the difference - discipline. We got too many penalties against us and you can't really get back from that stage."

Namibia's pummellings at the tournament, along with calls from coaches of other tier two nations such as Fiji and Chile, should force World Rugby - which organises the World Cup - into a rethink of the annual fixture schedule to ensure the disparity between nations closes.

France's big win over Namibia highlights trying times for World Cup organisers

"The same questions are being asked," said Namibia skipper Tijuee Uanivi.

"How can you improve? And it's quite easy. It's playing more competitive games against the tier-one countries, quality opposition, whether it's one or two games a year.

"If we can do that during the next four years, I think the difference will be massive."

Originally published on RFI

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