Analysis: Pool One, Week Two
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One week down in the Rugby World Cup and the competition has definitely lived up to everybody’s high expectations with an action packed few days being presented to our screens. We’ve all been delighted to watch Fiji’s fights with England and the Wallabies, along with both Argentina’s & Namibia’s attempts to restrain the All Blacks and of course Japan’s historic defeat of Heyenke Meyer’s Springboks among other great contests. However, in between the lines of shock results, exciting rugby and pure adrenaline are some key points that will be crucial in the latter stages. These key talking points are imminent in all groups but none more so than Pool A – and that is without a doubt.
ENGLAND FORWARDS IN FOR A TOUGH TOURNAMENT
The epic Friday night curtain raiser between England and Fiji promised so much, and for at least an hour, we were given a real treat as the south pacific underdogs really challenged the hosts.
Traditionally, the’flying’ Fijians, are renowned for their pace, power and risky offloading that makes them a unique outfit with a cult following. However, these values have been diluted in the cup so far as they appear to have found themselves a more balanced approach to the game. Such an approach has seen them improve in numerous tactical areas such as the ruck, maul and lineout but firstly we will focus on their outstanding scrum.
John McKee’s side won no less than three balls against the head last Friday as Campese Ma’afu and Manasa Saulo gave Joe Marler and Dan Cole particularly miserable evenings. As a result of this, there is no doubt that Stuart Lancaster and co. will have worries in the department but this is also a case of credit where credit is due for Fiji.
On top of three turnovers,the visitors would also win a penalty from the scrum and while they conceded three to England once they freshened their props with minutes to go, Fiji ended the night with a 10/3 return. Such shocking dominance was made possible via Ma’afu and Saulo by establishing excellent angles on the bind and over-powering their opposing props on the set with significant driving power. Once in this driving seat, they are virtually unstoppable and as illustrated below on their single penalty win, Joe Marler was forced to slip out and struggle at an illegal angle which gave Fiji great satisfaction, good field positions and an emotional boost in a crucial time of the game.
Fortunately for the hosts, this can be addressed to a reasonable extent for upcoming games thanks to both the standard of prop that they acquire and the strength in dept that they can utilize should Marler and Cole continue to struggle. On the other hand though, the breakdown of the English against Fiji, considering the group that they find themselves in will not be as easily put down as a work-on, but as a loud and clear wake up call and a prospect that Wales and Australia will be sure to be licking their lips about.
The Fijian forwards were aggressive strong and technical at the ruck and unlike the northern hemisphere norm, they attacked the English seal, winning eleven turnovers as reward. Therefore, up until the point where England’s professionalism and higher class told, their momentum was disjointed and for all the flair of the likes of Joseph, Watson and May outside, Nakarawa and the physical visitors kept themselves in close contention.
This is a certainty to be attacked by Australia and Wales for the Chariot’s next pool games and our next point may be one that English fans may want to turn away from.
Wallaby Rucking Rampage
Five days on from the England and Fiji Friday night clash was what I would regard as the most interesting game of the week as Michael Cheika’s Australia took on Fiji who of course got their scheduled midweek fixture straight out of the way in round one. Regrettably, straight forward was far and beyond what the match would hold for the Pacific Nations Cup giants as after their breakdown bruising of England, their confidence would have been taken down a peg as this time the Aussies would in fact out score their neighbours in the turnover department. For Fiji this is unimportant, as they were only pipped by one steal and were huge underdogs anyway. However, in the grand scheme of things, the onlooking English will have plenty of more concern regarding the scenario as when you compare their dismal breakdown stats against the Fijians on the opening night to how the ‘flyers’ were then the second best ground-hogs on Wednesday, there is a circle of panic directing back into the hosts camp – this is where the interesting element lies.
How does one stop the triple threat of Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper and the unmoveable object that is David Pocock though? Based on the Fiji game, England and Wales are going to have to do a lot of homework to stay in contention but do Gatty’s gang got enough breakdown intensity to cope? and if so, is there enough imagination in their gameplan to progress to the quarter finals?
WARBURTON AND THE WELSH WILDCARDS
From the featured content above, it is no secret that rucking as portrayed by the relationship between Fiji, England and Australia is of huge importance, but once ball is secure, do Wales have enough outside to get points on the board?
Firstly, England have George Ford or Jonathan Joseph, when fit, to spark an attack while Australia have got the sublime Matt Giteau and Tevita Kuridrani to cause mayhem, but it cannot be overlooked that for the Welsh there isn’t a lot to suggest that they will score tries.
The lack of imagination in this side without Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny is frightening as a bulky, bruising backline consisting of reliable battering rams such as Jamie Roberts, Scott Williams and George North whom will look to Maori sidestep through the group remain.
As a result of this, the prospect looks almost definite that Gatland will send out his team to dominate at the ruck,hurt the opposition, find the touches, get the maul perfected and to kick the goals. It’s not pretty but this could be effective for a written off Welsh team whether it’s healthy for rugby or not.
Should they take this approach, the chop tackling of Dan Lydiate which allows captain Sam Warburton or Justin Tipuric a license to rob in broad daylight is going to be pivotal and although they learned little from the Uruguay thrashing, the squad has got a winning feeling going into their crunch tie with England tonight.
Ronan Calvert of Munster Haka