By Maxx Steinmetz
London, England will be the setting for the 8th Rugby World Cup, with the first match of the tournament pitting the hosts against the Pacific Nations Cup champions, Fiji, on Sept. 18 (which will air on Universal Sports at 2 p.m. EST).
Overshadowed by FIFA’s World Cup, even in countries not necessarily deemed soccer countries, the Rugby World Cup is played every four years by the 20 best national squads in the world who aim for the ultimate prize in world rugby — The Webb-Ellis Cup.
Before this year’s games commence, let’s look back at 2011’s world cup, particularly the USA Eagles. Though teams can change drastically in four years, looking back can give us an indication as to how the teams will fare on rugby’s largest stage.
2011 @ New Zealand
Hosted by New Zealand, the Eagles were drawn into Pool C with the likes of tier 1 and 2 squads like Ireland, Italy, and Australia. Russia joined the Eagles to round off the Pool, and happened to face off against the USA in the first game.
Locals reveled in the Cold War-esque patriotism watching the two teams duke it out on TV, as the Eagles’ slowly and surely worked their way to a 13-6 win over their rivals.
However, moving ahead, pundits correctly forecasted the Eagles exit from the tournament, which didn’t come as a surprise to America fans, either. What did surprise were the truly admirable results from their games against Six Nation competitors Ireland and Italy (22-10 and 27-10 respectively).
Australia, the top tier nation of Pool C, however, then crushed the fledgling rugby nation 67-5.
With the knockout stages complete, many fans turned their attentions to their favorite team. While the host nation’s team the New Zealand All-Blacks are a perennial favorite, I chose Wales, who came out of Pool D only losing to the defending champions, South Africa.
In their first game of the knockout stages (which featured Argentina, Australia, England, France, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and Wales), Wales played Ireland who topped Pool C with an upset over Australia, and who went on to face South Africa. After handing their British Isles neighbors a 22-10 defeat, Wales played France in the semi-finals, in which hosts New Zealand took on Tasman Sea rivals, Australia.
These semi-finals coincidentally mirrored the semi-final matches of the last time New Zealand hosted the Rugby World Cup during the inaugural tournament in 1987 which the All-Blacks won. Furthermore, upon completion of the semi-finals the same teams played in the finals and the third place game with Wales and Australia being beaten by their adversaries.
Wales had to settle for fourth place being beaten by Australia in the third place match in 2011’s championship. In the final, New Zealand snatched victory from the hands of the French from a penalty kick from fourth string fly-half Stephen Donald, bringing the score to 8-9.
2015 @ England
Four years later fans, players, coaches, and referees are filled with anticipation for what the Rugby World Cup has in store. The Eagles are in Pool B and will face South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and Japan in Pool play. While many would doubt America’s exit from this pool into the knockout stages, many are looking forward to their performances after a recent win over Canada.
Pool C will see the Champions, New Zealand face Argentina, Tonga, Georgia and Namibia, while Pool D sees France, Ireland, Italy, Canada and Romania facing off.
Pool A, to steal a FIFA world cup term, is being dubbed “the pool of death” with Australia, England, Wales, Fiji, and Uruguay all competing for the top two spots in their pool. I will be relishing the opportunity to watch this pool’s games.
I think that the following nations will see their teams advance into the knockout stages:
For Pool A, I expect that England will feel the pressure to perform and play very well in front of their home crowds, and enter knockout with Australia who had an excellent year.
South Africa is always a force to be reckoned with, leaving only Samoa and Scotland in contention for the second spot. I’m going to play devil’s advocate and say that Samoa will pull out an upset (as Pacific nation teams are wont to do) over Scotland in Pool B.
As for Pool C and D, I expect defending champions New Zealand to emerge with Argentina out of C, and for France and Ireland to come out of D.
Next week, I’ll report back with the results for the Eagles first game against Samoa, as well as the New Zealand/Argentina game, and scores from the other games of the weekend.
Maxx Steinmetz is the match secretary for Rutland Roosters Rugby Football Club. He has captained the Roosters and has 10 years of experience under his belt. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org