Australia serious contenders for the Cup – says Sean Fitzpatrick
We had better start with a word on England – the first time the hosts of a Rugby World Cup have been knocked out in the pool stages. Preparations are key and England unfortunately got a few things wrong.
But I think we should also realise that it was the defeat by Wales ten days ago that had a mental effect on the players and coaches that played into Australia’s hands.
Of course, the hangover from the Wales defeat did not help England against Australia, but frankly I always thought that Australia would win that game and top the pool – though with England second. But Wales surprised me. I didn’t think they would beat England at Twickenham and when you look back over it, with 20 minutes to go, England, shouldn’t have lost. That was the decisive match.
However, I think the most important point to come out of the last series of games is the growing power and confidence of Australia. As badly as England played, Australia were quite outstanding. I see them as even stronger contenders now to win the Rugby World Cup.
As we said right from the start, the attritional cost of this competition was going to be huge. This has hit Australia, who have lost forwards Will Skelton and Wycliff Palu, but they still have a very strong squad and they are in an excellent position.
The defining moments against England were in the scrum, and I expect that to be the case against Wales on Saturday. Prop Sekope Kepu has impressed me enormously not only with his scrummaging but also with his ball carrying and they are capable of dominating the breakdown with David Pocock and Michael Hooper working in tandem. The other massive coup was getting Matt Giteau back from France, which was purely down to the determination of the coach, and has proved crucial. There is a reason why Bernard Foley at 10 played so well!!
Wales and Australia have got it all to play for – the loser will be playing South Africa, who I expect to top Pool B by winning today against the USA, which means Australia will likely play Scotland who should beat Samoa.
That means Japan will probably finish third which is an amazing achievement as they will qualify directly for the next World Cup, in their own country. And, of course, they still have a shot at finishing second if Scotland get beaten. If we are talking in the future about the successes of this World Cup, the achievement of Japan will be right up there. Congratulations to the team and coach Eddie Jones
Pool C is pretty straightforward, New Zealand to beat Tonga on Friday to win the group and Argentina to finish second, which leads us to the big match of the next few days: France v Ireland. This is crucial. Both are on 14 points and the loser has to face the All Blacks in the quarter-finals, not something anyone would relish, while the winner plays Argentina.
Ireland did not look quite so good against Italy on Sunday, but I suspect they had their minds on other things. I am sure they will be up for the match against France, but I still think I would pick the French.
A lot of people have enjoyed watching Ireland play, but I think France are another team with a lot of firepower and a dominant pack which will take a lot of sting out of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.
It is disappointing for the excitement and passion of the Rugby World Cup that the host nation has gone out so soon, but I feel the English spectators have really bought into this event and will be there to cheer on their new adopted teams in the coming matches.