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Hotly-contested Pool C promises fireworks

No pool has quite as much World Cup pedigree as this one with three sides who traditionally expect to reach the semis.

Image: Paul Harding

RWC Pool C:  England, France, Argentina, USA, Tonga

Here come the dark horses.

On paper, Pool C is the one that promises to be the most competitive as it squeezes previous semi-finalists, finalists and winners all into a contest with Tonga and the ever-improving US.

But for any surprise outcome (England are 3/10 favourites to wind up top and 4/1 to win the tournament) we must first get a surprise in the form of France performing at their World Cup best and Argentina again proving that their results away from the Webb Ellis are not to be trusted.

Since England’s home World Cup disaster four years ago, Eddie Jones has worked to rejuvenate the Chariot. Some onlookers have expressed confusion with his wish that  ‘England be more like England and others have opined that the Australian’s squad have not won the affection of their own nation. But across most of the world, these two traits do not seem so mutually exclusive. 

All the work Stuart Lancaster put in to create an air of humility and hard work was uprooted and replaced by tales of vicious training sessions with only the intrigue out-stripping the injuries it created. Jones was putting together a team that was bloody horrible to play against and imbued with that old colonial sense of belonging on their quest to conquer.

The former Japan boss has achieved undeniable results, winning back-to-back Championships in his first two years. Even the post-Lions tour dip, while Ireland and Wales took on the Grand Slam, can be easily waved away because there is something downright frightening about the performances England’s power game delivers when they have hard-hitters like Manu Tuilagi, Maro Itoje, Tom Curry, Joe Cokanasiga, Mako and Billy Vunipola at the peak of their powers.

For Argentina, this World Cup could be a point of fruition as they become fully settled in southern hemisphere competition after spending so long on the outside looking in. It’s not from the Rugby Championship that they will take their lead, but from Super Rugby, where they have been able to stack the Jaguares side with internationals and push the ‘club’ all the way to a final against the all-conquering Crusaders.

With so many Test players plying their trade for the Jaguares, cohesion and fluidity of play ought not be an issue for the Pumas. And yet, as they leave European-based stars like Facundo Isa, Juan Imhoff and Santiago Cordero out of the touring party and go to Japan ranked 11th in the world – below Scotland, France, Fiji and Japan. 

super-rugby-reds-jaguares The Jaguares have been a force in Super Rugby. Source: AAP/PA Images

So there is plenty for Mario Ledesma’s men to prove after a Rugby Championship in which they lost narrowly to Australia and New Zealand, but fell to a heavy 13-46 home loss to the ‘Boks.

France have been finding to their cost that the old adage about Les Bleus being gloriously unpredictable is unsustainable in the modern professional game. Increasingly, it has been a poor impersonation of France that tends to turn up.

That said, they can still carry an embarrassment of riches in their squad from the superb scrum-half Antoine Dupont to the dogged Wencesles Laurent or the back three brilliance that Thomas Ramos and Damian Penaud can provide.

thomas-ramos Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With Tonga in the pool, France will face the spectre of their humbling 2011 pool-stage loss to the Pacific nation. Whether it’s a lesson they will learn from though is another matter entirely. Les Bleus could turn out to be an utter farce, or they could benefit from so much concentrated time together away from club constraints. By the time they face up against England in the pool climax, we’ll know whether they are capable of giving this side of the World Cup draw a real rattle.

Pool C is paired with Pool D for the quarter-finals, so any in-form qualifier from England, Argentina or France won’t be overawed at the prospect of meeting Australia or Wales in the last eight.

As if the presence of Argentina and England wasn’t enough to pique Irish interest in this pool, the USA squad will be heavily influenced by these shores. Aran Islander Paul Mullen, Cork’s John Quill and ex-Blackrock schoolboys Dylan Fawsitt and the excellent out-half AJ MacGinty will be central to the Eagles’ hopes of leaving an impression.

Key match: France v Argentina (Saturday 21 September, kick-off 08.15 eir Sport) is one of the mouth-watering courses on the menu for the opening weekend feast of rugby, and the team who finds form and forces a win in that contest will be in the best position to escape the pool alongside England.

Squads

Argentina – Nahuel Tetaz Chapparo, Mayco Vivas, Agustin Creevy, Julian Montoya, Santiago Socino, Juan Figallo, Santiago Medrano, Enrique Pieretto, Guido Petti, Tomas Lavanini, Matias Alemanno, Pablo Matera, Tomas Lezana, Javier Ortega Desio, Marcos Kremer, Rodrigo Bruni, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Tomas Cubelli, Felipe Ezcurra, Nicolas Sanchez, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Matias Orlando, Matias Moroni, Lucas Mensa, Juan Cruz Mallia, Ramiro Moyano, Bautista Delguy, Emiliano Boffelli, Joaquin Tuculet.

England – Dan Cole, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tom Curry, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Jack Singleton, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Mark Wilson, Joe Cokanasiga, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Piers Francis, Willi Heinz, Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May, Ruaridh McConnochie, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Watson, Ben Youngs.

France – Gregory Alldritt, Demba Bamba, Yacouba Camara, Camille Chat, Virimi Vakatawa, Antoine Dupont, Gaël Fickou, Wesley Fofana, Paul Gabrillagues, Guilhen Guirado, Yoann Huget, Arther Iturria, Félix Lambey, Wencesles Laurent, Bernard le Roux, Camille Lopez, Maxime Medard, Peato Mauvaka, Maxime Machenaud, Romain Ntamack, Damian Penaud, Louis Picamoles, Jefferson Poitor, Dany Priso, Alivereti Raka, Thomas Ramos, Baptiste Serin, Emerick Setiano, Rabah Slimani, Sébastien Vahaamahina.

Tonga – Siegfried Fisihoii, Vunipola Fifita, Latu Talakai, Paula Ngauamo, Sosefo Sakalia, Siua Maile, Siua Halanukonuka, Ma’afu Fia, Ben Tameifuna, Sam Lousi, Leva Fifita, Stitveni Mafi, Sione Kalamafoni, Maama Vaipulu, Fotu Lokotui, Zane Kapeli, Dan Faleafa, Nasi Manu, Sonatane Takulua, Leon Fukofuka, Samisoni Fisilau, Kurt Morath, James Faiva, Siale Piutau (c), Malietoa Hingano, Nafi Tuitavake, Atieli Pakalani, David Halaifonua, Viliami Lolohea, Cooper Vuna, Telusa Veainu.

USA – David Ainu’u, Malon Al-Jiboori, Nate Brakeley, Nick Civetta, Cam Dolan, Dylan Fawsitt, Eric Fry, Hanco Germishuys, James Hilterbrand, Olive Kilifi, Tony Lamborn, Titi Lamositele, Ben Landry, Paul Mullen, Gregory Peterson, Ben Pinkelman, John Quill, Joseph Taufete’e, Blaine Scully (c), Nate Augspurger, Marcel Brache, Bryce Campbell, Shaun Davies, Ruben De Haas, Will Hooley, Martin Iosefo, Paul Lasike, AJ MacGinty, Will Magie, Thretton Palamo, Mike Te’o.

Pool C Fixtures

France v Argentina, 21 September, 08.15

England v Tonga, 22 September, 11.15

England v USA, 26 September, 11.45

Argentina v Tonga, 28 September, 05.45

France v USA, 2 October, 08.45

England v Argentina, 5 October, 09.00

France v Tonga, 6 October 08.45

Argentina v USA, 9 October, 05.45

England v France, 12 October, 09.15

USA v Tonga, 13 October, 06.45

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Sean Farrell

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