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Rassie's revolution makes for a mouth-watering opening weekend

No prizes for predicting who will qualify from Pool, but in what order?

RWC Pool B: New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Namibia, Canada

BACK IN EARLY 2017, when Rassie Erasmus said ‘I’m definitely not in the mix’ to coach South Africa, the Springboks were in a sorry state.

A 2016 in which they suffered a first-ever home loss to Ireland and shipped 57 points at home to New Zealand, spiralled on downward through a hapless November in the northern hemisphere.

Losing in Twickenham can be stomached, in Cardiff too. Dropping to sixth in the rankings, sure who really cares about rankings?

But a defeat to Italy? Had the ‘Boks learned or built nothing from the Miracle of Brighton a year earlier?

Eventually, Saru went about righting the wrongs that allowed Erasmus to leave the system and the then Munster coach could only weave a tangled web of timelines and obfuscation in a futile effort to make it seem like it was a wrench to depart Ireland and take up his dream job.

japan-rugby-south-africa Source: 栗原一至

And what a fist he has made of that job since again coming out of the director’s chair into a hands-on coach role. The Springboks are playing a ferocious power game, with no little finesse to complement an awesome tempo.

Tomorrow marks the two-year anniversary since a dispiriting 57-0 loss to the All Blacks, but since that day they have gone back to the home of the world champions twice and battled out with a record of won one, drawn one. Feats that make them the second favourites to win the Webb Ellis Cup. 

Luckily for neutrals, the favourites are lurking in the pool too. And the reigning champions will be going full pelt at taking control of their progress on the opening weekend.

beauden-barrett Beauden Barrett breaks the line against South Africa. Source: Photosport/Grant Down/INPHO

Though New Zealand have coughed up their world number one spot, there is no solid case against them still being the best team in the game – that’s what World Cups are for.

Even if they were to lose against South Africa first up, it’s unthinkable that Italy, Namibia or Canada will cause enough problems to keep them out of the quarter-finals, where Ireland could very well await. 

Steve Hansen has tweaked the approach of his attack due to the superb form of Crusaders out-half Richie Mo’unga, who settled into the side to force Beauden Barrett back to full-back in what promises to be a lightning quick back three with Rieko Ioane and the controversial Sevu Reece on either wing.

This World Cup could well see Barrett’s younger brothers step into the limelight though. Scott will be a vital element in the pack and 22-year-old Jordie has a terrific range of skills along with a robust carrying ability that means he can slot in anywhere in the back-line.

Aside from the quarter-finals pairing this pool with Ireland’s Pool A, there is plenty of Irish interest through the fixture list. Former Ulster utility back Peter Nelson and ex-Connacht 10 Shane O’Leary are set to star for Canada and supply ammunition for the brilliant Glasgow wing DTH van der Merwe.

Conor O’Shea will be working to ensure his Azzurri side can at least wind up best of the rest, but his progress in Italy is best judged by the rising standard across all teams.

felix-jones Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Then, of course, there is the hot coaching property of Felix Jones. Joe Schmidt certainly allowed himself to come across as irked in the days after the former Munster coach was again recruited by Erasmus after Sws de Bruin had to withdraw from the ticket for personal reasons.

It will be intriguing to hear what influence the Seapoint man will have on South Africa. Whatever happens, he can mine a wealth of experience just by being in the ‘Boks environment over the coming seven or eight weeks.

Key match: The don’t come much bigger than the All Blacks v Springboks and we need only wait until day two of the tournament to see two superpowers grapple for control of the group. Kick off on Saturday 21 September is at 10.45 (eir Sport).

SQUADS

South Africa – Schalk Brits, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Siya Kolisi, Francois Louw, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Franco Mostert, Trevor Nyakane, Kwagga Smith, RG Snyman, Duane Vermeulen.

Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Faf de Klerk, Warrick Gelant, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies, Cheslin Kolbe, Jesse Kriel, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, Willie le Roux, Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach, Frans Steyn.

Canada –  Tyler Ardron (c), Kyle Baillie, Justin Blanchet, Hubert Buydens, Luke Campbell, Matt Heaton, Eric Howard, Jake Ilnicki, Cole Keith, Conor Keys, Evan Olmstead, Benoit Piffero, Andrew Quattrin, Lucas Rumball, Djustice Sears-Duru, Mike Sheppard, Matthew Tierney.

Nick Blevins, Andrew Coe, Jeff Hassler, Ciaran Hearn, Ben LeSage, Phil Mack, Jamie Mackenzie, Gordon McRorie, Peter Nelson, Shane O’Leary, Patrick Parfrey, Taylor Paris, Conor Trainor, DTH van der Merwe.

Italy – Simone Ferrari, Andrea Lovotti, Tiziano Pasquali, Nicola Quaglio, Marco Riccioni, Federico Zani, Luca Bigi, Oliviero Fabiani, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Dean Budd, Federico Ruzza, David Sisi, Alessandro Zanni, Maxime Mbanda, Sebastian Negri, Sergio Parisse, Jake Polledri, Abraham Steyn.

Callum Braley, Guglielmo Palazzani, Tito Tebaldi, Tommaso Allan, Carlo Canna, Tommaso Benvenuti, Michele Campagnaro, Luca Morisi, Mattia Bellini, Giulio Bisegni, Jayden Hayward, Matteo Minozzi, Edoardo Padovani.

Namibia – Andre Rademeyer, Nelius Theron, Desiderius Sethie, AJ de Klerk, Johannes Coetzee, Obert Nortje, Louis van der Westhuizen, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Tjiuee Uanivi, Johan Retief, Thomasau Forbes, Rohan Kitshoff, Max Katjijeko, Prince Gaoseb, Wian Conradie, PJ van Lill, Adriaan Booysen, Janco Venter.

Cliven Loubser, Helarius Kisting, Damian Stevens, Eugene Jantjies, Darryl de la Harpe, Johan Deysel, Justin Newman, JC Greyling, Johann Tromp, Chad Plato, Lesley Klim, Janry du Toit, PJ Walters.

New Zealand – Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Liam Coltman, Atu Moli, Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Angus Ta’avao, Ofa Tuungafasi, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Patrick Tuipulotu, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Matt Todd, Shannon Frizell.

 TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece, Ben Smith.

Pool B Fixtures

New Zealand v South Africa, 21 September, 10.45 (all times Irish)
Italy v Namibia, 22 September, 06.15
Italy v Canada, 26 September, 08.45
South Africa v Namibia, 28 September, 10.45
New Zealand v Canada, 2 October, 11.15
South Africa v Italy, 4 October, 10.45
New Zealand v Namibia, 6 October, 05.45
South Africa v Canada, 8 October, 11.15
New Zealand v Italy, 12 October, 05.45
Namibia v Canada, 13 October 04.15

With the warm-up games out of the way, Murray, Bernard and Gavan discuss the renewed cause for optimism, impressive individual player form, and a potential quarter-final versus either South Africa or New Zealand.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Sean Farrell

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