Rugby World Cup: England, Japan and Ireland face key gamesPublished on: October 1, 2019Author: Antonia Kelly
After a fallow day on Tuesday, the World Cup got rolling again on Wednesday morning when France took on the United States. Their win – unconvincing, but with a bonus point – kicked off a round of fixtures that runs through the weekend, the pick of which – in terms of importance to the ongoing tournament, at least – will be England’s clash with Argentina. That’s a game which the Pumas will need to win to stand any meaningful chance of playing in the knockout stages of the tournament.
The fixtures so far this week have mostly been split between obvious mismatches – New Zealand put the tournament’s highest points total on Canada – and a few contests which may not officially be dead rubbers, but might as well be. For example, Fiji, after an unfortunate defeat at the hands of Australia and a surprising one against Uruguay, have recouped some pride by winning against Georgia, but the damage to their hopes of sticking around after the pools is probably still terminal.
However, there will be some decisive action over the next few days, and if you read on we’ll have a look at three of the key games, and what the bookmakers are saying about the upcoming games.
England can seal their spot in the last eight
A game against Argentina always feels like something of a banana skin for a top-tier side but, in truth, the Pumas have not really laid a glove on England outside of South America since 2006, when they beat the moribund Andy Robinson side at Twickenham. When the sides meet on Saturday, the stakes are pretty clear. If England win, they will certainly finish in the pool’s top two and will move to the next stage, where they are likely to face either Australia or Wales. Argentina, for their part, need to win to retain any real hope of progressing, after their spirited comeback against France ended in a 23-21 defeat.
Eddie Jones’ men are comfortable favourites with every bookie as things stand, and after two wins from two games they will be feeling confident. However, it needs to be remembered that the wins they have stacked up have come against Tonga – who kept England hanging for longer than would have been comfortable – and the USA, who aren’t very good. You might be well advised to look at the handicap market here, as Argentina (+12.5) can be backed at 21/20 with Unibet. They’re a side who will fight until the last whistle, as their heartbreaking loss against les Bleus showed, and this match is a major step up in intensity for an England side that hasn’t yet been tested.
Hosts face bruised Samoa
The Saturday afternoon game offers Japan a chance to win a third consecutive game and all but secure their spot in the knockout rounds. Things would need to go very wrong in their final pool game against Scotland for the Cherry Blossoms to miss out on the quarter-finals after their impressive win over tournament dark horses Ireland. This weekend, the hosts face Samoa – not an opponent that should be taken lightly, but one that did nonetheless lose 34-0 to Scotland last time out. The Pacific Islands side will have the support of two very nervous Celtic nations, who could do with a shock result here but certainly won’t be expecting one.
While Japan are very much cast in the role of favourites for this one – they’ve had plenty of time to prepare for the competition and had their entire squad together for pretty much a whole year, while the Samoan Rugby Union is a burning clown car – it would be unfair to expect a total blowout. Steve Jackson’s side are 21-point underdogs with William Hill – a points spread which was met and exceeded by the Scottish, but the final score in that contest belies a contest in which Scotland were pushed for long periods. In the humid conditions at Kobe’s Misaki Stadium, Samoa’s usual assured handling fell away. In Toyota’s open air, they’ll hopefully be a different proposition.
Ireland look to get back on the horse
Rugby Twitter exploded on Saturday morning when Japan came back from 12-3 down against Ireland to win 19-12. In truth, people needn’t have been so surprised. This is a better Japan side than the won which beat South Africa in 2015 and they’re improving with every game. Yes, they beat Ireland. If you’re Scottish, be afraid, because they’re probably not done. Ireland, meanwhile, need to forget the nine-point lead they horsed away last weekend, because they have a game against Russia today. That needs to be a bonus-point win for there to be any hope of overhauling Japan in the pool and avoiding a likely quarter final against New Zealand.
There is no reason to expect that Ireland will have substantial difficulty in beating Russia, or notching the four tries that would give them maximum points from this encounter. However, the bookies may be underestimating a Russian side that put some pressure on the hosts in the competition’s opening game. The margins of the Bears’ two defeats so far have been 20 (Japan) and 25 (Samoa). However, give them a 40.5 head start against Ireland and 888 are still giving 5/2 odds on them to win with the handicap. Especially with a much-changed Ireland side taking to the field, that’s a very attractive price; we’d set it much closer, so treat this one like an odds boost and back Russia to give Ireland B a much more searching examination than the bookies expect.