Thursday, September 06, 2007

Rugby World Cup 2007: Fifteen vital pool-stage matches

T'was the night before Rugby World Cup!

In case you've been asleep, the IRB Rugby World Cup tournament kicks off tomorrow (Friday, September 4) with host nation France facing Argentina, straight away a vital Pool D stage match that will have major implications toward the knock-out stage in a month's time.

First off, here are the Pool groupings:

RWC 2007 Pools

South Africa


New Zealand


Second of all, the complete fixture list, with my highlighted 15 vital test matches of the first months' pool stage (be sure to circle!) and short previews (below):

Full Rugby World Cup 2007 Schedule

ALL TIMES EASTERN DAYLIGHT TIME (North America: New York, Toronto)

Friday 7 September:
France vs. Argentina, Stade de France, St Denis, Pool D - 3:00 pm ET (1)

Saturday 8 September
New Zealand v Italy, Marseille, Pool C -- 7:45 am ET
Australia v Japan, Lyon, Pool B -- 9:45 am ET
England v USA, Lens, Pool A -- NOON ET

Sunday 9 September:
Wales vs. Canada, Nantes, Pool B -- 8:00 am ET (2)
South Africa v Samoa, Parc des Princes, Paris, Pool A -- 10:00 am ET
Scotland v Portugal, St Etienne, Pool C -- Noon ET
Ireland v Namibia, Bordeaux, Pool D -- 2:00 pm ET

Tuesday 11 September:
Argentina v Georgia, Lyon, Pool D -- 2:00 pm ET

Wednesday 12 September:
USA v Tonga, Montpellier, Pool A -- 8:00 am ET
Japan v Fiji, Toulouse, Pool B -- Noon ET
Italy v Romania, Marseille, Pool C -- 2:00 pm ET

Friday 14 September:
England vs. South Africa, Stade de France, Pool A -- 3:00 pm ET (3)

Saturday 15 September:
New Zealand v Portugal, Lyon, Pool C -- 7:00 am ET (4)
Wales vs. Australia
, Cardiff, Pool B -- 9:00 am ET (5)
Ireland v Georgia, Bordeaux, Pool D -- 3:00 pm ET

Sunday 16 September:
Fiji vs. Canada, Cardiff, Pool B -- 8:00 am ET (6)
Samoa vs. Tonga
, Montpellier, Pool A -- 10:00 am ET (7)
France v Namibia, Toulouse, Pool D -- 3:00 pm ET

Tuesday 18 September:
Scotland v Romania, Edinburgh, Pool C -- 3:00 pm ET

Wednesday 19 September:
Italy v Portugal, Parc des Princes, Pool C -- 2:00 pm ET

Thursday 20 September:
Wales v Japan, Cardiff, Pool B -- 3:00 pm ET

Friday 21 September:
France vs. Ireland, Stade de France, Pool D -- 3:00 pm ET (8)

Saturday 22 September:
South Africa v Tonga, Lens, Pool A --8:00 am ET
England vs. Samoa, Nantes, Pool A -- 10:00 am ET (9)
Argentina v Namibia, Marseille, Pool D -- 3:00 pm ET

Sunday 23 September:
Australia v Fiji, Montpellier, Pool B -- 8:30 am ET
Scotland vs. New Zealand, Edinburgh, Pool C -- 11:00 am ET (10)

Tuesday 25 September:
Canada vs. Japan, Bordeaux, Pool B -- NOON ET (11)
Romania v Portugal, Toulouse, Pool C -- 2:00 pm ET

Wednesday 26 September:
Georgia v Namibia, Lens, Pool D -- Noon ET
Samoa v USA, St Etienne, Pool A -- 2:00 pm ET

Friday 28 September:
England v Tonga, Parc des Princes, Pool A -- 3:00 pm ET

Saturday 29 September:
New Zealand v Romania, Toulouse, Pool C -- 7:00 am ET
Australia vs. Canada, Bordeaux, Pool B -- 9:00 am ET (12)
Wales vs. Fiji
, Nantes, Pool B -- 11:00 am ET (13)
Scotland vs. Italy
, St Etienne, Pool C -- 3:00 pm ET (14)

Sunday 30 September:
France v Georgia, Marseille, Pool D -- 9:00 am ET
Ireland vs. Argentina, Parc des Princes, Pool D -- 11:00 am ET (15)
South Africa v USA, Montpellier, Pool A -- 2:00 pm ET

6 October:
QF1: W Pool B v RU Pool A, Marseille -- 9:00 am ET
QF2: W Pool C v RU Pool D, Cardiff -- 3:00 pm ET

7 October:
QF3: W Pool A v RU Pool B, Marseille -- 9:00 am ET
QF4: W Pool D v RU Pool C, Stade de France -- 3:00 pm ET

13 October:
SF1: W QF1 v W QF2, Stade de France -- 3:00 pm ET

14 October:
SF2: W QF3 v W QF4, Stade de France -- 3:00 pm ET

19 October:
3rd place play-off, Parc des Princes -- 3:00 pm ET

20 October:
Final, Stade de France
-- 3:00 pm ET

Click here to view the full Rugby World Cup 2007 playing schedule.

Fifteen vital pool-stage matches

1. Three great teams in Pool D, but only two can advance to the knock-out stage. The matches between France, Ireland and Argentina will all be huge. France should prevail at home. The defending Six Nations champs are looking nicely settled, having dispatched England (home-and-away) and Wales in the run-up to the RWC, whereas Argentina has run into some bothersome last-minute injuries and replacements that may have unsettled the Pumas. Still, a "can't-miss" opening blinder!

2. If Canada has any realistic chance of advancing to the 2nd round, they have to beat Wales (or keep the score close and rely on mathematical finger-crossing and the fortunes of Japan and Fiji in Pool B) on Sunday. Wales may be looking past the Canucks at Australia next week, but they know they have to win, they are playing at home and should win. Nevertheless, Canada will have circled this date and targeted this match as their biggest and most vital of the tournament. It's their first-up encounter, there should be huge commitment across the XV on the field, and if the Canadian back three get some swift ball on the counter-attack they may surprise some people. I expect Wales to be too strong when the legs get weary after 60 mins and their deeper bench emptied, and see them stretching a respectable 7-10 point lead comfortably to 20+ points. I'll be cheering hard for the Canadian boys, and see Wales carrying bruises into the Wallaby test next week worse for wear.

3. England vs. Springboks is a straight-up heavyweight brute force contest decider for the winner of Pool A. Winner gets to face (presumably) Wales in the Quarter-Final. Loser faces the much stiffer Wallabies in other QF. Both teams will be bringing their A-Teams.

4. Bookies first choice New Zealand is in a pathetically weak Pool C, and should sleepwalk to four easy wins. Their Pool match against Portugal could be the ugliest match in RWC history and may decide whether RWC 2011 falls back to 16 teams. The odds of an upset here are astronomical, and one questions the benefit, if not the sanity, of such a fixture. The Portuguese coach has already conceeded the loss and said he'll be pencilling in the names of his second-stringers (!!) to face the All Blacks, rationalizing his team will be better prepared to compete against Romania. All Blacks hardman Jerry Collins is on record saying he won't be taking any mercy on the minnows, for fear he'll lose his test spot to Reuben Thorne. He needn't worry. The Portugese will be. Let's pray nobody gets hurt.

5. Australia should top a competitive group. And if form and pedigree is anything to go by, then Wales should be runner-up. This match then, a probable Pool B championship decider - whether or not Wales sends out their best side.

6. See note 2. Canada simply has to beat Fiji to stand any chance in Pool B. This should be a highly competitive and entertaining match, with consequences unforeseen.

7. Samoa vs. Tonga. Polynesian Derby in Pool A. Get out the popcorn.

8. The Pumas will have a lot to say staking claim to the Pool D standings (see note 1), but the France vs. Ireland encounter is massive and may decide the group winner. A thriller in the making.

9. England were pushed hard in RWC 2003's pool stage by Samoa, with Johnny Wilkinson's championship side actually trailing the Samoans going into the last quarter of their match before coming back to win 35-22. Both teams are joined at the hip again in Pool A. Is an upset on the cards...? Not likely. But this England side isn't nearly as good as the 2003 champion vintage.

10. So weak is Pool C that it is presumed New Zealand's second-stringers can beat the best o' the rest of their group opponents without raising too much of a sweat. Their match against Italy might be entertaining, but the result will never be in doubt. Scotland will presumably be the Pool runner-up, so this match is highlighted as the tournament fave's stiffest test.

11. Pool B: Canada vs. Japan. At this date, it could be pointless . . . or it could mean everything. Either way, this is a match Canada will think it can win, will want to win, and probably will win. See notes 2 & 6.

12. Pool B: Canada vs. Australia. The Wallabies should win comfortably, and Canada will probably concede this match. Still, every game is vital for Canada, we rarely see them play the Wallabies, so, see notes 2, 6 & 7, and circle it.

13. Wales vs Fiji in Pool B is a game Wales should win, but could lose, and that possibility would have enormous consequences for Canada. A scenario such as Wales beats Canada; Canada beats Fiji; and Fiji beats Wales, is not beyond the realm of - there's that word again - possibility. Should Canada lose their first-up match against Wales, this is the (slim) mathematical lottery they'll be hoping for.

14. Scotland vs Italy is the pivotal contest of Pool C, with both sides' First XVs playing to advance behind the All Blacks. This is a must-win game for both nations. The loser goes home.

15. The playoffs get started early with a classic last day of the preliminary Pool stage round ending with Ireland vs. Argentina and everything to play for. Both teams already have a nasty rivalry. If the hot host side France takes Pool D as expected, then this match looms as the runner-up decider, and indeed, could serve as a defacto knock-out test. Runner-up likely (read: almost certainly) faces the All Blacks in the QF.

In North America, SETANTA TV will be broadcasting some matches live, others on tape. They also offer a Broadband ($14.99) and Premium TV services ($199) with all games broadcast live. Check your local cable provider, and visit Setanta North America click here.

France vs. Argentina just a little over 24 hours away . . .


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