The two top-ranked teams in the world collide with Pool B supremacy on the line when the Springboks tackle Ireland in a Rugby World Cup blockbuster in Saint-Denis on Saturday night, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The weekend’s other big games will see Argentina square off against Samoa in Saint-Etienne on Friday and Wales take on Australia in Lyon on Sunday.
Argentina v Samoa
Friday, 22 September – 17:45
Redemption is on the Argentinians’ minds after they choked spectacularly against 14-man England on the opening weekend. Many have written them off in terms of making serious noise after that shocking showing and a loss here could see them fail to reach the quarterfinals.
Samoa got their campaign off to a solid start at the weekend, turning it on in the second half to sink Chile 43-10, and they’re smelling an opportunity to upset the wounded Pumas and take a big step towards a possible playoff spot.
With their physicality and the added class of former All Blacks and Wallabies like Steven Luatua and Christian Leali’ifano, Samoa will serve as a stern test but one Argentina will pass with a smarter and more passionate approach.
Georgia v Portugal
Saturday, 23 September – 14:00
Both teams lost their opening assignments by 20 points, Georgia to Australia (35-15) and Portugal to Wales (28-8).
The Lelos would’ve been disappointed with their performance while the Portuguese would’ve taken heart from theirs, which indicates the difference in class between the sides.
Georgia are the best of the developing European nations, winning what’s effectively a Six Nations ‘B’ championship for the last six years in a row. They did so this year by beating Portugal 38-11 in the final and have never lost to them, so they should win with a healthy bit of breathing room.
England v Chile
Saturday, 23 September – 17:45
Two wins from two over Argentina and Japan have England in the pound seats in Pool D.
Chile were always going to struggle to get results but they’ve impressed with their bravery and scored some memorable tries in their debut tournament so far. Having lost 42-12 to Japan and 43-10 to Samoa, Los Cóndores will take a bigger beating here.
South Africa v Ireland
Saturday, 23 September – 21:00
It’s the blockbuster Springbok supporters have been waiting for all year. It’s as big of a World Cup pool game as they come as world No 1 Ireland face off against the second-ranked defending champions in a virtual Pool B decider.
Both teams have started their campaigns clinically and commandingly, the Boks beating Scotland 18-3 and routing Romania 76-0 and Ireland coasting to big wins over the Oaks (82-8) and Tonga (59-16).
As a result, Andy Farrell’s men have a one-point lead at the top of the table on 10, however, the Boks are arguably more battle-tested having convincingly passed the tricky test against fifth-ranked Scotland.
The Irish will be bringing their efficient and relentless phase play, whereas the Boks will be bringing their brutality. The men in green and gold aren’t one-trick ponies, though, and the mad scientist that is Rassie Erasmus might have a surprise or two in store.
The stage is set for a historic humdinger as these two sides have never met at the World Cup. The Boks hold the upper hand in the rivalry, having won 18 of the 27 Tests, although Ireland have won the previous two (38-3 in 2017 and 19-16 last year, both in Dublin).
Yes, goal-kicking is a concern for the Boks and yes, the game could go either way. However, defence wins championships and big games and the Boks have been phenomenal in this department.
Not only have they been impregnable they’ve also been ultra-disciplined, conceding just a 50-metre Finn Russell penalty goal, so the Boks are a good bet to edge it and end Ireland’s 15-match unbeaten streak.
Scotland v Tonga
Sunday, 24 September – 17:45
The other Pool B clash of the weekend sees sides looking to bounce back from tournament-opening losses face off.
It’s an opportunity for Scotland to let loose after they were shut down by South Africa whereas it’s a second tough ask in a row for Tonga after their 43-point drubbing by Ireland.
The focus for the rested Scots will be not to force it and they’ll ultimately claim a commanding win.
Wales v Australia
Sunday, 24 September – 21:00
Fiji’s famous 22-15 win over the Wallabies last Sunday has thrown Pool C wide open. The Dragons are sitting pretty at the top of the standings on 10 points after following up their 32-26 win over the Fijians with a 28-8 victory over Portugal.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Islanders and Australia on both on six points having split their first two games with Fiji in second due to their superior points’ difference.
It’s do or die for Eddie Jones’ young team, who could become the first Wallabies side in history to crash out of the World Cup at the pool stage.
The breakdown is a big area of concern for them after they were blown out of the water by the Fijians, who seized no less than seven turnovers, while their poor decision-making and bluntness speak to their lack of leadership and confidence.
Wales aren’t world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination but they’re in a far better headspace than the embattled Wallabies. Their structures and spine are superior, although, they too will have to lift their game.
The sides are no strangers to one another having been drawn in the same pool at four of the last five World Cups, including this one, and faced each other in the bronze medal match in 2011.
Australia prevailed in Cardiff in 2007 and at Twickenham in 2015 on their way to winning the pool, while they were also victorious in the 2011 bronze final.
Wales ended that run of tournament defeats in Japan, triumphing at Tokyo Stadium to top Pool D in 2019, and while the desperation of the Wallabies will lead to a much-improved performance, Wales have the foundation to hold firm and see them off, much to outspoken Jones’ dismay.