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Rugby World Cup Preview – Pool D

With anticipation mounting, we continue our tournament preview with a breakdown of Pool D.

Rugby Cup

France will stage the most closely-contested Rugby World Cup in history, leaving fans salivating and strapping in for a rollercoaster ride unlike any other when the competition gets underway on September 8, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.  

The tenth edition of the quadrennial global showpiece is set to be the most open yet, with defending champions South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland and hosts France all being strong contenders while the likes of Australia and England could come good as dark horses.  

With anticipation mounting, we conclude our tournament preview with a breakdown of Pool D.  

Pool D: Argentina, Chile, England, Japan, Samoa

England, despite their struggles, and Argentina appear primed to punch their tickets to the quarterfinals as the top two teams in Pool D, but Samoa will have something to say about that. Japan will also be eyeing an upset or two, while Chile will look to be competitive.

Argentina (26.00)

The Pumas have made major strides since former Wallabies mentor Michael Cheika stepped into the head coach role last July. After starting the 2022 season with a 2-1 series win over Scotland, they romped to a record 48-17 win over Australia and claimed first-ever away victories over the All Blacks and England.

The high points of this year’s run-in to the World Cup saw them defeat the Wallabies Down Under for just the fourth time and push the world champion Springboks close in South Africa, succumbing 22-21, and find themselves in lofty sixth place in the world rankings, making them the highest-ranked team in the pool. 

The Argentinians have a history of saving their best rugby for the international extravaganza, finishing third in 2007 and fourth in 2015, along with previous quarterfinal appearances in 1999 and 2011. Seventh outright, they could emerge as true dark horses and will fancy their chances of downing embattled England in the crunch pool opener. 

Squad:

Forwards: Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Joel Sclavi, Thomas Gallo, Eduardo Bello, Julian Montoya (captain), Agustin Creevy, Ignacio Ruiz, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti, Facundo Isa, Pablo Matera, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Santiago Grondona, Marcos Kremer, Pedro Rubiolo, Rodrigo Bruni.

Backs: Gonzalo Bertranou, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Tomas Cubelli, Santiago Carreras, Nicolas Sanchez, Santiago Chocobares, Lucio Cinti, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Matias Moroni, Emiliano Boffelli, Juan Cruz Mallia, Mateo Carreras, Juan Imhoff, Rodrigo Isgro, Martin Bogado.

Head coach: Michael Cheika.

Chile (1001)

Chile are winners upon arrival in France. Pablo Lemoine’s men are ground-breakers, the first Los Cóndores team ever to qualify for the World Cup, a feat they achieved by pipping the USA 52-51 on aggregate to secure the Americas 2 berth.

There are four sets of siblings in the squad, with the brothers Escobar, Garafulic and Videla joined by the Saavedra twins. The majority of the group has been pulled from the Santiago-based Selknam Super Rugby Americas team and is captained by loose forward Martin Sigren, who became the first Chilean player to play professional rugby in England when he spent last season at the Doncaster Knights.

Squad:

Forwards: Javier Carrasco, Salvador Lues, Matias Dittus, Inaki Gurruchaga, Esteban Inostroza, Augusto Bohme, Tomas Dussaillant, Diego Escobar, Javier Eissmann, Pablo Huete, Santiago Pedrero, Augusto Sarmiento, Alfonso Escobar, Raimundo Martinez, Clemente Saavedra, Martin Sigren (captain), Ignacio Silva.

Backs: Lukas Carvallo, Marcelo Torrealba, Benjamin Videla, Rodrigo Fernandez, Santiago Videla, Pablo Casas, Matias Garafulic, Jose Ignacio Larenas, Domingo Saavedra, Franco Velarde, Nicolas Garafulic, Inaki Ayarza, Francisco Urroz.

Head coach: Pablo Lemoine.

England (15.00)

England are in shambles going into the global showpiece, a historic 30-22 defeat to Fiji in their final warm-up game adding to the woes of a dreadful Six Nations campaign that saw them finish fourth and take a record 53-10 hiding at home at the hands of France. 

It’s been a nightmare start to Steve Borthwick’s tenure, the opposite of what had been hoped when he took over from Eddie Jones last December. Problems persist, most of which stem from a lack of confidence and identity. Yet, lady luck has smiled on the Red Roses as they’ve landed on the easier side of the draw and are, thus, sixth outright. 

They’ll be tested right off the bat with the suspended duo of captain Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola, the only specialist No 8 in the squad, set to miss the all-important pool opener against Argentina. Farrell will also be forced to sit out the game against Japan.  

England, winners in 2003, made improbable runs to the final in 2007 and 2019, so there will be belief in the embattled group that they can follow suit.  

Squad:

Forwards: Ollie Chessum, Dan Cole, Tom Curry, Theo Dan, Ben Earl, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Joe Marler, George Martin, David Ribbans, Bevan Rodd, Kyle Sinckler, Will Stuart, Billy Vunipola, Jack Walker, Jack Willis

Backs: Henry Arundell, Danny Care, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell (captain), George Ford, Ollie Lawrence, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Jonny May, Alex Mitchell, Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward, Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs.

Head coach: Steve Borthwick.

Japan (251)

Japan are hoping to recapture the magic that saw them shock the world in the last two tournaments. In 2015, they famously stunned the Springboks 34-32 and went on to have a fairy tale campaign on home soil four years later, beating Ireland and Scotland en route to qualifying for the quarterfinals for the first time, where their remarkable run came to an end against South Africa. 

These Brave Blossoms are a far cry from the 2019 vintage, though, the demise of the Sunwolves Super Rugby side coming as a big blow. They’ve plummeted all the way down to 14th in the world rankings, below the likes of Georgia and Samoa, and their only win this season saw them edge Tonga 21-16.

Squad:

Forwards: Keita Inagaki, Craig Millar, Sione Halasili, Gu Ji Won, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Asaeli Ai Valu, Shota Horie, Atsushi Sakate, Kosuke Horikoshi, James Moore, Jack Cornelsen, Ben Gunter, Kazuki Himeno (captain), Shota Fukui, Michael Leitch.

Backs: Naoto Saito, Yutaka Nagare, Kenta Fukuda, Jumpei Ogura, Lee Seung Sin, Rikiya Matsuda, Tomoki Osada, Shogo Nakano, Ryoto Nakamura, Dylan Riley, Jone Naikabula, Siosaia Fifita, Semisi Masirewa, Lomano Lava Lemeki, Kotaro Matsushima.

Head coach: Jamie Joseph.

Samoa (501)

Samoa have made the most of World Rugby’s new eligibility rules to bolster their squad in the hopes of returning to their former glory. The Pacific Islanders reached the knockout phase in their first three World Cup appearances – in 1991, 1995 and 1999 – but have failed to do so in the five subsequent tournaments.

Seeking to break the trend, coach Seilala Mapusua has named three former All Blacks in his squad in Lima Sopoaga, Steven Luatua and Charlie Faumuina, as well as former Wallaby flyhalf Christian Leali’ifano.

Renowned for their physicality, Samoa secured wins over Japan (24-22) and Tonga (34-9) in the Pacific Nations Cup and gave No 1-ranked Ireland a scare in their final warm-up match, losing 17-13.

Squad:

Forwards: Michael Alaalatoa (co-captain), Brian Alainu’u’ese, Paul Alo-Emile, So’otala Fa’aso’o, Miracle Fai’ilagi, Charlie Faumuina, Seilala Lam, Jordan Lay, Fritz Lee, Steven Luatua, Sama Malolo, Theodore McFarland, Alamanda Taufua, Luteru Tolai, Chris Vui (co-captain).

Backs: Nigel Ah Wong, Ereatara Sotiaki Enari, Ed Fidow, Neria Foma’i, Ben Lam, Christian Leali’ifano, Alai D’Angelo Leuila, Tumua Manu, Melani Matavao, Duncan Paia’aua, Ulupano Junior Seuteni, Lima Sopoaga, Jonathan Taumateine, Danny Toala.

Head coach: Seilala Mapusua.

Fixtures:

England v Argentina

Saturday, 9 September – 21:00

Japan v Chile

Sunday, 10 September – 13:00

Samoa v Chile

Saturday, 16 September – 15:00

England v Japan

Sunday, 17 September – 21:00

Argentina v Samoa

Friday, 22 September – 17:45

England v Chile

Saturday, 23 September – 17:45

Japan v Samoa

Thursday, 28 September – 21:00

Argentina v Chile

Saturday, 30 September – 15:00

England v Samoa

Saturday, 7 October – 17:45

Japan v Argentina

Sunday, 8 October – 13:00

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at SARugby.com and senior staff writer at Rugby365.com, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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