Rugby World Cup – Group B preview: Can South Africa trouble mighty All Blacks?
In perhaps the most lopsided group in this year’s World Cup, it would something dramatic to stop three-time champions and current holders New Zealand and two-time winners South Africa from failing to reach the quarter-finals. Are Italy, Canada and Namibia up to the challenge? Erin McRitchie previews Group B.
The formidable All Blacks – need anything more be said? Winners of the past two World Cups and champions of the inaugural tournament in 1987, they obviously gain automatic qualification due to being the reigning champions. It is more than evident as well, that, despite rather recent losses to South Africa, Ireland and Australia, they will be looking to add a history making third trophy in a row to their over-flowing trophy cabinet.
In the sense of star players, is the whole squad an appropriate answer? If not, then names like Beauden Barrett and Ben Smith in the back division, along with Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Dane Coles and Kieran Read in the forward pack certainly stick out. All of them for not only their sheer astounding technical abilities, but also for their experience and leadership skills.
Coach Steve Hansen – who is currently enjoying his 17th year of test coaching and his 90% win ratio – will be hoping that his 17 forwards and 14 backs can once again get the job done. If this side were to have one rather prominent downfall, it would be that they have struggled to establish faith in a solid goal kicker since Dan Carter.
Another of the twelve automatic qualifiers to the tournament, the Springboks will be looking to add another championship to their haul, having been crowned champions of the 1995 and 2007 editions of the competition, though they haven’t finished higher than third since.
The team will, for the first time in its history, be led by a black captain as Siya Kolisi takes the armband. Other notable figures in amongst the 17 forwards and 14 backs include household name Willie le Roux and the ever distinguishable Faf de Klerk.
Coach Rassie Erasmus – a former Springbok himself, and a coach who has already had it confirmed that he will be in charge for a further two World Cups – will be looking for his midfield to show a bit more dynamism than what we have witnessed from them as of late. They do, however, enter the tournament with a recent win over fellow southern hemisphere side New Zealand – an outcome they will surely be looking to replicate in the group stages.
For Six Nations followers, the familiar faces of the Azzurri are one of the 12 automatic qualifiers to the competition. This year’s competition will quite possibly be bitter sweet as beloved players Sergio Parisse and Leonardo Ghiraldini will be featured in the World Cup for the last time.
The young portion of Italy’s squad will be looking to learn from the old guard whilst they still have the chance to share the pitch with them. Many people will be looking for players the likes of Sebastian Negri and David Sisi to begin stepping into the leadership roles that will soon be void of Parisse and Ghiraldini.
Coach since 2016, Irishman Conor O’Shea will more than likely be hoping to inflict as little damage on his 18 forwards and 13 backs as possible – this group will by no means prove to be an easy ride for the struggling Italian outfit, who have never progressed past the World Cup group stages.
Canada were the last team to qualify for this year’s tournament – qualification which they gained by winning the Repechage tournament earlier this year. They have been a familiar face in every tournament since the World Cup’s conception in 1987, and so, many rugby fans were happy to see them return once more. The quarter-finals in the second instalment of the competition in 1991 is the furthest they have ever progressed.
A capable side, the Canadians standout player will most likely be former Glasgow Warriors favourite DTH Van Der Merwe. The utility back player – who can cover centre, wing and fullback – is a confident try scorer for the national outfit, and is one of their most noticeable leaders.
Coach Kingsley Jones – himself a former Welsh flanker – has been in charge since 2017 and has selected a squad which includes 17 forwards and 14 backs. He will be looking for his side to try to make ground in the group stages, which will be tough considering the formidable opponents they find themselves grouped with.
This Southern African country – which has qualified on five previous occasions, though never reached past the group stages – gained qualification for this year’s tournament by winning the Rugby Africa Gold Cup.
Taking into account the retirement of Jacques Burger, the Namibian outfit are bereft of any well known, or recognisable faces. The only face which may seem familiar, for those up on their Super Rugby squads, is that of Sharks centre Johan Deysel who takes on the captaincy of his national side.
Coach Phil Davies – a retired Welsh forward who took the head position in 2016 – will merely be looking to ensure his side – which consists of 18 forwards and 13 backs – learns from all of the invaluable experience being part of the competition will provide.