Preview: Rugby World Cup Pool B

Source: Xinhua| 2019-09-20 19:35:09|Editor: mingmei
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By sportswriter Jonathan Dixon

TOKYO, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- As the 2019 Rugby World Cup kicks off Friday evening, a total of 20 teams start again to chase for the Webb Ellis Trophy, which is heading to Asia for the first time.

Following is a preview of Pool B which consists of New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Namibia and Canada:

New Zealand

Rank: 2nd

Previous best: Winners (1986, 2011, 2015)

Pushed off their mantel as the World's number one side last month, New Zealand heads to Japan with question marks around them for the first time in almost eight years. They failed to win the Rugby Championship (the Southern hemisphere's premier international rugby competition) for the first time since 2015. While the side looks to be in transition, the All Blacks still have arguably the best players in the world in every position and many would not bet against them retaining the trophy they won in England four years ago.

The All Blacks have a huge first game against the Rugby Championship victors South Africa, and the winner of that clash win almost certainly top the group. Topping the group for New Zealand will give them an easier, less physically demanding run to the final.


Kieron Read (33, Flanker, 122 caps) - Talismanic captain of the All Blacks who lead them to success four years ago. Perhaps the perfect rugby player, he is strong and a demon in the breakdown, while he has the pace and ball carrying skills of many backs. A leader on and off the field, Read will want to bow out of the international arena with a World Cup under his belt.

Player to watch

Beauden Barrett (28, Flyhalf, 78 caps) - Maybe an obvious choice, but Barrett on his day can be blockbuster. The World Player of the Year of 2016 and 2017 has blistering pace, amazing feet, and superb vision. With the rise of Richie Mo'unga to the flyhalf position, Barrett has found himself at fullback, where he is likely to start. For all his brilliance and his ability to win games single-handedly, he also has been at fault for a number of New Zealand losses with his often wayward place kicking. He will need to be on target in Japan.

What does success look like?

Winning the World Cup is the only option for the All Blacks. Anything else would be a failure for the side that has dominated World Rugby for so long.

South Africa

Rank: 4th

Previous best: Winners (1995, 2007)

South Africa faces the same challenge in Pool B as New Zealand. Faced with the mammoth task of overcoming New Zealand first up, the Boks will want to ensure victory to leave themselves an easier task of reaching the final. However, while the form of New Zealand has declined over the last 12 months, South Africa's form has been superb. Winning the Rugby Championship has given the side a lift and is a million miles away from the side that was beaten 57-0 by the All Blacks almost three years ago.

The side boasts the best attack in World Rugby, with a backline containing excellence in the centers and flair on the wings as well as consistency in the half-back positions. Added to that is a mean forward pack that brings an incredibly physical play to the game. This is a very different team to the one that lost to Japan four years ago and is one of the favorites for the trophy.


Siya Kolisi (28, Flanker, 43 caps) - A man who leads through example on the pitch. Kolisi, South Africa's first black captain, has been one of the driving forces behind the South African resurgence. Under his tenure, the Boks have become a top side again and one to be feared. A phenomenal player who will tackle everything put in front of him, he does a lot at the unseen work that lets players around him shine.

Player to watch

Cheslin Kolbe (25, Winger, 10 caps) - A little firecracker who has lit up the French Top 14 for two years now. While he is weaker in his defense as he only stands 172cm tall, he has the ability to score single-handedly from anywhere on the pitch. With an amazing side step, Kolbe is one player who will light up the competition.

What does success look like?

After the last 12 months, winning looks to be the only option. The surge in form and the cohesion exhibited by the Boks have made an already demanding fan base even more so. Reaching the final, which could well be a repeat of their first game, will be satisfactory though.


Rank: 14th

Previous best: Pool stage

Italy has been given the worst pool they could have hoped for. Grouped with two of the favorites, the Italians will just be hoping to leave the pool unscathed and with some of their pride intact. A constant questioning over their place in the Six Nations has dogged them for four years and heavy defeats to both the Boks and the All Blacks will heighten the pressure on them to justify their place at the top table in rugby.

Before the draw, head coach Conor O'Shea targeted escape from the pool stage for the first time in Italy's history, now that ambition looks like a distant dream.


Sergio Parisse (36, Flanker, 140 caps)

Player to watch

Sergio Parisse (36, Flanker, 140 caps) - The greatest Italian player and captain will bid farewell to the game at the conclusion of the tournament. A special player who could start for any side, of any era, in his prime. The face of Italian rugby will be at a record-equaling fifth World Cup and will leave a huge void in rugby in the country. The dream send-off would be a win over either South Africa or All Blacks and finally securing Italy a place in the quarterfinals.

What does success look like?

Avoiding cricket scores against the Boks and the All Blacks while comfortably putting away Canada and Namibia. The Italians will have to be tight in defense and clinical in attack to achieve these goals.


Rank: 22nd

Previous best: Quarterfinal

Canada finds itself in a strange place heading to Japan. Canadian rugby continues to suffer from underinvestment and dysfunctional management off-field. Coach Kingsley Jones has been in place for two years after the previous coach left after only a year and with many of the successful veterans of the previous World Cup no longer part of the team, Canada seems to be a team more in transition than peaking in their four-year cycle.


Tyler Ardron (28, Flanker, 34 caps)

Player to watch

DTH van der Merwe (33, Wing, 58 caps) - A sharp winger that was one of the most exciting players in 2015. At 33, DTH still has more than enough in his legs to do the same again.

What does success look like?

Lose to South Africa and New Zealand by less than 50 and challenge Italy. However, Canada really can be targeting the Italy game. A win here would be a nice scalp to return home to North America with.


Rank: 23rd

Previous best: Pool stage

Namibia will be appearing at their sixth straight World Cup and will be heading for their sixth straight World Cup pool exit. The tiny pool of players in the South-west African country means that the squad is usually bolstered with some South Africans, yet a country with only seven senior clubs and 800 or so registered senior rugby players cannot be expected to compete. Survival is the aim here.


Johan Deysel (27, Center, 34 caps)

Player to watch

Johan Deysel (27, Center, 34 caps) - Played during the last World Cup and scored a memorable try against eventual champions New Zealand. He would love to do the same again.

What does success look like?

Grabbing a very elusive World Cup win against Canada. It would be a wonderful moment for the nation, who qualify ever four years by virtue of being Africa's second rugby team.