October 14, 2019, 1:58

Rugby World Cup 2019: Pool A preview – Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Samoa, Russia

Rugby World Cup 2019: Pool A preview – Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Samoa, Russia

Japan, Ireland, Scotland, Samoa and Russia face off in Pool A, with the two highest-ranked sides – Ireland and Scotland – facing each other in week one.

Four years ago, Japan shocked the rugby world by beating South Africa in England on the biggest stage of all. This month, they will host rugby’s showpiece and look to make a first quarter-final.

Below we take a look at each nation’s 31-man squad, pick a key player to focus on, go through current form and bring you all of the pool’s fixtures…

POOL A

Ireland

Head coach: Joe Schmidt

Captain: Rory Best (120 caps)

Previous Rugby World Cup best: Quarter-finals (1987, 1991, 1995, 2003, 2011, 2015)

Key player: James Ryan. The 23-year-old second row has developed into the most important and consistent performer within the Ireland squad. His work in the loose and at ruck time is critical both to Ireland’s attacking phase play and defensive sets. With Devin Toner omitted from the squad, Ryan will also have to step up more at the lineout.

Current form: Curiously enough, despite enduring a far tougher 2019 than 2018, Ireland head into the World Cup as the No 1 ranked side in the world for the first time in history. Last year saw them beat all before them as they won a Six Nations Grand Slam, series victory in Australia and beat the All Blacks in Dublin. This year, they have suffered heavy defeats to Wales and England (twice), with their general form and confidence rocked. Their final pre-World Cup win over Wales in Dublin was impressive though and will give them a pep in their step heading to Japan.

31-man World Cup squad:

Forwards (17): Rory Best (c), Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne, Iain Henderson, Jean Kleyn Peter O’Mahony Andrew Porter, Rhys Ruddock, James Ryan, John Ryan, Niall Scannell, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier.

Backs (14): Bundee Aki, Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Luke McGrath, Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose, Jonathan Sexton, Jacob Stockdale.

Fixtures:

  • Ireland vs Scotland, Sunday, September 22 (8.45am)
  • Japan vs Ireland, Saturday, September 28 (8.15am)
  • Ireland vs Russia, Thursday, October 3 (11.15am)
  • Ireland vs Samoa, Saturday, October 12 (11.45am)

Scotland

Head coach: Gregor Townsend

Captain: Stuart McInally (29 Tests)

Previous Rugby World Cup best: Semi-finals (1991)

Key player: Finn Russell. When Russell is on form, Scotland are a very dangerous side to defend against and difficult to contain. His pace, passing ability off either hand and propensity to step through the line make him a super attacking threat. The sort of maverick talent that he is though, means that when he is off his game, so too invariably are Scotland.

Current form: A bit like Ireland, Scotland will look back on 2018 more fondly than 2019. In the former, they beat England, France, Argentina (home and away) and Fiji, while also giving the Springboks a good go. In 2019, they have lost to Ireland, France and Wales, while also drawing with England from the jaws of a 38-38 victory at Twickenham. In the warm-ups, things couldn’t have started worse with a demoralising 32-3 loss in France, but they recovered to beat France at home and Georgia home and away. All in all, their form is a mixed bag.

31-man World Cup squad:

Forwards (17): John Barclay, Simon Berghan, Fraser Brown, Scott Cummings, Allan Dell, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Stuart McInally (c), WP Nel, Gordon Reid, Jamie Ritchie, Blade Thomson, Ben Toolis, George Turner, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson.

Backs (14): Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Adam Hastings, Stuart Hogg, George Horne, Peter Horne, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn, Greig Laidlaw, Sean Maitland, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour, Duncan Taylor.

Fixtures:

  • Ireland vs Scotland, Sunday, September 22 (8.45am)
  • Scotland vs Samoa, Monday, September 30 (11.15am)
  • Scotland vs Russia, Wednesday, October 9 (8.15am)
  • Japan vs Scotland, Sunday, October 13 (11.45am)

Japan

Head coach: Jamie Joseph

Captain: Michael Leitch (62 caps)

Previous Rugby World Cup best: Pool stage (1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015)

Key player: Michael Leitch. Not only their skipper, Leitch is Japan’s best player, with his offloading game, breakdown skills and general work ethic superb. He’s a key leader for this squad, and was central in the decision making four years ago to dismiss the chance of a draw for a shot at beating the Boks – the greatest upset the sport has ever seen.

Current form: In truth, Japan’s form over the last couple of years against Tier 1 opposition does not make for great reading. Bar one victory over Italy in Oita in 2018, they have been soundly beaten by New Zealand, England and South Africa – though there is no shame in defeat to perhaps the three World Cup favourites – while also having lost against Italy in another Test. They have beaten Fiji, Tonga, Georgia, Russia and Italy. Will they shock Ireland and Scotland?

31-man World Cup squad:

Forwards (18): Michael Leitch (c), Keita Inagaki, Yusuke Kizu, Jiwon Koo, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Valu, Takuya Kitade, Atsushi Sakate, Shota Horie, Luke Thompson, Wimpie van der Walt, Uwe Helu, James Moore, Hendrik Tui, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Pieter Labuschagne, Kazuki Himeno, Amanaki Mafi.

Backs (13): Kaito Shigeno, Fumiaki Tanaka, Yutaka Nagare, Yu Tamura, Rikiya Matsuda, Kenki Fukuoka, Ataata Moeakiola, Lomano Lemeki, William Tupou, Ryoto Nakamura, Timothy Lafaele, Kotaro Matsushima, Ryohei Yamanaka.

Fixtures:

  • Japan vs Russia, Friday, September 20 (11.45am)
  • Japan vs Ireland, Saturday, September 28 (8.15am)
  • Japan vs Samoa, Saturday, October 5 (11.30am)
  • Japan vs Scotland, Sunday, October 13 (11.45am)

Samoa

Head coach: Steve Jackson

Captain: Chris Vui (14 caps)

Previous Rugby World Cup best: Quarter-finals (1991, 1995)

Key player: Chris Vui. You only have to listen to Pat Lam and Eddie Jones speak about Vui to know the talent the lock possesses. Indeed, the phrase ‘world class’ has even been used. Power and dexterous hands, he’s a super player.

Current form: Not good. Over the last two years, the only nations they have beaten have been Germany, Spain and Tonga. They have lost to Fiji (twice), Tonga, Georgia, the USA (twice) and Australia. But with most of their Europe-based players back in now, they could come alive this World Cup.

31-man World Cup squad:

Forwards (17): Afaesetiti Amosa, TJ Ioane, Jack Lam, Piula Fa’asalele, Josh Tyrell, Chris Vui (c), Teofilo Paulo, Kane Leaupepe, Senio Toleafoa, Michael Alaalatoa, Paul Alo-Emile, James Lay, Jordan Lay, Logovi’i Mulipola, Motu Matu’u, Ray Niuia, Seilala Lam.

Backs (14): Ed Fidow, Tim Nanai-Williams, Ahsee Tuala, Belgium Tuatagaloa, Henry Taefu, Alapati Leiua, Reynold Lee-Lo, Kieron Fonotia, AJ Atatimu, Tusi Pisi, Ulupano Seuteni, Dwayne Polotaivao, Melani Matavao, Scott Malolua.

Fixtures:

  • Russia vs Samoa, Tuesday, September 24 (11.15am)
  • Scotland vs Samoa, Monday, September 30 (11.15am)
  • Japan vs Samoa, Saturday, October 5 (11.30am)
  • Ireland vs Samoa, Saturday, October 12 (11.45am)

Russia

Head coach: Lyn Jones

Captain: Vasily Artemyev (88 caps)

Previous Rugby World Cup best: Pool stage (2011)

Key player: Andrei Ostrikov. The lock is one of only two Russia players to ply their trade outside of the country, and has experience of performing for Agen in France and Sale Sharks in England where he featured between 2011 and 2019. He has signed for Top 14 club Grenoble for the forthcoming season.

Current form: This month’s showpiece will only be Russia’s second World Cup participation, having previously featured in 2011 without victory, failing to qualify in 2015. Their form is fairly abysmal, having shipped 85 points to Italy in the build-up, and lost to the likes of Jersey Reds and Connacht. They open the tournament against Japan on Friday September 20.

31-man World Cup squad:

Forwards (18): Azamat Bitiev, Andrey Garbuzov, Kirill Gotovtsev, Victor Gresev, Bogdan Fedotko, Vitaliy Zhivatov, Evgeny Matveev, Andrey Polivalov, Vladimir Podrezov, Evgeny Yelgin, Stanislav Selsky, Nikita Vavilin, Sergey Chernyshev, Tagir Gadzhiev, Roman Khodin, Andrei Ostrikov, Valery Morozov, Anton Sychev.

Sourse: skysports.com

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