Early RWC exit for England
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
With the 2011 Rugby World Cup fast approaching, Alan Solomons runs the rule over the competing nations in a Sport24 exclusive. In our second instalment, he previews Pool B…
England are on the right track. They are slowly starting to settle as a side and I believe they are better than every other side in their pool. That said, I don’t believe they have the firepower to go all the way in the tournament. I feel they are a little light upfront. They have no major forceful power there. However, Dylan Hartley is a very good hooker and Matt Stevens will make a difference on his return. In the loose forwards, Nick Easter has shown he is a big player for them - as is Lewis Moody. They will provide the attrition in the pack. In the backs, Ben Foden is an excellent attacking fullback and Chris Ashton is a very good finisher - those two are their danger men. The problem though is that they lack pace in their midfield. Toby Flood is not a Jonny Wilkinson when it comes to the kicking game - he is a rather erratic, but will make the starting side for his combination with Ben Youngs and for his attacking edge. England are trying to play are more expansive game, with an accent on keeping possession. They have done well in previous World Cups and are an improving side. However, they are not yet the finished article and are a little light to make it through to the semi-finals and finals.
Best result: Champions (2003)
Prediction: Winners of their pool. Losing quarter-finalists against France.ARGENTINA
Los Pumas have lost the core of the successful 2007 World Cup side and have thus struggled in recent years. Retired scrumhalf Agustin Pichot was a key player for them and Marcelo Loffredo was the coach when the team came to fruition in 2007.I don’t believe they are as good a side as they were then. Many of their players are getting longer in the tooth – if you look at a guy like hooker Mario Ledesma for example. I don’t think their pack has the same power. Contepomi will be the key factor in their backline and offers versatility at flyhalf and inside centre, but I don’t believe he has the same leadership abilities as former skipper Pichot. They will miss the influence of injured pivot Juan Hernandez – who is a brilliant player. I don’t think they have quite the players to replace them and lack depth. Santiago Phelan is gaining experience as an international coach, but when Loffreda departed, he left a hole and I don’t think that has quite been filled. Argentina will be solid at scrum time and will boast a big, physical pack, but I don’t see them proving a major force in this tournament
Best result: Semi-finalists (2007)
Prediction: I see them fighting with Scotland for second place in the pool. If they make it through the pool, I don’t see them going any further.SCOTLAND
I think Andy Robinson has done a sterling job with this side. They are a real workman-like outfit. They have a very strong work ethic, but they have no real game breakers. They just haven’t produced the quality players they had all those years ago. They haven’t had a generation like that. Chris Paterson is a great goal kicker, but for me after that he is not a major factor. Their aren’t many players in their backline that would worry me. Winger Sean Lamont is a big, strong lad, but theren’t isn’t really a single game breaker in their side. In the pack, they have some good loose forwards and have a well-organised loose trio. They have great work ethic and play their hearts out. Scotland will give absolutely everything, but I feel England will have too much for them. I think they have a good chance of coming second by beating Argentina in the pool. They will be vulnerable, as will Argentina against a fired-up Georgian side. I think on the day its 50/50 whether or not they beat Argentina.
Best result: Semi-finalists (1991)
Prediction: Most likely to finish third, but could surprise Argentina and pip them to second.GEORGIA
Georgia are an improving side. They have a good solid pack of forwards, with most of their tight five players plying their trade in the French Top 14. When it comes scrum time and close quarter play they will acquit themselves well and won’t stand back to anyone. They have some big physical backs, but when the game speeds up, I think they are going to be found wanting. I don’t think it has to do with their conditioning – it is more about aligning their defence when the game speeds up. As a tier-two nation, the coaching they have received from a top tier mentor – Scot Richie Dixon - has been hugely beneficial. They have the ability to cause an upset against Scotland or Argentina. When the bigger sides move them around a bit – I think they will struggle. I think it’s their skill set that is most lacking, as they are not used to playing the game at a high tempo. Loose forward Mamuka Gorgodze is a good player and overall they have a very decent pack of forwards. I would take them to beat Romania, and could shock either Scotland or Argentina. They are capable of causing an upset.
Best result: Fourth in pool (2007)
Prediction: Probably finish fourth in pool, but could come third.ROMANIA
Romania also have a number of forwards playing in the French Top 14. They are not a bad side and in fact played very well against us (South African Kings) in the Nations Cup. They have improved in recent years, but I still believe Georgia have the edge over them and I would take the Georgians to beat them in the crunch tie. They are very similar sides in many ways, but I think they are slightly weaker than Georgia come scrum time and will be edged up front. They also suffer when a side plays at a higher tempo. Their hooker Marius Tincu is a very experienced player who plies his trade for Perpignan. He is very much the leader in the pack, but is now in the twighlight of his career. Flanker Ovidiu Tonita is also a very good player. I think he will be a key man. They will struggle in the backline, as they don’t play an expansive game to trouble the bigger nations. I think they will find it tough to register even one win in their pool.
Best result: Third in pool (1987, 1991, 1999)
Prediction: Last in pool.
*Next week, Alan Solomons will preview Pool C…Alan Solomons's Pool A previewAlan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.
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