On paper, Ireland and South Africa are favorites for the final title and should qualify in the quarter. Until then, their course will deserve to be watched with insistence, in particular because it is this pool which will designate the opponent of the XV of France in the quarter-finals. It's hard to know which team is best to take. First element of response this Saturday afternoon with the entry into the running at 3 p.m. of the last winners of the 6 Nations Tournament against Romania in Bordeaux (3 p.m.).
The South Africans are the reigning world champions and have never lost in the final phase of the World Cup against a team from the northern hemisphere. The Irish are number 1 in the world, they remain on a Grand Slam and their last defeat dates back to July 2, 2022, against the All Blacks. The South Africans and the Irish will meet on September 23, for their third match. The winner will have posed a serious option for qualification, but will surely leave feathers there. By innovating during the preparation matches with the bench with seven forwards, the Springboks have clearly stated their intention of a frontal and direct game.
But a surprise is not to be excluded as this hen is dense. Blame it on a draw made in the midst of the Covid crisis, when some nations had not played since the last World Cup. As a result, three of the five best teams in the world will therefore compete for two places in the quarter-finals, since Scotland, 5th nation in the standings, plays the role of outsider here. They will need a feat to dislodge the two huge favorites. The Irish have not lost against the XV du Chardon since 2017 (27-22 victory for the Scots at Murrayfield). The South Africans since 2010 (a rather unlikely 21-17 defeat when the Scots were at their lowest). And yet doubt is allowed.
The Scots approach this edition in much better conditions than four years ago, when they were eliminated by Japan, after a pathetic inaugural defeat against Ireland. They have the advantage of playing the Boks in the first game. A difficult confrontation, but the result of which cannot seal the fate of either team. In case of defeat, the Scots can still qualify. For that, they will have to beat Ireland in particular in their last match. Conversely, a victory would not qualify them… Nor would it eliminate the Boks from the competition. Recall that the South Africans suffered a surprise defeat in England in 2015 against Japan, but managed to pull themselves together to finally be eliminated in the semi-finals against the eventual winners of the competition, the All Blacks. When the Japanese returned home, despite having three group wins.
The difference for the final classification could therefore be decided on points, if by chance the Scots manage to thwart the predictions against one of the two favorites. If the other two teams that make up this group have no chance of qualifying, they will have a decisive role. The Irish are not mistaken, because they line up their big team against the Romanians who haven't shown much for several years. “They had lined up a B team against Samoa in a warm-up match, and only won 17-13, comments the former coach of the XV of France, Philippe Saint-André. This is perhaps the weakness of this team, a fairly limited bench depth.
The three big teams will look to fill up by adding an offensive bonus and taking care of the gaps. On the other hand, the fifth team in this group could be much more than a foil. Tonga have never qualified for a World Cup final phase, but beat France in 2011. This year, their squad was reinforced thanks to a change in regulations from international bodies, with players having worn the New Zealand or Australian jersey like the three-quarter All Blacks center Malakai Fekitoa. But, despite these reinforcements, this summer, the team finished last in the competition pitting it against other Pacific nations. They then beat Australia A and Canada. While it is unlikely to see them win more than one match, they will undoubtedly offer tough opposition, renowned as they are for their frontal play and their tackles which are often at the extreme limit of the rule.
In such a context, the two teams that will manage to get out of this group will perhaps be those that have managed to avoid the biggest injuries. But a legitimate question arises for the rest of the competition: after such adversity in the group, will one of these teams be able to finish as world champions, especially since they will have to survive in the quarter-finals of the All Blacks or French? “The Irish are favorites, but they are not used to stringing together more than two high-level matches,” judge Philippe Saint-André. During the Tournament, there is always a break week. I think the sequence, South Africa, Scotland, then the quarter-final will be very difficult for them..."