England (World Ranking 5th)
History – Surprise finalists last time out where they were edged out by a Springbok side that had battered them only a couple of weeks earlier in their group game. In stark contrast to the national football team, the rugby boys always seem to turn up at the big show and perform well.
Players to Watch – Jonny Wilkinson’s boot and defence hasn’t been a secret weapon for a long, long time but still an important component for this team. Youngsters like Flood and Youngs have proved they have what it takes at the top level and in Chris Ashton, England have a world class finisher.
Predictions – A semi final match up with the Australians who will be hell bent on revenge after Sydney (2003) and Marseille (2007) It will be close but unfortunately for England, third time lucky for the Aussies it might be.
Argentina (World Ranking 9th)
History – Another of the surprise packages in 2007 where they embarrassed the French not once but twice on home soil. Sacre-bleu! Have improved with every World Cup showing and will benefit from joining the rugby elite in an expanded Tri Nations from next year.
Players to Watch – With such an impressive tournament in France, the Argentineans are sticking to the ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ school of thought and have the pretty much the same, albeit 4 year older (experienced?) squad. Their front row are pensioners and Felipe Contepomi will attempt to pull the strings again.
Predictions – Quarter Finals. A chance to shock England and win the group is possible. But they should not and the All Blacks will send the Pumas back to Buenos Aires with some food for thought for the Four Nations next summer.
Scotland (World Ranking 7th)
History – World Ranking – 7. When the hell did that happen? Scotland seem to go from tournament to tournament threatening much and delivering so little. Would it have been so different had old Gavin Hastings not missed that sitter in the 1991 semi against England? No. Probably not.
Players to Watch – Chris Paterson can always be relied upon with the boot and Dan Parks makes them tick. The best thing for Scotland will be a lot of wet weather where they can force mistakes from the opposition and sneak a victory.
Predictions – Argentina is the key game here in a rematch of the quarter final (anyone else seeing a lot of rematches?) in 2007. Same result will leave the Scots out in the cold at the group stages.
Georgia (World Ranking 16th)
History – Probably the high point for these minnows has been to scare the shit out of the Irish and almost steal a victory in 2007. Rugby is a growing game and the sevens team have been useful for some years now.
Players to Watch – Seriously? The big dude? You know, the Ivan Drago looking fella. See him? Ok well Mamuka Gorgodze at number 8 is useful. The majority of the squad play in France so have experience of top flight rugby.
Predictions – 4th in the group. Don’t rule out them giving Argentina or Scotland a game as well.
Romania (World Ranking 17th)
History – Another that have never really kicked on in the rugby world. Once a challenge for top sides, now just the best of the rest in Europe outside the Six Nations is all that they can hope for.
Players to Watch – I’m starting to regret this segment! Paulica Ion in the front row is a beast and might be recognised by die hard London Irish or Bath fans. Ovidiu Tonita at number 8 might catch the eye too.
Predictions – 5th in the group. It is good night for the Bucharest boys I’m afraid. Nothing to see here. Move on.
By Conan Jal