The penultimate round of the 2023 Rugby World Cup pool stages included a mixture of close matches and runaway wins, with New Zealand’s hammering of Italy quite the statement.
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20. Romania (–)
Eight points for; 242 against after three matches. In the pool of death, of course, and the “easiest” match – against Tonga – still to come, but it’s grim reading for the Romanians.
19. Namibia (–)
Having scored 37 points in a pool that is almost as tough as Romania’s means that Namibia avoid the wooden spoon – so far. Both Namibia and Chile are the first teams to finish their pool-stage campaign and, although they will be richer for the experience, it has not been an easy ride for them. They need more quality fixtures.
18. Chile (–)
Officially, Los Cóndores were the lowest-ranked side in the tournament but they gave a better account of themselves than the two sides below them in our table.
17. Uruguay (-4)
Given at one stage in their wooden-spoon shoot-out in Pool A, Uruguay looked as if they might lose to struggling Namibia, Los Teros were always destined for a drop. The severity of that fall, however, has come about more from others’ improvements than their own shortcomings. It was tight.
16. Samoa (-4)
Have they been the tournament’s biggest disappointments? There’s certainly an argument for it. Not necessarily in the results - although most would have predicted them to beat Japan – but certainly in the abject, inaccurate nature of the performances. Samoa ran both Argentina and Japan close in a pool which has lacked quality; crucially, on both occasions, their adversaries emerged victorious.
15. Tonga (+1)
In every match Tonga have played, against fearsome opposition, they have shown glimpses – but glimpses have not been enough to stop the Pacific Islanders sitting on zero points in Pool B, above Romania only on points difference. Of course, the fact that Sunday night’s loss to South Africa is the first time that Tonga have faced the Springboks since the 2007 World Cup remains a disgrace.
14. Portugal (+1)
The pundits keep on telling us that Fiji are everyone’s second team this tournament, but Portugal have emerged as this tournament’s great entertainers. Drawing with Georgia, pushing Wales hard and then forcing a reeling Australia onto the ropes, Portugal receive extra points for their enterprise, ambition and joy. Their willingness to keep the ball alive should be admired - and, against Fiji next weekend, Patrice Lagisguet’s side could still have a say on the quarter-final line-up.
13. Georgia (+4)
Drastic improvements from the Lelos – and, after a limp loss to Australia and a second-half capitulation against Portugal, they were needed. Jumping up four places flatters them a touch given they lost but they pushed Fiji, nigh-certain quarter-finalists, all the way in Bordeaux. Georgia could (and should) have won; but the fact that is even part of the equation is evidence of their mid-tournament progression.
12. Italy (-3)
New Zealand were sublime but it was a total horror-show for Italy, undermining much of the hard work that the Azzurri have done to build what is undoubtedly the most skilful Italian side of all time. An awful day at the office; a response against France – who can still be eliminated with an Italy victory – is vital.
11. Japan (+3)
Japan have not exactly set the world alight in Pool D, either, and a three-place raise – courtesy of other failures – flatters them. The Cherry Blossoms just about got past a faltering Samoa side to set up a winner-takes-all showdown with Argentina on Sunday.
10. Australia (+1)
Generous, perhaps, but a win is a win – and a bonus-point variety at that – and Australia could only play what was in front of them. As it was, it was never really going to be enough to prevent what is likely to be an historic pool-stage exit. Fiji need only a point from their match against Portugal next Sunday to progress at the Wallabies’ expense.
9. Argentina (+1)
Similarly to the Wallabies, Argentina have a modest one-spot rise due to defeating their inferior opposition - and nothing more. The game was not exactly a classic in terms of quality – despite the 64 points on show – but it does leave Los Pumas knowing that a win against Japan next week will see them through to the quarter-finals, probably to face Wales.
8. Fiji (-3)
The meek, muddled showing against Georgia probably tells us little about this Fijian side going forward but, in 80 minutes against the Lelos, Fiji were pretty poor. A godly offload from Levani Botia saved them an almighty embarrassment but they know they have more tumultuous challenges to come. And, vitally, Fiji still found a way to win.
7. Wales (–)
Having not played and with few big games this weekend, Wales stay put. Victory over Georgia next weekend, winning Pool C in the process, should keep them banging on the door of the top five, while a loss to Los Lelos could see them tumble.
6. England (–)
Like Wales, England remain constant, owing to the fact they have not played a game this weekend. Also like Wales, however, a loss to Samoa next Saturday – which could see them surrender top spot in the pool to the winner of Argentina v Japan – could see them plummet down the rankings, while victory over the Pacific Islands would keep the pressure on the top five, winning Pool D, with a quarter-final to come.
5. Scotland (+3)
To progress to the quarter-finals, Scotland need to tick two boxes. The first – hammering Romania – was achieved with ease, not conceding a point with Darcy Graham runniot riot. The second - hammering Ireland - would take an effort of Herculean proportions. On an unrelated note, this tournament continues to wait for its proper upset. All eyes turn to Paris next Saturday.
4. France (-1)
The hosts are guilty of a New Zealand masterclass and not having played. They remain one of the tournament favourites and it is going to take an almighty team to stop them. Plus, captain Antoine Dupont is on course for a miraculous recovery, with hopes that the scrum-half might be fit for the quarter-finals (perhaps adorning mask). All that said, a loss to Italy – unlikely as that is – and Les Bleus would likely be packing their bags (and not travelling far with them).
3. New Zealand (+1)
To think that people thought the All Blacks had had some of their aura sapped? Last Friday, the Kiwis made a more-than-competent Italy look thoroughly inept. New Zealand were phenomenal; few teams could have lived with them. Ireland – probable quarter-final opponents – will not have viewed the Azzurri victory with any joy whatsoever.
2. South Africa (–)
Professional and eventually ruthless, South Africa stay put after dispatching the Tongan challenge in Marseille. The Springboks, in the first half especially, had their feathers ruffled by the Pacific Islanders’ physicality – but, given what the reigning world champions went through last weekend in Paris, they can be forgiven. They remain one of the teams to beat.
1. Ireland (–)
No team did enough to knock match-less Ireland from their perch this weekend. It seems almost perverse to write this given that the most recent victory of Andy Farrell’s side was against the reigning world champions, but their acid test – mentally, at least – comes against Scotland. A loss, and Ireland could exit in the pool stages.
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