Pool B: England and Scotland should progress but must be wary of scary Pumas

Click to follow
The Independent Online


Coach Martin Johnson

Captain Lewis Moody

the biggest, most financially powerful nation in the sport also happens to be the most successful World Cup country from north of the Equator. All the sums point to England doing well at these jamborees, and for the most part, they have delivered: one title, three finals, no embarrassing departures at the pool stage. And yet, for all their advantages – for all the time and money available to Johnson and his back-room team over the last three and a half years – the 2003 champions travel to New Zealand more in hope than expectation.

They will be strong in the tight-five department – they always are – and their discipline has improved dramatically since the yellow-card frenzy that defined the early stages of Johnson's stewardship. But there are issues in the back row of the scrum, serious problems in midfield and a question mark the size of Big Ben over their attacking quality, or lack of it.

Johnson assumes the rugby will tighten up once the knockout phase begins, and he will probably be proved correct. In that case, England's rampant agoraphobia will be to their advantage. However, the suspicion remains that the moment they meet a footballing side in form they will finish second.


Coach Andy RobinsonCaptain Alastair Kellock

one of Johnson's recent predecessors as England coach, Robinson can almost taste the sweet ambrosia of public redemption.

The Scots play their nearest and dearest in the final pool match and if, as it appears in advance, their fixture list helps them build game on game towards that contest, they could be a rare old handful.

Like the English, they have never failed to reach the sudden-death stage of a World Cup; unlike the English, they have never beaten one of the big Sanzar nations under tournament conditions. They would far rather face France than New Zealand in the last eight, so their motivation will be stratospherically high.

Pretty rugby is not an option for them – there is no sporting alchemist alive who could turn the base material of the Scotland back division into rugby gold. But, that said, they have a good bank of scrum-halves and some genuine class in the back row, where the open-side flanker, John Barclay, has all the necessary qualities to frustrate England – and, indeed, everyone else – on the floor.


Coach Santiago Phelan

Captain Felipe Contepomi

The South Americans travelled to France in 2007 as the world's sixth-ranked side, and finished third. They have slipped to ninth since then and if that rating is correct, they will miss out on a quarter-final place. How England and Scotland are praying that the men behind the maths know their stuff.

On the evidence of their one serious warm-up match, against Wales in Cardiff a little over a fortnight ago, they are a notch or two down from the high point they reached in Paris last time out: some of their wonderful grunt-and-groaners are now a little long in the tooth and there is no Juan Martin Hernandez, the "Maradona of rugby", in the No 10 shirt. Yet in Patricio Albacete and the two Juans – Fernandez Lobbe and Leguizamon – they have forwards of great potency and they have a sharp scrum-half in Nicolas Vergallo. Still dangerous? Definitely.


Coach Richie Dixon

Captain Irakli Abuseridze

Having scared the you-know-what out of Ireland in 2007, the men from the Caucasus will be taken extremely seriously this time round. Happily for them, they take themselves seriously too.

They have a quality coach in Richie Dixon, the Scot who surfaced in Tbilisi after falling victim to a round of cost-cutting at Murrayfield two-and-a-half years ago, and a bank of players who play a high level of club rugby in France. Not exactly known for their timidity, these people will rattle some ribs. However, contrary to that popular belief, not every Georgian player is a granite-boned prop. For example, Mamuka Gorgodze, a flanker, was first pick for wealthy Montpellier last season and he played in the Top 14 final against Toulouse.


Coach Romeo Gontineac

Captain To be confirmed

You have to cry for Romanian rugby, for the country could have been a contender.

They beat France, Scotland and Wales during the 1980s, when their army-based side had the advantage of professional-style preparation, yet the blazered brigade in charge of the Five Nations Championship refused to grant them admittance.

When the major unions went professional themselves after the 1995 World Cup, the prospects of anything positive happening in Bucharest had long disappeared.

They still have good players – the prop Paulica Ion, hooker Marius Tincu, the flanker Ovidiu Tonita to name but three – but they ply their trade abroad.

And as for Catalin Fercu, the national captain from Timisoara, who is probably the best of their backs, he has withdrawn from the tournament because of he has a deep-rooted fear of flying, a decision which has riled other members of the squad.