Pool D: Wales have old scores to settle while holders bank on wealth of experience - International - Rugby Union - The Independent

Pool D: Wales have old scores to settle while holders bank on wealth of experience


South Africa

Coach Peter de Villiers

Captain John Smit

springbok rugby has sailed through some turbulent waters since Jake White, aided and abetted by the Australian coach Eddie Jones, guided the team to a second world title in 2007, and there has been many a moment when South Africa's oval-ball community has cried out for the same men to replace Peter de Villiers, the first black man to coach the national team – although not necessarily the first man to say daft things during his time in the job.

For all that, the overriding feeling when De Villiers revealed his hand for the forthcoming tournament was one of familiarity: there are more players in the Springbok party who really know what they're doing at international level than in any of the other 19 squads. Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie and Jean de Villiers; Butch James and Fourie du Preez; John Smit, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Pierre Spies... these are all proven winners in the least forgiving of rugby environments. If the "Jones Doctrine" is correct – if teams need at least 650 caps' worth of experience if they are to challenge seriously for the Webb Ellis Trophy – the reigning champions are in a good place.





Wales

Coach Warren Gatland Captain Sam Warburton

first up, the Springboks. Thanks a million. If Wales are planning on starting their campaign with a confidence-boosting victory, they are going to have to find something pretty special. They will get a lot closer to the Boks in Wellington on Sunday than they did in Pretoria back in 1998, when, losing 96-13 in the final minute of a truly desperate game, they heard the aggressive South African hooker James Dalton say to one of their substitutes: "Ay, you must be a seriously shit player to be on the bench for this lot." All the same, there is a big difference to getting closer and winning.

The crucial fixture is the follow-up match against Samoa in Hamilton. Wales have rich experience of messing up against the Pacific Islands nations: fond of broken-field rugby themselves, the Red Dragons tend to play free-running opponents into a game rather than out of it. If they can tighten themselves up, dictate the tempo and give George North, Shane Williams, Jamie Roberts and the brilliant James Hook front-foot possession in the right areas, they can win, but the challenge will be formidable.





Samoa

Coach Titimaea Tafua

Captain Mahonri Schwalger

the samoans, quarter-finalists in 1991 and 1995, were far from confident of revisiting the knockout stage at the 2007 tournament in France, but they sure as hell did not expect to lose to Tonga, their South Seas neighbours, in the pool phase. The misery suffered four years ago led to a profound reassessment of their approach to international rugby, and in the years since they have started to re-establish themselves as a significant force.

At a conservative estimate, there are half-a-dozen players who could upset the applecart in time-honoured fashion: the wings Sailosi Tagicakibau and Alesana Tuilagi, the centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, the scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i, the lock Joe Tekori and the flanker Maurie Fa'asavalu. But these are simply the ones we know about in advance, and remember... it is a mere six weeks since they beat a very decent Wallaby side in Sydney.





Fiji

Coach Samu Domoni

Captain Deacon Manu

how wales must be loving this. Having been bounced out of the 1991 World Cup by Samoa – they lost to the same opponents in the 1999 tournament, but qualified for the quarter-finals anyway – they copped it from the Fijians four years ago, a result that cost Gareth Jenkins his job as coach. Talk about the group of "not feeling terribly well".

If Fiji always have the potential to be spectacular, they also have the potential to be spectacularly bad. Their build-up to this tournament has been on the rotten side of dodgy, having run into all manner of political problems with a New Zealand government uncomfortable with welcoming representatives of an army-dominated regime, and one of the Fijian locks, Leone Nakawara, has had to resign from his job in the forces just to get himself an entry visa. Will this turmoil be reflected in the team's performance? And if so, in what way?

It is anyone's guess. Generally speaking, the Fijians make up for their struggles at the set pieces by playing the rugby of the gods out wide. They certainly have the wings to cause all manner of mischief, but they remain the most mysterious of the competing teams.





Namibia

Coach Johan Diergaardt

Captain Jacques Burger

regular premiership-watchers have come to know and respect – even to love – the magnificent Burger, whose all-or-nothing performances were at the heart of Saracens' march towards a first title last season. If there were 14 other Burgers, or even half a dozen, the Namibians would win some games. Sadly, there is only one of him – and not even he can do it alone.

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