Monday 14 October 2019

Coaching coups, twin towers reunited and no soap for Japan - David Kelly's World Cup weekend

Siale Piutau. Photo Getty
Siale Piutau. Photo Getty
David Kelly

David Kelly

David Kelly checks in with some of the interesting World Cup sub-plots as we reach the tournament's third weekend.

1. History shows player coup might spark Irish

If Ireland need any encouragement in how to cope with a stunning World Cup upset, the meeting of France and Tonga tomorrow will prompt reminders of how a setback can set up an unlikely revival.

The Pacific Islanders inflicted the only Tier Two loss ever suffered by France in World Cup history in 2011 yet Les Bleus still recovered to make it to the final - they did so with the aid of a players' coup though, so perhaps Joe Schmidt better watch his back.

Siale Piutau and Sione Kalamafoni start again, while Maxime Medard is the only survivor for the French, who have only ever suffered two other Tier Two defeats in the pro era - to Fiji only last year and Tonga, again, in 1999. That defeat to Fiji last year indicates that the French remain as unpredictable as always and a glimpse at their half-back selection is a giveaway.

The choice of Baptiste Serin and Romain Ntamack - son of erstwhile Irish World Cup sorcerer Emile - means that France will have had their third different half-back partnership at this World Cup.

2. Twin towers are reunited for All Blacks

The All Blacks face Namibia in the Tokyo Stadium tomorrow and will not only extend their World Cup winning sequence to a record 17th game but also expect to top the 58-14 margin of victory in their only other tournament meeting with the Africans in 2015.

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New Zealand have never lost a World Cup pool game and, astonishingly, of their 30 wins at this stage, 29 have been by at least ten points or more; a sequence which won't end this weekend.

While another of the multi-talented Barretts - Jordi - will become the 14th NZ RWC No 10, Steve Hansen will be most pleased to see the earlier than expected return of his talismanic totem in the second row, Brodie Retallick.

Retallick will join Samuel Whitelock in the second-row for a NZ record 52nd time; only South Africa's Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield have started more matches (60) together in Test history.

Retallick dislocated his left shoulder in July against South Africa and wasn't expected to be ready to play until at least the quarter-final stage.

Namibia have never earned a point at a World Cup but the All Blacks are unlikely to hit the 142-0 mark that the Wallabies inflicted in 2003 as the bookies only have them marked down as 70-point favourites.

Scant consolation for the minnows, whose only victory in history against a Tier One nation was, erm, against Ireland during the warm-up to the 1991 World Cup.

Johan Deysel makes his first start of this World Cup for the Namibians and he at least can boast that he knows how to score against the All Blacks, having done so four years ago.

3. Jones denied referee summit as Pumas prepare for war

They have promised a war today, and already, ahead of the mouth-watering clash between England and Argentina, a potential pre-battle summit has been denied Eddie Jones.

The irascible Aussie was desperate to meet with whistler Nigel Owens before a game that he has stated will test his side's "manlihood".

However, as World Rugby struggle to protect the refereeing "brotherhood", Jones was refused permission - even though such meetings are a regular occurrence during the Six Nations.

"We won't see the referee until he comes in before the game and he has bodyguards with him, so we can't get to him, we just smile and say 'hello'," said Jones.

England have won nine in a row against the Pumas but with their opponents planning a "war" against "boring" England, this promises to be a spectacularly spiteful game. Owens might have enough to take care of on the field without having to deal with Jones off it.

4. Japanese have no wish to take part in soap opera

Much of the focus in this World Cup has been on teams preparing for matches by applying soap to balls in order to cope with the forbidding heat and humidity - factors which have made a mockery of so many games.

The hosts, however, have had plenty of practice as they prepare to face Samoa today - as their win against the error-ridden Irish demonstrated.

"Leaders in the team proposed last week to put some soap on the ball and practise, which was immediately shot down by Jamie (Joseph, head coach)," says Michael Leitch.

"He said we don't have to do such things, we've been preparing all the way back from February and should trust in our own skills."

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