The Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool Allocation Draw last month threw up some mouthwatering matches, so we continue by looking at Pool B, which features South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and Asia 1 and Americas 2 qualifiers.
By Jon Newcombe
Banter between Jean de Villiers and David Lemi immediately before the Rugby World Cup Pool Allocation Draw took place in London last month suggested that surely, for once, South Africa and Samoa would avoid each other in the pool stages at England 2015.
Not a chance. A few minutes later the two nations were drawn together for the fourth Rugby World Cup in a row as Rugby World Cup Limited Chairman Bernard Lapasset revealed two-time tournament winners South Africa would join Samoa, Scotland and the Asia 1 and Americas 2 qualifiers in Pool B.
Seeded higher than ever before in the history of the Rugby World Cup, Samoa will fear no one at England 2015. They have never beaten South Africa before in seven attempts, four of them on the Rugby World Cup stage, but they showed at RWC 2011 that the gap is definitely narrowing.
Even with the loss of full back Paul Williams to a 69th-minute red card Samoa had the Springboks on the rack for the majority of the second half at North Harbour Stadium, and had they not spurned a couple of good opportunities they could easily have achieved a ground-breaking win. As it was they only had a George Stowers try to show for their efforts in a 13-5 defeat.
South Africa have gone on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in two of the four tournaments where they have faced Samoa. In 1995, at the quarter-final stage, they won a bruising encounter 42-14 during which Chester Williams announced his arrival on the world stage with four tries.
The Springboks turned in their best performance of what was an otherwise disappointing campaign in 2003 to beat Samoa 60-10 in their final pool match.
Four years later in France they took an impressive first step on the road to glory with a 59-7 win. Bryan Habana emulated Williams’ feat of 1995 with four tries in a game that also saw Samoa’s veteran wing Brian Lima take to the field in a record fifth Rugby World Cup.
In their one and only Rugby World Cup appearance against Scotland, at Murrayfield in 1999, South Africa won 46-29. For much of the match there was little to separate the reigning world and Five Nations champions. Scotland actually held a three-point advantage at the break, but some poor tactical kicking and an errant pass from Gregor Townsend, which led to an interception try, saw South Africa pull clear.
Just over a fortnight later the same venue staged the quarter-final play-off between Scotland and Samoa. Scotland’s superiority in the set-piece told and they won 35-20 to make it two tournament wins from two against the Pacific Islanders, having beaten them on home soil in the 1991 quarter-final thanks to a brace of tries from flanker John Jeffrey and one from wing Tony Stanger.
With 20 straight bonus-point victories in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations, and 312 points scored and just 11 conceded in their four Top 5 matches in 2012, it would be a major surprise if Japan were not representing Asia at Rugby World Cup 2015.
Japan hasn’t won a Rugby World Cup match in 20 years of trying, but with Eddie Jones now at the helm they will fancy their chances of ending that run when the tournament comes to England.
Jones, as head coach, led the Wallabies into the Rugby World Cup 2003 Final on home soil, and then acted as technical advisor when South Africa went one better four years later.
The Brave Blossoms, who have never played South Africa at the Rugby World Cup, will certainly not lack for confidence under Jones’ tutelage.
“Previously Japanese teams have gone to the World Cup saying they are going to win one game, win two games … for us we’ll have an entirely different approach because we will go there to win every game,” Jones insisted at the Pool Allocation Draw.
Japan have played Scotland twice before and Samoa once, all three games ending in defeat.
Seven different names found their way onto the try-scorer’s list as Scotland brushed aside Japan, 47-9, at RWC 1991, but the same fixture 12 years later in Australia proved a much more competitive affair.
Buoyed by the local Townsville support at the Dairy Farmer’s Stadium, Japan trailed the Scots by just four points with 15 minutes remaining before eventually losing 32-11.
At RWC 1999, Samoa beat Japan 43-9. The Pacific Islanders ran in five tries in Wrexham, with wings Afato So'oalo and Lima grabbing two each and Silao Leaega crossing on his way to a personal haul of 23 points.
The Americas 2 place in Pool B at RWC 2015 is more than likely to be filled by either Canada or the USA – although Uruguay, in particular, will hope to disprove that prediction. Of these three nations Canada has the better Rugby World Cup record, winning seven of 25 tournament matches and reaching the quarter-final stage in 1991.
Canada and Japan were paired together at each of the last two tournaments with both matches ending in draws, 12-12 in Bordeaux in 2007 and 23-23 in Napier four years later.
Fuses were blown in more ways than one in Canada’s only RWC match against South Africa. A power failure at the ground in Port Elizabeth caused a 45-minute delay to the kick off, and once the action got underway it was clear that referee David McHugh would have his work cut out.
A match full of niggle throughout finally erupted with a mass fracas in the 70th-minute that led to three players being sent off. South Africa went on to win 20-0. Canada has never played Scotland at a Rugby World Cup.
Should USA qualify as Americas 2 they will be embarking on their seventh Rugby World Cup campaign, 1995 the only tournament they have missed. Two of the USA’s three tournament victories (in 21 outings) have come against Japan, 21-18 (1987 – in their first-ever Rugby World Cup fixture) and 39-26 (2003).
Their only other Rugby World Cup win came last time out in New Zealand against Russia, with losses recorded against all their other possible pool opponents at various points in between.
Next week ... Pool C.