406. MrsDavy’s Guide To RWC2015 #8

MrsDavy and I occasionally, not enough, play Bridge. As I keep reminding her, it’s not the cards you’re dealt that matters, it’s how you play them. The sequence of play is everything.

For the advanced student of RWC2015 (pay attention MrsDavy) this issue is intriguing: what impact does the sequence of the pool matches have on team selection and strategy?

Take, for example, Pool C.

The toughest match in the pool, between the two highest ranked sides New Zealand and Argentina, is the first played. The assumption is that the All Blacks will play their top XV, to test the troops and provide a foundation for the whole campaign. If you’re Daniel Hourcade, the Argentina coach, do you have a crack or keep your powder dry, given that the odds of winning are heavily against you?

Then think of Tonga, the third ranked team in the pool. You can be sure they’re not turning up just for the Tower of London tour.  They’ll be targeting their third match, against Argentina, as the one that would get them through to the quarters. (And remember that they beat France in the pool match in RWC2011 and would have gone through if they had not lost already to Canada of all people, possibly because they were fairly tired from having played New Zealand 5 days earlier.)

So, in Argentinian planning, the crucial match is against Tonga, not against New Zealand. Having said that, for the sake of team development, Hourcade will want to put on a solid, competent performance against the All Blacks, if not quite at the ‘do or die’ end of the scale.

Then think of Pool B.

On paper, you would see South Africa as fairly cruising through as top qualifier, with Samoa and Scotland fighting it out for second.

But.

The sequencing of the matches means the Samoa-Scotland match is the last pool match, and that means that both Samoa and Scotland will have to have a real crack at South Africa as their Plan B back-up.  So rather than a cruise for South Africa, they’ll have two pool matches with some pretty fired up Samoans and Scots charging at them all afternoon.

Another twist is in Pool D, where the two putative heavyweights France and Ireland meet in the last match.

It’s possible that they will both know by then that they have done enough to qualify for the quarters.

Or not.

If France has stumbled along the way, they might be playing for their lives or they might only be playing for pride. Either one of those things could be terribly dangerous or terribly innocuous.

Let’s say that prior to that match France had lost to Italy, and Italy had lost to Ireland. If France then beats Ireland, you’ll have three teams with three wins/one loss each, and then it comes down to bonus points. (And possibly the more arcane rules for separating ties, including points differential, which we’ll cover off later. I know, I know, MrsDavy: yay!)

That scenario, of three teams with three wins/one loss, is most likely to happen in Pool A, the Pool of Death.

Australia, England and Wales are going to go at each other hammer and tongs. Have to.  Here are their respective sequences:

England

  1. vs Fiji
  2. vs Wales
  3. vs Australia
  4. vs Uruguay

Wales

  1. vs Uruguay
  2. vs England
  3. vs Fiji
  4. vs Australia

Australia

  1. vs Fiji
  2. vs Uruguay
  3. vs England
  4. vs Wales

Now, after that first big match – England vs Wales – the next big match is England vs Australia. So England will know (if they won against Wales) that they’re playing to top their Pool, or (if they lost against Wales) that they’re playing to stay alive. Either way, I reckon that gives a slight mental advantage to England, because Australia will know deep down that, win or lose,  their fate really depends on the last match against Wales.

All well and good, but then add in Fiji. (You can pretty much discount Uruguay who were the last of all the qualifiers, and on a good day might give Mid-Canterbury a run for their money. Or not.)

Fiji know they’re a very long shot to go through to quarters. What they’ll desperately want is to claim a big scalp along the way, and they don’t particularly care which one.

Here’s their schedule:

Fiji

  1. vs England
  2. vs Australia
  3. vs Wales
  4. vs Uruguay

Fiji will have a real crack at England, in part because it’s Twickenham and in part because it’s the opening match of the tournament. It would be a grand, famous victory if they could pull it off.

If they don’t, then go at Australia. If they still don’t, throw the whole flaming bure at Wales.

So those top three teams in Pool A are actually going to have three hard matches, not two.

Compare that with New Zealand, which should have just one out of four hard matches.

Of course, there’s an argument that having hard pool matches makes you better ready for the knock-out stage.  Unless some of your top players are now carrying an injury because they had to play critical matches. Which is where Cheika taking just two hookers, two halfbacks and two first-fives looks decidedly dodgy.

 

About Ned Davy

By hokey, the big fella’s tipped into his 50s. A rangy loose forward in his prime, good with the ball in hand, but rarely up with the play any more.
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