Coming into this tournament, all the Home Nations RWC2019 campaigns looked very settled on the whole. Wales had won a grand slam, Ireland had beaten the All Blacks, England had a strong 2019 and Scotland can beat anyone on their day. Many were predicting the first Home Nations Rugby World Cup win since 2003.
Now we are one week into the tournament, the landscape has changed slightly. However, despite some low points for all four sides, they all remain in contention to reach the knockout stages and beyond.
Here, Last Word on Rugby will discuss the fortunes of the Home Nations so far. Then look to see what challenges they face going forward.
England – Solid Start but, Little Learnt
Ten pool points, one try conceded and 78 points scored. On the face of it, England has had the perfect start to the World Cup. However, against relatively weak opposition in the form of the USA and Tonga, not too much can be taken from these results.
Debate will rage on about the nature of these performances. Some believe England has failed to generate any momentum in these games which will come back to bite them later on. Conversely, it can also be argued that England was holding its main weapons back. As a result, all that matters is that England got the win.
Whichever side of the debate you fall on, we will not be able to tell until they come up against Argentina and France. The more pressing concern for England will be the fitness levels of two of their key individuals. Slade’s knee continues to appear to be troubling whilst Make Vunipola is yet to make an appearance so far. These two are of course big misses for England but more importantly, they are currently putting a strain on the rest of the squad.
Overall, England has done what they needed to do thus far but more is to be expected of them as they go forward. If they turn up against Argentina all will be forgotten but if they fail to perform fingers will be pointed back at these two performances.
Wales – Big Win yet still some Concern
Wales has also represented the Home Nations well by kicking off their Rugby World Cup campaign with two wins. Their first, against an understrength Georgia side, was comprehensive and therefore it was difficult to glean too much from this performance. However, what was on show was Wales’ increased desire to ply more expansively.
Against Australia, the first 40 minutes was almost inch-perfect. Leading 23-8 at half time they appeared to have the game sewn up. However, Wales completely went off the boil in the second half. The head injury to Dan Biggar appeared to be a big part of this and as a result, his fitness going forward is key.
However, Wales did hang onto the win, demonstrating their belief and ability to close out tight games. This likely wins the pool for them which should see them gain an easier quarter-final match. Wales can now use their remaining two pool games to rest key individuals and build confidence.
All in all it has been a good start for Wales on paper but there are definitely cracks that they need to sort out before the knock out stages.
Ireland – One important Win and, one Large Stepback
Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign has been games of extremes so far. They played basically the perfect game against Scotland resulting in a comprehensive win and seemingly taking control of the pool. After this game, many were talking Ireland up as genuine contenders for the trophy.
What a game. What a result. 🇯🇵🏉👏
Japan record their first EVER victory vs Ireland in Test rugby
The #RWC2019 hosts cause another upset…
— BBC 5 Live Sport (@5liveSport) September 28, 2019
However, much of that came crashing down against Japan. The hosts may have dashed home nations RWC hopes with an excellent performance. Ireland could complain about nothing on the day and what will be most worrying was the ease at which Japan worked them out.
Japan has supplied the blueprint on how to beat Ireland and that is a real worry going forward. Now the pool is completely up in the air Ireland needs to go all out in their remaining games. This is even more concerning as there are still concerns over the fitness of fly-halves Sexton and Carberry.
All is not lost for Ireland as two wins should see them qualify. However, they would have lost a lot of confidence. Therefore they need to use the final two games to build themselves back up.
Scotland – Need to turn things around Quickly
For Scotland, the Japan victory over Ireland was potentially even more damaging. This means that even a win against the hosts in the final round of pool play may not be enough to see them qualify. Gregor Townsend’s men got their tactics all wrong against Ireland and that defeat could be damaging for them.
Injuries are also a massive worry for Scotland. The losses of Watson and Price are sure to affect this team. Scotland needs to bounce back quickly and in such a condensed period of time, this could be a real challenge.
However, it is fairly clear what Scotland needs to do. They need 14 out of a possible 15 pool points as a minimum. This forces them to go for broke from the off. In a sense, this could play into the free-flowing Scots hands. If they get some good performances going again they could become very dangerous very quickly.
Having said this, Scotland are undoubtedly in the weakest position out of tall the home nations at the Rugby World Cup. They need a turnaround and they need it quick.
Home Nations RWC concluding thoughts
Rugby World Cups are about winning and not necessarily winning pretty, that is what the home nations need to bear in mind. Thus far there have been some good results for England and Wales but not necessarily in the most convincing manner. The most important thing for those two sides is that they keep going and do not worry about the outside pressure.
For Scotland and Ireland, who have suffered setbacks they need to turn themselves around quickly. Both have relatively easy games coming up so they can hopefully use them as a chance to build momentum.
All in all, it has been a bit of mixed back for the Home Nations RWC campaigns.
There is much more to come from all of these sides but perhaps those hoping for a Home Nations champion need some more convincing until this can become a reality.
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