Sunday, November 11, 2012

November 2012 Internationals - Week One Wrap

The November 2012 Internationals have extra importance this year. While friendly matches in rugby carry significance that cannot be found in many other sports, this year the month long schedule is crucial for Rugby World Cup 2015. The reason being that although the tournament is still well over two years away the draw will be made in December 2012 and the twelve automatic qualifying teams, based on their performances in Rugby World Cup 2011 will be seeded accorded to their position in the IRB World Rankings on December 03. The twelve nations will be divided into three bands of four teams each and be drawn from these bands into Pool A, Pool B, Pool C or Pool D. The twelve are Argentina, Australia, England, France, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Tonga and Wales. The remaining eight competiting teams for Rugby World Cup 2015 will be determined through regional qualification that is already well underway. 

The IRB World Rankings currently have the twelve automatic qualifying teams as the top twelve in the world. This could well change during November and the results this weekend have had an impact. The question is whether or not the distribution into Bands will be different on December 03. Teams need to win to either maintain or improve their position in the bands. One or multiple losses could mean a more difficult draw for Rugby World Cup 2015. Therefore one scalp is not enough to go on. A team needs to perform throughout the month or an impressive result could have no impact on its standing in the Bands. As it stands the three bands are as follows:

Band 1: New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England
Band 2: France, Wales, Ireland, Argentina
Band 3: Scotland, Samoa, Italy, Tonga

Band 4 and Band 5 are to consist of teams who qualify based on the IRB regional structure. According to IRB World Rankings and Rugby World Cup history the eight probable qualifying nations will be Canada (Americas 1), Japan (Asia 1), Georgia (Europe 1), Fiji (Oceania 1), Namibia (Africa 1), the United States of America (Americas 2), Romania (Europe 2) and Russia (Repercharge winner). However, a lot could change and in Europe the situation is very far from being simple. Spain is arguably as strong a contender as Russia while the North American qualifying series could go either way. 

Band 4: Americas 1, Asia 1, Europe 1, Oceania 1
Band 5: Africa 1, Americas 2, Europe 2, Repercharge Winner 

All nations from all bands are in action in November and most of them played international rugby this weekend. Those not in action will play international matches in Week Two with IRB World Rankings on the line. Teams that did not play include Georgia and Namibia. The Lelos will host Japan while Namibia will face Spain in Week Two. The IRB will update the IRB World Ranking´s at midday on Monday, GMT time. 

USA 40-26 Russia
The United States of Americas started strongly with an impressive win over Russia which will have positive implications on the IRB World Rankings for the winners. The USA could have won by plenty more as the Todd Clever led side was dominating the match only to appear lazy at times. The USA scored six tries with John Quill, Toby L´Estrange, Cornelius Dirksen and Zach Fenoglio all making their test debuts. There were many highlights for the North Americans including an impressive halfback combination with Robbie Shaw and Toby L´Estrange both playing very well and both scoring tries. The USA´s backrow was also very impressive as it was regularly the first to the breakdown. The selection of Lou Stanfill in the secondrow meant the USA in effect had an extra backrower and it enabled the team to play with more width. The USA will face Tonga in its second match. A USA win would be a tremendous boost to its position in the IRB World Rankings and would likely mean Tonga would finish as the bottom placed Band 3 team. 

Samoa 42-12 Canada
While the USA Eagles got off to a great start in the IRB International Series in Colwyn Bay, Wales the same cannot be said of Canada in its match against Samoa. The Pacific Islanders appeared to be too physical for the Canadians and the match was over as a contest by the 20 minute mark. At half time Samoa was leading 22-0 against a Canadian team missing key players and having lost its best back, Phil McKenzie to injury in the first half. It meant facing a superior team was made to be an even tougher contest and Canada lacked the players to compete as well as many people had been hoping. Leading players from Rugby World Cup 2011 were not playing. Jamie Cudmore was playing for Clermont, Jebb Sinclair is yet to join the squad, while Adam Kleeberger and others are not to play at all this month. Samoa was packed with professional players and also stars from Rugby Sevens. It won by scoring five tries to two.

Namibia 37-33 Zimbabwe
Namibia´s monopoly in African rugby may well have peaked as the Southern African nations is battling to win matches that it had been winning comfortably several seasons ago. Such an example occured in the Namibian capital of Windhoek on Saturday. It was a match with IRB Rankings on the line and the underdog came very close to winning in what was a high scoring and highly entertaining match. Zimbabwe now have several days to prepare to face Spain on Wednesday while Namibia will host the same team on Saturday. Should Spain be successful then the prospects of Namibia being replaced by a different African nation as the automatic qualifier will be enhanced. Earlier this year Namibia lost to lowly Madagascar and was relegated from Africa´s Top flight. It now needs to win promotion if it is to compete in the African series of Rugby World Cup 2015 qualification. 

Italy 28-23 Tonga
Italy was in control but Tonga fought back to lose by less than seven points and thus loss less points in the IRB World Rankings. At one stage it looked like Italy would complete a big win and significantly help its positioning in the IRB World Rankings. Italy are better now but have no realistic chances of further improvement due to its remaining November tests being against New Zealand and Australia. Like most teams playing this weekend both Italy and Tonga played with a host of players born in other parts of the world. In the case of Italy there were nationals of Argentina and Canada, amongst others. Sergio Parisse captained the team from number 8. He was joined in the backrow by Canada´s Robert Barbieri and both were amongst the best Italian ball carriers. Martín Castrogiovanni was a secondhalf replacement in the frontrow while flyhalf Luciano Orquera was unused from the bench. 

Ireland 12-16 South Africa
Ireland is a team continuously undertaking new inovations to be as competitive as possible. This has seen a new policy on restricting imported players at Leinster, Munster and Ulster and it has also seen a number of non-Irish players play in the test side. This weekend history was made as two cousins played against each other at hooker. Richardt Strauss played age grade rugby for South Africa but started for Ireland against Adriaan Strauss. Another first was Ireland playing in black rather than either emerald green or white. Ireland were easily the better side in the first half but South Africa reversed it in the second and the try scored by the Ulster based Ruan Pienaar was enough to turn the match in what was the games on try. The result will have an impact for both sides on the IRB World Rankings. The remaining matches will now be all the more important. Ireland will host Fiji while South Africa will take on Scotland. Both should win and neither result will improve the ranking of either due to the positions of their opponents.

Wales 26-12 Argentina
Two teams who needed to win at all costs met at the Millenium Stadium and the result will indeed have significant implications for both. In defeating Wales Argentina will rise in the World Rankings and Wales will fall. The result effectively means that both sides are all but guaranteed of being in Band Two now. Should Wales lose its remaining matches, including against Samoa then it could potentially mean a Pool of Death for Wales. The match was slow to get going and in the case of the home team it never infact got going. Argentina outplayed Wales scoring two tries to zero with captain Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe putting in a man of the match performance. Wingers Juan Imhoff and Gonzalo Camacho scored tries while Nicolás Sánchez kicked 13 points. He did not kick all of his goals but it was clear that, at long last, there is room to feel that Los Pumas has a goalkicking flyhalf. The wait to replace Federico Todeschini may well have been concluded.

England 54-12 Fiji
England´s big win at Twickenham will have no impact on either nation´s ranking. England is ranked so far above Fiji that the match was just a warm up for others to come. This did not stop the supporters though as England delivered a fullhouse for the match. The Millenium Stadium, in contrast had 20,000 unsold seats. Both are to host matches in Rugby World Cup 2015 with the decision to use Cardiff having been widely criticized. England used the match to experiment with a number of players. One player given a start was Charlie Sharples and he impressed, scoring two of England´s seven tries.

Romania 23-34 Japan
Japan completed a victory in Bucharest to start its first European tour in quite some time in a good way. The win will be a significant boost to Japan in the IRB World Rankings while Romania will be impacted in a negative way. The win was sealed by a late try to Hirotoki Onozawa. The 76th minute try   was his 52nd in 75 test matches. The game was a battle of philosophy´s with Romania dominating in the set piece, especially in scrums and lineouts as it played a forward orientated game. Japan, in contrast played a running match utilizing its backline to full effect. Both nations will participate in Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifying matches in 2013.

France 33-6 Australia
Les Bleus are one side looking for a favorable draw for Rugby World Cup 2015. The French certainly look to be a team on the rise and the manner in which France took Australia apart suggests that France could be one of the leading contenders to lift the William Webb Ellis Trophy in 2015. In humiliating Australia France will rise in the World Rankings and the Wallabies will fall. France will take on Argentina this coming Saturday in Lille while Australia will play England at Twickenham. Going on this weekends matches Australia is in serious danger of dropping out of Band One. France delivered a text book performance and did so against a team that has been far too strong in recent matches. The last time Australia played in Paris it scored over 50 points in the lowest point in recent French rugby history. France scored three tries to zero with the first being scored by man of the match Louis Picamoles. Should France defeat Argentina and Samoa it is likely to finish in Band One.

Scotland 22-51 New Zealand
It was arguably the most entertaining match of the weekend, particularly in the first half. New Zealand´s win was never really in doubt even after Holland´s Tim Visser scored the first try of the match for Scotland. The All Blacks showed class to respond with four tries as the first half drew to a close. Scotland, though did not give in and turned down opportunities to kick penalties to instead push forward to attempt to breach the All Blacks tryline. It succeeded in overtime as Geoff Cross scored Scotland´s second try to make it a 34-17 scoreline at the interval. The All Blacks scored two tries to one in the secondhalf to complete a comfortable victory. The result will have no impact on the IRB World Rankings due to the position of both teams. Scotland now need to dig deep to defeat South Africa next weekend and then Tonga in its third and final match of November. Should it fail to win either or both matches  then Scotland will be drawn in Band 3. New Zealand will face Italy in Rome next weekend.

Uruguay 22-35 Portugal
A poor performance from Uruguay in Montevideo will see significant changes to both teams in the IRB World Rankings. Uruguay went into the game ranked 20th in the world while Portugal were 26th. Now though, they will be much closer and Portugal will be looking to go even higher as it plays against Chile in Santiago next Saturday. Uruguay started the match well scoring a try in the 7th minute but Portugal otherwise had the better of play and went into half time holding a, 18-12 lead. Uruguay equalized with two penalties and then went ahead with a try to winger Mieres. But at 25-18 Uruguay had scored its final point and Portugal would show genuine superiority  to score a converted try in the 65th minute and a second five minutes latter to bury Los Teros. Both nations are expected to be in contention to qualify via repercharge for Rugby World Cup 2015. Portugal is currently off the pace in Europe with Georgia, Romania, Russia and Spain all ahead. Uruguay though will need to improve its game as an improving Chile will be happy with this result. The two sides and Brazil will play in 2013 with the winner advancing to face the runner-up of NACRA (USA or Canada).  

USA v Russia

Samoa v Canada 

Italy v Tonga

Wales v Argentina

England v Fiji

Ireland v South Africa

Romania v Japan

France v Australia

Scotland v New Zealand

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