Rugby The pendulum swings as the final group matches increase...

The pendulum swings as the final group matches increase the Rugby World Cup risks | Ben Ryan | Sport


Tas red cards or subsequent bans in Japan have dwarfed everything that has happened before in a Rugby World Cup. However, get a ban now that goes into knockouts and a body blow can turn into a tough one. How many of the best teams could go into a quarterfinals fully confident without their best player banned? England without Billy or Faz? New Zealand without Beauden or Ardie? Wales missing Alun Wyn or Gareth?

Now, I'm not saying that bans and cards earlier in the group stages had no impact, but the stakes are now significantly higher.

The England-Argentina match promised so much more before the dismissal of Tomas Lavanini dissolved any competition that may have taken place. However, Argentina were already on their last chance after defeat against France and England looked in control before the South Americans lay down.

The odds of a dismissal in my mind go further when more is at stake and the risks and rewards are higher. Look no further than 1995 when South Africa played Canada in their final pool. Both parties had to win to advance, a loss and an exit beckoned. Three red cards were awarded in that game.

Sunday's meeting between Japan and Scotland falls into the same category. Both have to go fully, and neither can worry about a quarter-final the following week that may never expire. These games make tournaments, and often it is these final group rounds and subsequent quarter-finals that bring with them the most exciting and pendulum-swinging periods of opportunity.

To a lesser extent, England against France on Saturday could give the typhoon despite. This match-up always draws on the emotions, although there have also been some claims that the loser of this game may have an easier route to the final.

You could argue that this has some merit if you remove the art from science, but there is still a hard fact standing alone in team sports world championships. Watching men's and women's basketball, football, hockey, baseball, cricket and only in men's rugby XVs has every single winner since 1987 lifted the trophy at a 100% victory rate.

Yes, the teams have reached the final after losing, but they did not win the one that counted. Momentum and confidence for me override any perceived "easier" route through knockouts. I just don't see it being different this time around.

I've been to France this week and done some work with the federation. The mood is certainly not overly confident, but contrary to much speculation, the spirit of the team sounds high and they have a certain class that matches England's unique side. This can be a cracker and is exactly what Red Rose needs before knockout rugby begins.

But the adrenaline and focus on the game that gives both teams is not on the cards for two of the favorites before the tournament. New Zealand and South Africa had to be on points against each other in their first match, and since then it has largely been able to coast the remaining three matches to the quarterfinals. An argument could be made that they are both missing a big game recently to get them up to the intensity that a final eight games need, but their match-up in the opening game was not that long ago nor so rusty out so I don I don't think it's a problem.

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More importantly, it will also mean that no risks should be taken in selection, and an obvious benefit of it is that if your best players are not on the field, then they cannot be harmed and certainly cannot receive a red card. It brings a nice ability to rest players and rotate and begin the cycle again towards reaching the top opportunities for knockouts. I can see a lot more benefits than cons for both the All Blacks and the Springboks and no doubt about what they are in the box seat.

Wales are through and joining these two behemoths, but they will not lose any of the emotional energy they captured after their victory in Australia. However, they were pushed all the way by a Fiji team that had nothing to lose after their defeat of Uruguay. An expectant nation demanded that they put in a great 80-minute performance before looking to France 2023, and they certainly did so in the 29-17 defeat. An incoherent performance by the Welsh should not exaggerate the concern of their followers. Still, this Fiji team does not have what they came to Japan for, but is still a classmate. This tournament has been ace, but the best is yet to come.



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