Looking ahead to Week 3 at the World Cup (Part 3)
It feels like a mammoth week of World Cup rugby this week with us having fixtures from Wednesday to Sunday. At the time of writing this on Saturday afternoon, we’ve seen Italy mount a comeback from ten points down against Uruguay, France fall just short of a century against Namibia (and lose Antoine Dupont in the process), Argentina struggle against Samoa but labour to a win, and the tournament’s first draw between Georgia and Portugal. Add to that Saturday night’s matches between England and Chile, and possibly the game of the tournament so far, South Africa v Ireland and a lot of folks would be happy. But this is the World Cup so there’s two more games on Sunday, and that’s what we’re looking at here.
Scotland v Tonga, Sunday 24th September, 4.45pm
Scotland started this tournament with probably the hardest fixture in their group, which of course is South Africa, though in a pool that also contains Ireland that could be up for debate. Ultimately they lost 18-3 but they stifled the Springboks a bit and the scoreline was closer than many expected.
It’ll still be a battle against Tonga, but one the Scots are expected to win, and with that in mind Gregor Townsend has made four changes to the starting lineup. Rory Sutherland and Scott Cummings are into the forward pack, in like-for-like changes for Pierre Schoeman and Grant Gilchrist respectively, but it’s in the backs where the talking points lie.
Firstly on the wing we see Kyle Steyn in for Darcy Graham – it could be just a case of resting Graham for tougher opposition as an injury would surely derail any slim chance of qualification. But it could also be that Steyn has history against this particular opponent – say, four tries on his debut kind of history. He was the first Scotland player to ever score four at Murrayfield, and the first since Gavin Hastings in 1995 to score four in a match for them. Perhaps more interestingly we see Huw Jones drop to the bench in favour of Chris Harris who has seen his chances of appearing in midfield drop significantly since the emergence of the former’s link-up with Sione Tuipulotu. Harris has started just once for Scotland this year, in a warm-up match against Italy and will be hoping for a solid performance here to re-stake a claim for a starting spot.
Both Sutherland and Steyn will make their World Cup debuts, as will Ewan Ashman and Sam Skinner if they appear from the bench.
It’s the same starting fifteen for Tonga that were beaten convincingly by Ireland – they’ll be hoping for a better outcome this week. Most of the talking points this week are actually about Tonga’s bench but watch out for starting openside Sione Talitui who was the only player at the World Cup in Round Two to make more than 20 tackles.
On the bench, it’s a possible Tonga debut for 38-cap Wallaby Adam Coleman. He’ll offer experience in the second row if needed, and will become the 22nd player to win their first Tonga cap at a World Cup. This stat is perhaps a little lop-sided in comparison to other nations due to the lack of tests for Tonga between World Cup cycles.
Patrick Pellegrini helped Coventry to a historic win over Saracens in Round One of the Premiership Rugby Cup – he’s been called up as injury cover for Otumaka Mausia and will provide cover across the backline from the replacements bench. The other replacement is Sonatane Takulua who starts back-to-back matches from the bench for the first time in his nine-year test career.
Scotland: 1. Rory Sutherland, 2. George Turner, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Richie Gray, 5. Scott Cummings, 6. Jamie Ritchie ©, 7. Rory Darge, 8. Jack Dempsey, 9. Ben White, 10. Finn Russell, 11. Duhan van der Merwe, 12. Sione Tuipulotu, 13. Chris Harris, 14. Kyle Steyn, 15. Blair Kinghorn. Replacements: 16. Ewan Ashman, 17. Pierre Schoeman, 18. WP Nel, 19. Sam Skinner, 20. Matt Fagerson, 21. George Horne, 22. Huw Jones, 23. Darcy Graham
Tonga: 1. Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 2. Paula Ngauamo, 3. Ben Tameifuna ©, 4. Leva Fifita, 5. Sam Lousi, 6. Tanginoa Halaifonua, 7. Sione Talitui, 8. Vaea Fifita, 9. Augustine Pulu, 10. William Havili, 11. Afusipa Taumoepeau, 12. Pita Ahki, 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 14. Solomone Kata, 15. Charles Piutau.
Replacements: 16. Sam Moli, 17. Tau Koloamatangi, 18. Sosefo Apikotoa, 19. Adam Coleman, 20. Semisi Paea, 21. Sione Vailanu, 22. Sonatane Takulua, 23. Patrick Pellegrini
Wales v Australia, Sunday 24th September, 8pm
One of the heavyweight clashes of the pool stage, this has long been earmarked as a potential decider in Pool C. Both teams were in awful form going into the tournament, for Australia that has continued as they plodded to victory against Georgia then lost to Fiji for the first time in 69 years. Wales however have etched two wins from two, albeit in an unconvincing manner. Victory here for the Welsh could guarantee them top spot, while condemning Australia to an early flight home (as long as Fiji can maintain their good performances).
Warren Gatland recalls 12 of his squad from the opening round fixture against Fiji, after resting them against Portugal. Adam Beard is set to win his 50th Welsh cap in an experienced team that surprising does not contain co-captain Dewi Lake at all.
If Wales are to get anything from this clash, Dan Biggar will be a big part – both in controlling territory and from the kicking tee. Incredibly he’s missed just 6 attempts at goal in 11 World Cup matches.
For the Aussies, it’s fly-half that dominates the column inches – Ben Donaldson chosen ahead of Carter Gordon, after the latter (the only out-and-out fly-half in their World Cup squad) was unceremoniously hauled off against Fiji. Eddie Jones’s decision hasn’t gone down well among rugby fans, and parallels can perhaps be drawn with Donaldson’s own performance against Wales last Autumn. Wales were 34-13 up when then coach Dave Rennie subbed Donaldson – the Wallabies went on to win 39-34. That’s one of just 3 of their last 15 games that have resulted in wins. Perhaps one glimmer of hope for them though is that they’ve won 16 of their last 20 against the Welsh, including 3 from 4 World Cup clashes. Wales won the last clash in 2019 however.
Andrew Kellaway is called in at full-back and vice captain Tate McDermott returns to the scrum-half berth, while up front there’s a reshuffle of the back row that sees Tom Hooper move across to openside to accommodate Rob Leota – Fraser McReight is the player that drops to the bench.
James Slipper will equal George Gregan’s record of 20 World Cup matches – this will be his 12th match against Wales overall since 2010. On the other side, George North has also played 12 times for Wales against the Wallabies.
Wales: 1. Gareth Thomas, 2. Ryan Elias, 3. Tomas Francis, 4. Will Rowlands, 5. Adam Beard, 6. Aaron Wainwright, 7. Jac Morgan ©, 8. Taulupe Faletau, 9. Gareth Davies, 10. Dan Biggar, 11. Josh Adams, 12. Nick Tompkins, 13. George North, 14. Louis Rees-Zammit, 15. Liam Williams.
Replacements: 16. Elliot Dee, 17. Corey Domachowski, 18. Henry Thomas, 19. Dafydd Jenkins, 20. Taine Basham, 21. Tomos Williams, 22. Gareth Anscombe, 23. Rio Dyer
Australia: 1. Angus Bell, 2. Dave Porecki ©, 3. James Slipper, 4. Nick Frost, 5. Richie Arnold, 6. Rob Leota, 7. Tom Hooper, 8. Rob Valetini, 9. Tate McDermott, 10. Ben Donaldson, 11 Marika Koroibete, 12. Samu Kerevi, 13. Jordan Petaia, 14. Mark Nawaqanitawase, 15. Andrew Kellaway.
Replacements: 16. Matt Faessler, 17. Blake Schoupp, 18. Pone Fa’amausili, 19. Matt Philip, 20. Fraser McReight, 21. Nic White, 22. Carter Gordon, 23. Suliasi Vunivalu.