It is a strange time to be living in the UK.
While the first two previews for the Rugby World Cup have featured pools where the results seem fairly set in stone, that couldn’t be further from the truth in Pool C.
The group features three teams who all have reasonable claims to make the next round of competition: England, France and Argentina. While England look likely to progress, both France and Argentina will fancy their chances of seeing some quarter-final action.
Tonga and the United States of America are the sides set to make up the numbers.
Argentina come into the tournament on the back of a semi-final appearance in 2015, but out of winning form.
Their Rugby Championship campaign featured two extremely close games and one blowout, but the Pumas nonetheless ended the tournament winless.
Being able to stay in the contest against the All Blacks at home and Wallabies on the road was positive, while the side also amended their result against South Africa with a much better performance the week later, falling by just six points in Pretoria.
There’s lots of experience in the squad, the bulk of which is made up of players who were part of the Jaguares’ memorable run to the Super Rugby final this year. Mario Ledesma’s side also have one final warm-up game to come, against Randwick this weekend at Coogee Oval.
After falling just short in the Six Nations earlier in the year, some impressive warm-up wins over Wales and Ireland have England in a strong position heading to Japan.
Eddie Jones’ side were impressive in blowing Ireland off the park to the tune of 57-15 in their latest warm-up game, and if they can maintain that attacking potency, they are going to be a dangerous proposition all World Cup.
Joe Marler is back in the fold after he announced his retirement from international rugby last year, and there’s plenty of continuity in the side with eight Saracens players earning a call up after their European Cup win.
France’s squad for the Rugby World Cup doesn’t include former skipper Mathieu Bastareaud, however, they are otherwise quite settled.
What the side doesn’t have is top form. They won just two matches in the Six Nations and have been up and down in the lead-up to Japan 2019.
While they beat Italy in their final hit-out before heading to the World Cup and got the better of Scotland at home, an away loss to the Scots in a match they led at half-time raises questions about their ability to close out games.
The Tongans have talked openly about their dream to make the final eight at the Rugby World Cup, and while that seems a bit of a fantasy at the moment, they will be competitive.
As is the case with all of the Pacific Island nations, they will bring a big pack of forwards and some exceptional talent out wide.
The Tongans had a rough Pacific Nations Cup though, falling to Fiji, Japan and Samoa, although they did smash Canada in the other. A warm-up match against the All Blacks this weekend will give us an indication of where they stand when pitted against one of rugby’s top international sides.
United States of America
The USA’s most recent outings were in the Pacific Nations Cup, and provided mixed fortunes for the side.
Even though they were able to get the better of Samoa in less-than-convincing circumstances and thumped Canada, they weren’t able to get past this tournament’s hosts, going down to Japan’s Brave Blossoms. They do still have a warm-up match to come this weekend.
The Eagles did, however, qualify with relative ease as the first American team through for the showpiece tournament.
France vs Argentina
Saturday, September 21, 5:15pm
The games between the top three sides in this group are all going to be pivotal in deciding who goes to the quarter-finals, starting with France and Argentina opening their campaigns against each other.
With England heavily favoured in the pool, it looks like this game could well decide second, placing an enormous amount of importance on the sides’ first game of the tournament.
On top of that, while both sides are weaker when compared to most of their regional rivals – Six Nations teams in France’s case and the Rugby Championship nations in Argentina’s – they’re entirely capable of putting on a scintillating performance every now and then. If they both produce one in this match, it’ll be a cracker.
England vs Argentina
Saturday, October 5, 6pm
Argentina will be out to upset the two European sides in this tournament, and while a win over France seems more likely, a statement win against England would throw this pool right open.
While Eddie Jones’ side have grand ambitions in Japan, Argentina’s mobile pack of forwards will make this a tough challenge for the group’s top-ranked side.
England vs France
Saturday, October 12, 7:15pm
An age-old rivalry between two of Europe’s powerhouses – at least at a club level – England and France being drawn in the same group is a promoter’s dream.
By this point in the tournament, stakes will be high. The winners could set themselves up for a run into the final eight, and the losers could end up knocked out of the tournament before quarter-finals.
Given England absolutely whacked France in the Six Nations earlier this year as well, there will be just a little bit of extra feeling for Les Bleus.
All times AEST/AEDT.
For the full Pool C schedule, head over to our Rugby World Cup fixture page.
This section only features players from the sides we expect to miss the knockout stage. Those eight teams will be previewed in depth before the start of the tournament.
Maxime Medard (France)
If France are to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition, their fullback is going to have to have a considerable impact.
Maxime Medard has been a one-club player at Toulouse since 2004 and a mainstay in the French side for the best part of a decade, and while he is on the wrong side of 30, he has won two Heineken Cups and came away with a try-scoring double in France’s recent match over Scotland.
Having made his World Cup debut in 2011, where he made seven appearances as France charged to the final, Medard wasn’t at England 2015. Expect him to make up for the missed tournament in Japan.
Telusa Veainu (Tonga)
Veainu missed the Pacific Nations Cup earlier in the year due to injury, but will be an enormous inclusion for Tonga at the World Cup.
Voted players’ player of the year in the UK, where he plays for Leicester, the dangerous outside back has some experience in southern hemisphere rugby as well. He played in the NRC for Melbourne Rising in 2014, before making seven appearances for the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby.
He has since scored 29 tries in 67 games for Leicester and is a constant threat with the ball in hand.
Blaine Scully (United States of America)
USA captain Scully has just finished a four-year stint at the Bradford Blues and while his professional future is yet to be sorted, he will play a crucial role for the USA in Japan.
The fullback boasts a solid defensive technique and the ability to find the tryline, which sometimes leads him to switching out to the wing.
A gifted athlete, he also spent time playing basketball, water polo and swimming during his younger days before focusing on rugby.
Pool C could go a couple of different ways, with England, France and Argentina all capable of making it out of the group.
As one of the pre-tournament contenders, and with the disappointment of 2015 hanging over the side as motivation, England should be the first side to book their quarter-final ticket.
Argentina’s recent win-loss record is poor, but that’s due to them facing the best three nations in the southern hemisphere so regularly. On the back of the Jaguares’ trip to the Super Rugby final, and with one of the best mixes of Argentinian talent the Pumas have trotted out, we’ll take the South Americans to pip France for second spot.
The Tongans should get the better of the USA for fourth, but those two won’t get close to the other sides in this competitive pool.