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The Roar


Are Rugby World Cup upsets on the horizon among Pool D's wayward underachievers?

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Roar Rookie
23rd August, 2023
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We’re right on the threshold of the Rugby World Cup, so let’s make some calls on Pool D’s combatants.

2019 Semi finalists in Pool D


The finalists in 2019 look sluggish, out of sorts and a bit headless, perhaps still suffering the post EJ hangover. Spare a thought for Stephen Borthwick and his charges. The halves are going to make or break this side if they can gel with the pack, but they have to play first.

His first choice pair – also his club pair at Leicester – of Owen Farrell and Jack van Poortvliet are already disrupted with JvP ruled out through injury and Farrell suspended for the first two games. Billy Vunipola is under a cloud, so Borthwick may have to draft in a specialist eighth man in the form of Harlequins big man Alex Dombrandt. There is no universe where Dombrandt is a bad idea, especially considering his successful partnership in the Premier with Marcus Smith.

Pool D: Potential upsets and wayward teams

Pool D houses England, Argentina, Japan, Samoa and Chile. One would say that none of them in their current form are world beaters. It has to be the best draw Japan or Argentina has gotten in recent years, and Samoa poses a threat – or do they?


England, directionless

In a week where Eddie Jones pulled off a backroom coup by bringing in former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, one wonders whether Steve Borthwick could have continued the tradition of bringing in a ringer for the World Cup?

Apparently Steve Hansen was up for a side hustle. Vern Cotter is running around, Jake White would probably jump at the chance.

Owen Farrell, the England captain, sits in the sin bin with team mates Ellis Genge and Freddie Steward after they all received yellow cards during the Summer International match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on August 12, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Borthwick has always been seen as pragmatic and you can’t blame him for working with familiar combinations that have worked for him at Leicester, but this England side looks ripe for an upset, fragile and a bit wayward at times.

Yes there is magic talent in the forms of Maro Itoje, Marcus Smith and Manu Tuilagi but is it clicking? No. Emphatically no, or not yet.

The pack is solid, Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinkler are top-flight, as are Lewis Ludlam and Tom Curry – if he gets a berth – while you have Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes as well. The backline is efficient and balanced.


The coaching staff too, is no joke, Borthwick heads that with one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the form of Aled Walters.

But England looks so beatable, there is no fluency in their last few games. Battling to find a positive, Samoa, Japan and Argentina will fancy their chances at taking a big scalp, rightly so.

They will beat Chile, they could beat Japan and Samoa but will struggle with Argentina. An Argentina that they face first up.

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Japan, stingless

The sting seems to have come out of this Japan team a bit. Highly rated at the last World Cup, things have been a bit quiet for the side coached by Jamie Joseph.

A red card to Michael Leitch ended their competitiveness in the earlier game against Samoa, and they ended the Pacific Nations with one narrow win over Tonga in Japan. Won one, and lost two is not a foreshadowing that looks positive.


The Japan team coached by Eddie Jones who beat the Springboks was supremely conditioned and had an element of structured chaos that caught the Boks flat footed. It was a team that could outwork you and then finish with dazzling ruck speed and mass attack. This is not the same kettle of sushi.

They will struggle to beat Argentina and England, which would be the only sure way to escape the pool.

Argentina, peaking

The run up to the competition has not been smooth for the Michael Cheika coached Pumas.

A scrappy win against the Wallabies and losses against the Boks and All Blacks, albeit they ran the Boks hard at the end.

In the pack, Julián Montoya is at the height of his powers and no stranger to Steve Borthwicks methods as he plays for Leicester in the Premier League. The props are probably weaker than we come to expect from Argentina. Guido Petti and Tomas Lavanini are an experienced locking pair and excellent at lineout, but Lavanini is considered one of the most carded players in the game. Discipline could be their undoing.


Pablo Matera and Facundo Isa are world class and provide plenty of grunt and pace.

If the pack can provide a quick enough platform, the backline is full of finishing pace in the forms of Emiliano Boffelli and Juan Imhoff. One wonders why Nicolas Sanchez hasn’t had more time in the saddle with Tomas Cubelli as that must be the first choice pair.

: Pumas head coach Michael Cheika hugs Julian Montoya of the Pumas after winning The Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Argentina Pumas at Orangetheory Stadium on August 27, 2022 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

This Pumas side is classy, it can beat teams through speed and power, which they have. However discipline is key to maintaining any momentum that they create through aggressive carries and pacy outside backs.

A final note here is that this is a team that has evolved from the “Bajada”. We all want to see that emotion they are renowned for, but thats the role of Cheika – harnessing that. They should create some interesting matches and should get out of the pool.

Samoa, Structural Integrity

You can pick the most amazing side, you can have superstar talent, but unless they are coached well and have an identity and purpose, that side will most likely fail.


Samoa has always been frail when it came to game management, rushing play and being punished by errors as the pace increases. This is a natural consequence of having amazing talent and great size – it’s easy to fall into a pattern of bash football and then expect linebreaks and ad line gains.

To solve this, coach Seilala Mapusua and assistant Tana Umaga have systematically solved for the traditional problems Samoa has faced. Namely a 10 that controls, props who can last, specialist lineout jumpers and a defensive pattern that works.

They have turned to two of the best game controllers in the Pacific – Christian Leali’ifano and sublime Lima Sopoaga.

Christian Leali’ifano with Moana Pasifika. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Leali’ifano made his name at the Brumbies and is a consummate game manager, he has spent the main part of this year playing with Moana Pasifika from which the Manu Samoa side has drawn 9 players. Sopoaga, a former All Black, would make any side in the world. Ere Enari has been sensational in Super Rugby Pacific at halfback.

The prop stocks look pretty good, with another former All Black in the giant form of Charlie Faumuina joining Michael Ala’alatoa in the front row.

From a lineout perspective they have Steven Luatua and Brian Alainu’uese to boss and control that area. Added to this is a bag full of forward punch in the forms of Jordan Taufua, Fritz Lee, Taleni Seu, Chris Vui as well as the underrated Theo Mcfarland of Saracens.


Worryingly, they were towelled up by the Fiji scrum, but this is a good pack with good controllers behind them.

In the backline watch out for Ben Lam, Nigel ah Wong and the magician UJ Seuteni of La Rochelle.

They will create an upset, but two to get out of the pool? That might be a bit of a stretch, beating Japan is possible, England is a big stretch, Argentina should be too much for them.

Final Take

It’s not beyond the realm of belief that we see Argentina escape this pool with Japan or England.

The bigger question is whether England gets scalped by either Samoa or Japan. Is this Samoa’s chance?