September 20, 2015

THE OTHER WORLD CUP:

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE RUGBY WORLD CUP (Rowan Kane, 9/19/15, Vice)

Thanks to Universal Sports you'll be able to catch all four of Team USA's group-stage matches--if you still have cable and get the channel--and they should at the very least be competitive. While Group B, as mentioned, will likely be won by South Africa, the Eagles could give any of the remaining teams a run for their money. Scotland (10th in the world), Samoa (12th), and Japan (13th) are all at a level USA Rugby might realistically reach in the run-up to next year's Olympics, which will feature the debut of Rugby 7's, a derivative sport in which there are seven instead of fifteen players on the field. A successful performance for the US would mean a win and/or draw against Samoa and/or Japan and not getting the doors blown off against South Africa and Scotland. There is hope for American rugby, in other words, but the most realistic thing to hope for right now is not getting blown out by more established sides.

Since it's highly unlikely the Eagles will advance past the group stages and you'll be wanting to stay involved through the final on October 31, here are some suggestions, assuming you aren't planning on rooting for that country where you spent three months as an exchange student.

After winning the World Cup they hosted in 2011 and nearly two decades of dominance, the New Zealand All-Blacks are looking to prove their place as one of the best national teams of all-time. Winning a second-straight Webb Ellis would not only cement their place in the annals of the sport but it would serve as a bit of redemption for star Dan Carter who missed the previous final due to injury. If you're looking for glory, it's wearing all black everything.

A less pragmatic and more sentimental choice would be France, who have reached three finals but never won. There are no easy routes to Halloween night at Twickenham, the home of England rugby, but if Les Bleus can top their group--which includes their Six Nations rival Ireland--they should be able to reach the semis. Their likely opponent there would be a talented Australian team. There are sweeter rewards on earth than getting roughed up by a bunch of Aussies, but if the French make the semis things could get fun. France also still has some goodwill from the 2011 final, which they narrowly lost 8-7 to host-favorite New Zealand after an unexpectedly heroic performance.

As for the rest, hosts England and semi-hosts Wales (there are a few matches in Cardiff) will obviously be crowd favorites, and whoever makes it out of the Group of Death could make a run on spirit alone. If you're looking for outright revenge, Australia lost the 2003 final to England on home soil in heartbreaking fashion and will be hoping to return the favor. As for me, I have a soft spot for Ireland, which has never hoisted the Webb Ellis Cup but has won the European Six Nations competition the past two years, including a nail-biting victory this past April.




Posted by at September 20, 2015 9:40 AM
  

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