Half of Argentina’s Rugby World Cup 2019 opponents are known. Los Pumas were drawn into the toughest pool of Japan 2019 last week. The draw handed the South Americans matches against England and France. The remaining two matches will be against qualifiers from North America and Oceania respectively.
It has taken 32 years but at long last Argentina will play against a rival from the Americas. That in itself is welcome news. Different opponents in different World Cups makes for an increasingly interesting prospect. Indeed consider for a moment that South Africa and Samoa were pooled together in Rugby World Cups 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015.
Argentina had a comparable opponent in Georgia. Los Pumas faced the Caucasus country at Rugby World Cups 2007, 2011 and 2015. For 2019 they will not meet, that is to say unless they were to do so beyond the pool stage.
Unlike in previous World Cups Georgia are now a band 3 side. Americas 1 are a band 4 side, replacing Georgia in the position from that of 2015. The upcoming qualifying series between Canada and the USA will determine who is Americas 1.
Canada and the USA are increasingly familiar to Argentina now. This is based on the Americas Rugby Championship. While Argentina plays its ‘A’ side not Los Pumas it is likely that there will be Argentina XV players, past or present, involved in Rugby World Cup 2019. It is therefore significant that after two tournaments the Argentina XV is yet to defeat the USA.
The loser of the Canada vs USA home-and-away series will face the South America A Championship winner in repechage. Based on the opening round results Uruguay is the likely country for the spot. The North America vs South America repechage play-off will be home-and-away with the winner qualifying for Pool D.
Pool D is easier to navigate through than is Pool C. In place of England, France and Argentina the teams are Australia, Wales and Georgia. Oceania 1 and Americas 2 are to occupy the remaining two positions.
Considering how results have transpired between Canada and the USA in recent years it is the Eagles who are most likely to be Americas 1. This would see Canada vs Uruguay for the Americas 2 position with the North Americans being the likely winners. Uruguay would subsequently have a chance at qualifying for Pool B via global repechage. New Zealand, South Africa and Africa 1 (likely Nambia) await the repechage winner.
Americas 1 Prediction: USA
The fifth placed side in Pool C is to be Oceania 2. This sees a certain repetition for Argentina from previous Rugby World Cups. In 2015 Argentina faced Tonga, in Rugby World Cups 1991, 1995 and 1999 1995 Los Pumas took-on Samoa and in 1987 they faced Fiji.
Oceania 2 will be one of these three Pacific Island nations. In current World Rankings Fiji is 10th, Tonga is 13th and Samoa is 14th in the world. Fiji, indeed, is likely to qualify as Oceania 1. This would see Fiji have a good opportunity in Pool D.
Of Tonga and Samoa the better of the two is arguably not Tonga but Samoa. The ranking position is a refleciton of 2016 results. Last year Samoa lost against Fiji, France and Georgia. Samoa also narrowly defeated Canada and competed to a 20-20 draw at home against Geogia. The country’s best performance was a 30-10 win over Tonga.
The Ikale Tahi had an impressive November. Three wins from as many matches saw Tonga downing Spain, the USA and Italy. The Italians lost to Tonga despite having defeated South Africa one week earlier. Tonga is, in other words, a capable side and could qualify ahead of either Fiji or Samoa.
The most likely scenario though is that Fiji will be Oceania 1 and Samoa Oceania 2. Qualifying began last June and saw Fiji winning two matches, Samoa one and Tonga recording two losses. The second half of the Oceania 1 and 2 qualifying will be this coming July.
The Oceania 3 country will play a home-and-away series against the winner of Europe’s Round 5 qualification match. The winner on aggregate will qualify for Japan 2019 as the Europe / Oceania play-off qualifier, whereas the loser will head to the world repechage. Tonga is thereby potentially to face Spain and then play in Pool A with Ireland, Scotland, Japan and Europe 1 (likely Romania).
Oceania 2 Prediction: Samoa
Under this scenario Daniel Hourcade would have his work cut out. It would be mission difficult albeit not misison impossible. By 2019 Argentina will have had eight years of involvement in the Rugby Championship and four years of Super Rugby.
Negotiating the pool would require extremely careful planning and player management. All four matches will require outstanding performances. Hourcade must deliver to ensure a repeat of a 27-0 loss against France or a 27-14 loss against England is not repeated.
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