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SPORTS | 05-09-2023 15:06

Argentina and England favourites to qualify from Rugby World Cup group

Which team can challenge Argentina and England in Pool D? Even Samoa look unlikely to snatch one of the top two positions from the group.

Which team can challenge Argentina and England in Pool D? Even Samoa look unlikely to snatch one of the top two positions from the group at the Rugby World Cup.

England and Argentina are favourites to go through in this group completed by Japan and Chile. It remains to be seen in which order, but the mystery should not last too long, as the English will face the Pumas in the first matchday on September 9 at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille.

And yet the England XV, finalists in the last edition of the World Cup, arrive at the World Cup in France with no certainty. Following three defeats in the Six Nations, Steve Borthwick's men suffered three more in four warm-up matches this summer, including a historic first defeat against Fiji (30-22).

"It's not the result we were hoping for and we're disappointed," admitted the England coach. "But the aim is to make sure we are at the required level against Argentina."

"We have a very good group of talented players who, we are sure, will play exceptionally well against Argentina," he added.

With England without suspended captain Owen Farrell and lone third row centre Billy Vunipola for the opener, the match will not be a repeat of the one four years ago when, also in the same pool, Farrell's side thumped the Pumas 39-10.

"England are full of quality players," Argentina coach Michael Cheika has since maintained. "I'm sure we will see those players during the match in Marseille."

Under the Aussie-Lebanese coach, who led Australia to the World Cup-2015 final, Argentina produced a convincing Rugby Championship tournament. His Pumas came close to victory at home to the Springboks in Johannesburg (22-21) after already managing to beat the Wallabies in Sydney (34-31).

Looking at the tournament table, Argentina can hope for a third semi-final in this edition (after 2007 and 2015) because if they reach the quarter-finals, they would face a team from the C key, with the dejected Wales or Australia, or even Fiji or Georgia.


Samoa bolstered by ex-All Blacks

I read a lot about our group being one of the easiest in the competition but I don't agree," says Cheika.

If there is a surprise, it could come from Samoa, who have taken advantage of a change in the eligibility rules. An international can now be called up by another country after three years without playing at international level. This is the case of former All Black Charlie Faumuina: the right back, World Cup winner with New Zealand in 2015, now reinforces the XV of his home country, like two other former players of the 'Fern XV'.

"I'd like to get through the group stages," wishes coach Seilala Mapusa, something that hasn't happened since 1995. "We wouldn't have to go through the qualifying campaign for the next World Cup."

In preparation, the Pacific side narrowly lost in Ireland (17-13), the world's leading nation and serious title contenders. Earlier, Samoa beat Japan (24-22) in Sapporo. Four years later, the 'Brave Blossom' are far from the level they were at in their home World Cup, when they beat Scotland and Ireland in the group phase.

As for Chile, their Condors are making their World Cup debut.

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