Pool C: France and Argentina bidding to join England in the quarters
An opening round clash between Les Bleus and Los Pumas is a mouth watering start
Romain Ntamack is one of an exciting crop of young France players. Photograph: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty
England’s dismantling of defending champions Ireland in the opening game of the 2019 Six Nations provided the world with a devastating glimpse of what Eddie Jones’s side are capable of. They head into the tournament as second favourites and if they can bring their power game to the table consistently they will be difficult to stop, with the likes of Billy and Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje among some of the world’s most effective forwards on both sides of the ball. Consistency is the key, however, with Wales providing a blueprint on how to blunt and then beat England during the same championship. France, meanwhile, have probably never gone to a World Cup with their stock as low. Les Bleus remain enigmatic and capable of sporadic brilliance but have too often looked a haphazard mess over recent years. Jacques Brunel will turn to youth, and a core of 2018 Under-20 world champions - to try and salvage something from a tournament which looks doomed from the outset.
Argentina look to have the credentials to make it into the quarter-finals, as they seek to emulate their thrilling run to the semis in 2015. Super Rugby franchise the Jaguares only joined the competition in 2016 but they reached the final this year and will be bulk suppliers to Mario Ledesma in Japan, with Los Pumas offering the traditional balance of grizzled forwards and flying backs. The USA and Tonga will battle it out for the scraps, with the latter eager for another crack at France following their famous win over the eventual finalists in 2011.
The crunch fixture
England’s meetings with France and Argentina will be huge but it is the opening round clash between Les Bleus and Los Pumas which catches the eye. A French victory could be the catalyst for a young side to explode into life in Japan, while a victory for Argetina will emphasise their potential to make it into the tournament’s latter rounds.
A much beleaguered Jacques Brunel has a number of exciting young players at his disposal, with three in particular ready to leave their mark in Japan. The Toulouse halfbacks of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack enjoyed fine domestic seasons and have huge potential, while rampaging 21-year-old Lyon prop Demba Bamba has all the attributes to become one of the world’s best.
With the core of their side playing their club rugby together for a successful Jaguares side, Argentina are the polar opposite of a France team who too often play like they are strangers. While both squads are richly talented, this could prove the difference when they meet in Chofu, Tokyo. Elsewhere, Tonga have the firepower to ruffle a few feathers, and should clip the wings of the USA’s Eagles.