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The Rugby World Cup reaches a critical point on Saturday night, but not many would have predicted the enormity of the England v Australia clash prior to the beginning of the tournament. Wales’ crushing defeat of England last Saturday has left the home nation on the edge of survival in their own World Cup, and another loss under the Twickenham lights would spell disaster for Stuart Lancaster and his men. There’s no sporting love lost between England and Australia, and the Wallabies will be licking their lips in anticipation of spoiling English parties before they’ve even begun.
Meanwhile Scotland face their toughest test of the World Cup so far in a pivotal game against South Africa. Unlike their English counterparts, the Scots have carved a smooth passage through their pool with victories over Japan and USA. The Springboks were on the wrong end of one of the World Cup’s biggest shocks in defeat to Japan in their opening game, but they went some way towards repairing the damage with a decisive win over Samoa. This will be a true gauge of Scotland’s ability to live with the big boys, and promises to be a bruising encounter.
England on the Brink
The England team has come under heavy fire after the loss to Wales, but it was the manner of defeat which has caused as much unrest as the result itself. While Wales played above themselves, England paid for their own indiscipline, and captain Chris Robshaw turned down the opportunity to go for a late penalty kick which could have earned a draw at the end. Instead he opted for a five-metre line-out to attempt a potentially match-winning try, but Wales repelled the attack and drove England into touch. The skipper has been heavily criticized for the decision – and it was a costly mistake – but the damage had already been done by then as England had surrendered a ten point lead.
All of that leaves England facing the very real prospect of being the first home nation ever to exit their own World Cup at the group stage. Failure to beat Australia will almost certainly result in elimination and England are in the last chance saloon on Saturday night.
A Must-Win Game
The English camp are well aware of the importance of the game, with England assistant coach Andy Farrell describing the match as “as big as it gets“.
Fear can be one of the greatest motivating factors in sport, and there is so much at stake for this English side that one would expect them to fight tooth and nail for every ball. The nerves that have underscored the first two games against Fiji and Wales must be banished, but it’s when backs are against the wall that teams often come out fighting.
In England’s favour perhaps is their home record against Australia, and the fact that they’ve won four of the last six meetings. Coach Stuart Lancaster has been lambasted by the media and his job could very well depend upon his team selection and tactics for Saturday night’s game. Many will call for a team that has the defensive shackles thrown off and takes the game to Australia, but it remains to be seen how Lancaster and his team will approach the game. One thing is for sure – it’s win at all costs.
Scotland’s Moment of Truth
Scotland face an equally important game just a few hours earlier at St James’ Park against South Africa, and it will be a real test of new-found Scottish enthusiasm. After a fairly torrid early 2015 which culminated in defeat to Italy in the Six Nations, Scotland finally grabbed their first two victories of the year in warm-up games against the same opponents. They’ve had a great start to the World Cup with good wins over Japan and USA, gaining the all-important bonus points needed to be competitive at the top of the group, and there’s plenty to play for on Saturday afternoon.
Springboks Warming to World Cup Task
South Africa were humiliated on the world stage in the 32-34 defeat to Japan, and that will have hurt the squad of players who were being talked about as potential World Cup winners prior to the tournament. They righted some of the wrongs with the 46-6 win over Samoa, with JP Pietersen running in a hat trick, but this is as much of a test for them as it is for Scotland. The Springboks now have to prove that they can be taken seriously as contenders for the Web Ellis trophy, and nothing less than convincing victory against Scotland will suffice.
South Africa -15 is priced at 1/1 2.00 +100 1.00 1.00 -1.00 with Bwin and if they get into their stride, a big win is distinctly possible.
Scotland face a tricky game against Samoa after this, which could well decide second position in the group, while South Africa face arguably their easiest assignment against USA. Scotland are currently top of the pool with 10 points, but South Africa are three points back with 7 and they will be determined to turn the tables. Scotland’s form has been excellent over the last month, as has some of the rugby they’ve played, but they could be facing South Africa at the worst possible time. The Springboks need the points first and foremost to earn a quarter-final slot, but they also have a reputation to repair after that shock Japanese defeat. Samoa have already felt the force of a wounded South Africa, and Scotland might suffer the same fate on Saturday afternoon.
England to beat Australia
Saturday 3rd October 20:00 GMT
Odds: 8/11 1.73 -138 0.72 -1.38 0.72
South Africa -15 to beat Scotland
Saturday 3rd October 16:45
Odds: 1/1 2.00 +100 1.00 1.00 -1.00