Scotland may have anticipated easing their way into the tournament with a gentle opener but there is likely to be more than a little apprehension ahead of this match after Japan’s astonishing upset win over South Africa on Saturday. It will go down as the biggest shock in World Cup history and has thrown the complexion of this pool completely up in the air.
The Scots flopped at this year’s Six Nations after losing all of their matches but expectations will be to reach the knockout stages here after a promising build-up to the tournament for Vern Cotter’s side. Italy were comprehensively beaten at Murrayfield last month while Scotland were a touch unfortunate to lose their final warm-up game 19-16 in France.
Scrum-half Greig Laidlaw will captain the team with exciting full-back Stuart Hogg fit to return from his ankle injury. Grant Gilchrist lines up alongside Jonny Gray in the second row for Scotland while David Denton is preferred to newcomer Josh Strauss at number eight. While the Scots come in fresh, Wednesday’s game comes only four days after an exhausting victory for their opponents.
It was an extraordinary triumph for the Japanese against two-time champions South Africa after their last-gasp 34-32 win in Brighton. The confidence and belief this will have given the squad is huge as all of a sudden hopes of reaching the quarter-final are realistic and a win over Scotland would put Eddie Jones’ side in the driving seat.
There have only been four meetings between the countries and all have them have been won by Scotland. Two of them came in the World Cup pool stage and the most recent victory was 42-17 two years ago at Murrayfield. All have been by at least 21 points but recent history may as well go out of the window after the monumental result at the weekend which indicates Japan are a totally different proposition.
Scotland come into this game as uneasy favourites and it is easy to see why so many people are choosing to side with Japan. One thing which could count against the underdogs is their schedule with two matches in such a short space of time playing into the hands of Cotter’s team. Scotland will have no complacency, after the Springboks’ humbling defeat, and a narrow victory could be on the cards. But Japan are well worth backing with a handicap advantage of 14 against Scotland.
Back Japan +14.5 to win at [2.26]
France v Romania
Wednesday September 23, 20:00
Live on ITV4
France got their World Cup campaign off to a solid start at Twickenham in their opener with a comfortable 32-10 win over Italy on Saturday. The result leaves Les Bleus firmly on course for a clash with Ireland to decide which team finishes top of the group.
France suffered a setback after losing winger Yohann Huget for the rest of the tournament due to a knee injury. Coach Philippe Saint-Andre has unsurprisingly significantly altered the team for their second match which comes just four days after their opening game. There are 13 changes in total with hooker Dimitri Szarzewski captaining the side.
Romania come in as the minnows of the group and are not expected to cause France any problems at the Olympic Stadium. Romania have picked their most experienced team ever in terms of caps and age with their task to frustrate the French. The Eastern Europeans may not be the pushovers some might think though after only losing narrowly to USA, Japan and Tonga in the last year.
France should win comfortably enough on Wednesday night but will it be easy enough for them to cover a 44-point handicap? You have to go back to Romania’s defeat to England in the last World Cup for a team to beat them by this amount. During more than three years in charge, Saint-Andre’s biggest victory is by 39 points. With France making so many changes, Romania may hold their own for longer than expected and the outsiders can certainly stay in front with a sizable handicap advantage.
Back Romania +44 to win in the Sportsbook at [1.95]
New Zealand v Namibia
Thursday September 24, 20:00
Live on ITV
New Zealand got the defence of their trophy off to a decent start after coming through their toughest pool game on Sunday. The All Blacks were not at their ruthless best but had to overturn a half-time deficit, against an exceptional defensive performance from Argentina at Wembley, as they eventually ran out 26-16 winners.
With a short turnaround from their first game, in what was a brutal physical encounter against the Pumas, New Zealand are likely to make significant changes to their squad. This will hand opportunities to players outside their first choice side but it certainly will not weaken them to any great extent in a game which should be a walkover.
Namibia are the rank outsiders in the competition and will be looking for a respectable result and performance from their daunting opener against the champions. There will be no shortage of endeavor from Namibia though and in Jacques Burger, the team have an inspirational figure who has continuously excelled as a ferocious tackler in the Premiership with Saracens.
New Zealand will win this and in all probability run up a big scoreline with plenty of tries. But there is no guarantee the world’s top ranked side will cover a handicap pitched at 80 points in favour of Namibia. Steve Hansen’s side have not won by more than 68 points since he took charge following their World Cup triumph. The All Blacks will ease home but Namibia are capable of preventing them winning by 80 points or more.
Back Namibia +80 to win in the Sportsbook at [1.83]