JOHANNESBURG –The 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan kicks off next Friday and in the start to our build-up, rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen tells you all about the teams in the four groups and who the key men are in those sides. Today we look at Pool A and Pool B
Overview: They’ll go into the tournament as the No 1 team in the official world rankings, but they’ve never gone past the quarter-finals, having reached that stage on six occasions, including in 2011 and 2015. They won three of five games in this year’s Six Nations and finished third. At the World Cup they have a 60 percent win percentage.
Captain: Rory Best
Coach: Joe Schmidt
Key man: Flyhalf Jonathan Sexton is one of world rugby’s most experienced players with over 80 caps, he was last year’s World Player of the Year and is one of his team’s vice-captains. He is a points machine and leads the back division.
Overview: The world’s seventh best team according to the rankings finished this year’s Six Nations competition in fifth place with just the one win. They’ve reached the quarter-finals on seven occasions and in 1991 made the semi-finals, eventually finishing in fourth place. They’ve won 58 percent of their 38 World Cup games.
Captain: Stuart McInally
Coach: Gregor Townsend
Key man: Scrumhalf Greg Laidlaw, who can also play at flyhalf, has plenty of experience having previously captained the side and featured in over 65 Tests. His accurate goal-kicking is a major contributor to the team’s success.
Overview: The hosts go into the tournament ranked 10th in the world and having played at the last eight tournaments, but they’ve never gone beyond the pool stages. They’ve only won four matches out of 28 and that includes their most memorable win, registered against the Springboks in Brighton four years ago.
Captain: Michael Leitch
Coach: Jamie Joseph
Key man: The former Cheetahs and Bulls loose-forward Lappies Labuschagne has played in Japan for four years now and is highly regarded. He knows what is required to succeed at the highest level and is a classy operator in the back-row.
Overview: This will be 20-ranked Russia’s second appearance at a World Cup, having only previously featured at the 2011 tournament. They lost all four matches in New Zealand eight years ago.
Captain: Vasily Artemyev
Coach: Lyn Jones
Key man: Giant second-row forward, Andrei Ostrikov, has turned out for the Sale Sharks in the Premiership 136 times in the last eight years and having previously also played in France, he brings plenty of experience to a young team.
Overview: Surprisingly Samoa are only ranked 16th in the world, but then their best campaigns were some years ago now, in 1991 and 1995, when they reached the quarter-finals stages. At the last four tournaments they’ve failed to progress from their pool. They go to this year’s tournament with a win record at the World Cup of 43 percent.
Captain: Jack Lam
Coach: Steve Jackson
Key man: Experienced utility back Tim Nanai-Williams (30) is the cousin of All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams and a try-scorer of some reputation. He turned out for the Chiefs in Super Rugby on 85 occasions. Versatility is his biggest strength.
Overview: They may only be ranked second, but they remain the favourites to bag a fourth title. As the winners in 1987, 2011 and 2015, runners-up in 1995 and third-place finishers in 1991 and 2003, the All Blacks are the tournament’s most successful team. In 50 matches played they’ve lost just six times.
Captain: Kieran Read
Coach: Steve Hansen
Key man: Experienced lock Brodie Retallick is considered so important to the All Blacks’ cause that he was picked even though he has a shoulder injury and will only play in the knockout rounds. A powerhouse player, and the heartbeat of the tight-five.
Overview: Two-time winners (1995 and 2007), the Springboks have generally done well at the World Cup tournament, having also finished third in 1999 and in 2015, and as quarter-finalists in 2003 and 2011. Ranked fourth, they have a win percentage of 83 percent in the tournament having won 30 of their 36 matches played.
Captain: Siya Kolisi
Coach: Rassie Erasmus
Key man: Flyhalf Handre Pollard is not only a reliable goal-kicker, but a No 10 who plays flat and enjoys attacking the gain-line. Also strong in defence, the Boks won’t want him to pick up an injury.
Overview: The 14th-ranked Italians have played at every World Cup, but they have never managed to get out of their pool and will battle to do so on this occasion as well. They have managed just 11 wins in 28 matches played, and scored just 54 tries across eight tournaments. They finished sixth in the Six Nations, without a win.
Captain: Sergio Parisse
Coach: Cono O’Shea
Key man: It’s a young Italian team with plenty to prove, and in hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini (with 97 Test caps) they have a front-row man with tons of experience. He’s played in England, France and Italy and this will be his fourth World Cup.
Overview: The men from south west Africa head into their sixth World Cup having played at the last five tournaments. They, however, have never got out of their group and are unlikely to do so now. Ranked 23rd in the world, they have never won a World Cup game in 19 attempts and average just 11 points per game played.
Captain: Johan Deysel
Coach: Phil Davies
Key man: The experienced scrumhalf Eugene Jantjies will be a team leader in Japan having played at the last three tournaments. He has played most of his rugby in Romania, for three different clubs, in recent years.
Overview: They go into the tournament as the 22nd best team in the world and having played at all eight previous tournaments. Their best showing was way back in 1991 when they made the quarter-finals; for the rest they’ve only played in the pool stages. They’ve won only seven matches of 29 played.
Captain: Tyler Ardon
Coach: Kingsley Jones
Key man: The veteran scrumhalf Phil Mack has played for his national team since 2009 and earned 60 caps. He played at the last World Cup and has experienced European rugby having also featured for the Ospreys in Wales.
* Tomorrow we focus on Pools C and D.@jacq_west