World Cup Preview: Canada, Japan, Tonga

Group A Opposition: New Zealand, France

Pedigree: Canada have the best pedigree here, with a quarter-final appearance in 1991 in their locker, and generally respectable showings. Japan have just 1 win in 6 tournaments (which, oddly, Egg Chaser was at), and Tonga, historically the weakest Pacific Island, had their best showing in 2007, winning two games and running eventual winners South Africa close.

Players to watch: Former Kiwi and Leaguer Cooper Vuna is coming off a decent year with the Melbourne Rebels, and could shine on the Tongan wing. And don’t forget Barnesy wet dream Oooooohh Soane Tonga’uiha.

Cherry Blossom scrumhalf Atsushi Hiwasa was named emerging Asian player of the year this year, and if the lightweight Japanese forwards manage to get him some decent ball, he could make an impression.

Canada boast Paulie-basher and Clermont battleaxe Jamie Cudmore and the splendidly-named (and splendid) back-rower Chauncey O’Toole – who may well be an Osprey next season.

Good Tournament: Tonga will fancy themselves to win twice and run a big gun close. Japan will want to beat Canada, and repeat their PNC treatment of Tonga. Canada just want a win, but might be quietly confident of a second.

Bad Tournament: Tonga losing to a fellow minnow, or the others going home empty handed.

Prospects: All 3 of the small fry in Group A seem to be on the up. Japan won their first Pacific Nations Cup this month, pipping Tonga to the title with a last minute bonus point try against 12-man Fiji. The traditional Japanese weakness is size, so it was a pleasant surprise to see them deal with the Pacific Islanders. Tonga themselves were relatively happy with a second place finish – it took a surprise 28-27 victory for Japan to ultimately deny them the title (which also would have been a first).

However, Tonga have the comfort of knowing they have some big guns to bring back in, unlike the Japanese, and 6 weeks in camp pre-tournament (2 more than in 07 where they almost stunned the Bok seconds) will likely leave them primed to go from the off. If it were France first up, you might have half an expectation of a contest, but Les Bleus play them last and will be in their stride by then, and tend to enjoy the open rugby Tonga serve up.

Meanwhile Canada had a comfortable win over Italy A in the Churchill Cup and gave a respectable account of themselves against a Saxons side in the final which contained more than a few senior caps. And in last year’s edition, they knocked over France A. They are well-organised and well-funded, and are not to be underestimated – they have made life very uncomfortable for most 6N sides at some point (you may recall a last minute Rog penalty to salvage a draw back in Gatty’s time).

Verdict: This is essentially a 3 country mini-league – NZ and France will beat them all. Japan will go home luckless and winless (again), with the consolation of Mils Muliaina giving their domestic league some kudos. Tonga will be the one to put the heart across a big gun if they are under-estimated, but we have a sneaking suspicion the Canucks are going to run them close – the big game for Tonga is against the All Blacks, and Canada will be sitting in the long grass a few days later. Canada to win twice.
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3 Comments

  1. Are you mad? clearly poor research. Japan are currently the best 2nd tier team and are looking like if they were put in our group they would cause problem for us and definitely Italy. technically better than both canada and tonga, the japs will have the fitness to scare France. you need to watch some of their games before you throw outrageous blogs out there. your opinion on most of the main stream teams is justified but seriosusly wtf is this one about?!

  2. Slated!A tad optimistic I think on Japan (not "the Japs" please), current rankings have them, Canada and Tonga very closely matched:http://www.irb.com/rankings/full.html13(12) JAPAN 71.96 14(16) CANADA 71.56 15(13) TONGA 71.07 We'll see how they turn out, but our analysis above stands – we think Japan go winless.

  3. I beg to differ, Canada is the top second-tier nation, Japan very close, Tonga in third (within this tri-country comparison). Canada has beaten Tonga, will push France, and will beat Japan with confidence gained from Tonga game.People seem to be underestimating this Canada squad based on last world cup results, they have improved greatly in coaching, defense, and conditioning.

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