Wallabies slide confirmed in World Cup rankings
JAPAN'S heroic upset of Ireland has been the riveting high so far of the Rugby World Cup which hits the halfway point this weekend.
Firm, fast playing surfaces in mostly warm conditions have made it a World Cup unlike any other played in the northern hemisphere.
That upset alone and the Wallabies' disappointing tumble to Wales could well load New Zealand, England, Ireland and Australia in one half of the quarter-final draw.
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Just how the top eight sides will unscramble themselves from the rest is still very much up in the air which makes this the most unpredictable of World Cups in the pool stages. Ever.
There is plenty still to play out with Japan v Samoa, England v Argentina, England v France and Japan v Scotland as the biggest of high-stakes clashes that could spin pool standings in an unexpected direction.
The 20 teams may be playing a tournament of four pools but rugby writer Jim Tucker has deconstructed those boundaries to give his Power Rankings on just how each team is tracking towards the ultimate prize...the Webb Ellis Cup on November 2.
1 NEW ZEALAND (2-0)
Rock solid. Before the tournament, judges were almost trying to find another nation to tip as tournament winner so not to be too predictable in backing the 2011 and 2015 champions. Well, the All Blacks are the alpha-force at the tournament again and showed it right from the first giant match-up of the tournament. They repelled South Africa's periods of strength to win that one 23-13. Beauden Barrett is proving danger-plus for all rivals. Tracking towards a quarter-final against Ireland or Japan.
2 FRANCE (2-0)
Rising. The World Cup format suits the unpredictable French because it can reward epic one-night stands and three-game streaks of momentum and emotion. The French dealt with fast-finishing Argentina 23-21 to make a quarter-final spot that much easier to grab. The France v England pool clash in Yokohama on October 12 will be huge.
3 WALES (2-0)
Well coached. The 29-25 overthrow of the Wallabies was the one pool challenge they had to meet and they did it magnificently. They'll now avoid the All Blacks in the semi-finals if they roll that far. Bleat all you like about Welsh halfback Gareth Davies being off-side for the intercept try that helped sink the Australians. The fact remains, he intercepted two passes and grassed another. He was coached expertly for just that mission knowing the flat passing ways of the Australians.
4 JAPAN (2-0)
Brilliant. The 19-12 win over Ireland was one of the great days in Test rugby for pure atmosphere and meaning in a cauldron of 47,000-plus fans. The tournament found its soul right there. Chop tackling around the ankles, faultless handling for long periods, a top game plan from coach Jamie Joseph and heroic performances created an epic. The hosts have already created a World Cup star in winger Kotaro Matsushima, who scored a hat-trick of tries on opening night against Russia. You'd say it's already enough to make Japan's World Cup a success but the quarter-finals are within reach. Really fear that Samoa could spoil the party on Saturday.
5 SOUTH AFRICA (1-1)
Dangers. There were moments against the All Blacks in the 23-13 pool loss where you thought the Springboks were coming. Powerful, bonded and with strike power. The Boks will have a say in who wins this tournament. Could be headed into a big quarter-final against Ireland but will avoid the All Blacks until the final if they are good enough to earn a second shot.
6 ENGLAND (2-0)
Untested. Eddie Jones and his crew have been able to keep their tricks and killer plays well hidden because they've easily beaten Tonga (35-3) and the US (45-7) in the two easiest match-ups of Pool C. It gets much harder from here with desperate Argentina lying in wait on Saturday and improvers France on Saturday week. Would rate much higher in these rankings if they'd played a top side. Expect the true England to stand up.
7 AUSTRALIA (1-1)
Disappointing. Handbrake starts to trail Fiji (21-12) and Wales (26-8) have meant the Wallabies chasing both games in the second half. Nothing we didn't expect...patches of superb play but also too many errors early. The forwards have outperformed the backs that's for sure. Captain Michael Hooper has been excellent. Jolted into the same half of the draw as the All Blacks but a likely quarter-final against England is far bigger first.
8 IRELAND (2-1)
Labouring. The top nation with the least World Cup history of success to draw on. It showed too against Japan. The Irish never risked enough to beat the host country and star Jacob Stockdale starved on his wing. What do the Titanic and Irish rugby have in common? Both went down 1912. Unconvincing and another early exit likely.
9 ARGENTINA (1-1)
Desperate. Jolted by a loss to France, the 2015 World Cup semi-finalists are trying to stay afloat and that means having to upset England in Tokyo on Saturday or their Cup is over.
10 URUGUAY (1-1)
History. The greatest moment in the South American nation's rugby rise was upsetting Fiji 30-27. So much heart and so against the odds. Brilliant defence at times. The World Cup became a success for Uruguay with that one afternoon in Kamaishi.
11 ITALY (2-0)
Overdue. So much has been invested in the Italians with their entry to the Six Nations without them ever converting that to a World Cup statement. Two bonus point wins over lesser nations have primed confidence for Friday's big one against South Africa. Time for the pack to really step up.
12 FIJI (1-2)
Such a waste. The Fijians were so good against the Wallabies but were emotionally flat and dropped the game to Uruguay four days later. The match against Wales in Oita next Wednesday will still be big but not as big as it could have been. Semi Radradra was a beast in the confidence-lifting win over Georgia. Great to watch. If only...
13 SCOTLAND (1-1)
Uninspiring. Losing to Ireland (27-3) so badly might have been the end of their World Cup just two days into the tournament. All Scottish fingers are crossed that the Samoans beat Japan because they could still sneak into the quarters when the Scotland v Japan match unfolds as the final pool duel.
14 SAMOA (1-1)
Wildcards. They won't make the quarter-finals themselves but can still have a big say because the Saturday clash against Japan could derail the hosts. So much more was expected against Scotland than a 34-0 loss. The upset kings of previous World Cups have lost that mantle.
15 GEORGIA (1-2)
Stout. Traditional strengths at scrum and with mauling paid off with a 33-7 win over Uruguay. The win they had to grab. Never a quarter-finals chance.
16 TONGA (0-2)
Spirited. The Pacific islanders were brave and physical when beaten by England (35-3) and Argentina (28-12). Only their match-up against the US gives them hope of a win before coach Toutai Kefu's team departs after the pool stages.
17 UNITED STATES (0-2)
Outclassed. The World Cup has been waiting since 1987 for an American team to produce an eye-popping upset that would put rugby on the map even for a day in the US. And still we wait. Losing to England (45-7) and France (33-9) doesn't suggest the Americans are getting any closer.
18 CANADA (0-2)
Off the pace. There was a time when the Canadians physically ripped into top nations at the World Cup. Those days seem gone. Plenty of teams have felt the cold edge of class at the hands of the All Blacks (63-0) but much better was expected in the heavy loss to Italy (48-7).
19 RUSSIA (0-3)
Minnows. The Russians have battled let's be honest. They will always have memories of playing the World Cup opener against Japan in front of a full house in Tokyo.
20 NAMIBIA (0-2)
Home early. Just playing against the Springboks would have been a highlight for the tournament underdogs. A 57-3 loss to neighbours South Africa is a true reflection of where the team sits.