The girls with flags from Namibia, Samoa, South Africa, Wales and Fiji.

Group D has an Ulster Quotient of 4 with South African’s Johann Muller and Ruan Pienaar representing the Province.

There’s no place in the Fuji squad for our “Jimmy” with whatever falling out Nagusa has had with the coaching staff appearing not to be healed.

There’s a few other’s that I wouldn’t mind seeing running out in an Ulster top in this group as well, and surprisingly they are not all in the South African side.

Of course, any team would take Bismarck du Plessis, Victor Matfield or Pierre Spies, amongst others, but the backs I’d be happy to see at Ravers with the red hand on their shirt are Welsh with James Hook and Lee Byrne being the two with potential for greatness!

Byrne may seem a strange pick for some but a couple of years ago he and Kearney were vying for being the World’s best full back and I think if he stays injury free at Clermont then the Welsh man could get back to that level again in the not too distant future with, unfortunately, Ulster on the receiving end of his return to form! It’ll certainly be interesting to see how he and Payne stack up should they come face to face in the Heineken Cup.

Hook is simply a class act and it’s good to see how he has been nurtured through his formative years by Stephen Jones in the international set up. It’ll be fascinating to see how he copes in France, on his own, but I think the time is right for this fantastically gifted player to take his place on the world stage.

How big a part Johann and Ruan will take in South Africa’s defence of the World Crown is really anyone’s guess with Peter De Villiers in charge but, barring injury, I expect that both the Ulster boys will be in the periphery rather than in the starting line up for the must win games come the business end of the tournament. Though if anything should happen to Morne Steyn I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pienaar start at out half as opposed to the one dimensional James.

Muller and Rossouw could be in the World Top Three of second row parings  and would start for 80% of the other teams in the tournament but whether we see them on the pitch together is as uncertain as PDV actually picking the best South African team!

Pool D Fixtures.

Date Time (UK) Match Details Location Stadium
Sat Sept 10 03.30 Fiji v Namibia Rotorua Rotorua International Stadium
Sun Sept 11 09.30 South Africa v Wales Wellington Wellington Regional Stadium
Wed Sept 14 03.30 Samoa v Namibia Rotorua Rotorua International Stadium
Sat Sept 17 07.00 South Africa v Fiji Wellington Wellington Regional Stadium
Sun Sept 18 04.30 Wales v Samoa Hamilton Waikato Stadium
Thurs Sept 22 09.00 South Africa v Namibia Auckland North Harbour Stadium
Sun Sept 25 03.30 Fiji v Samoa Auckland Eden Park
Mon Sept 26 07.30 Wales v Namibia New Plymouth Stadium Taranaki
Fri Sept 30 08.30 South Africa v Samoa Auckland North Harbour Stadium
Sun Oct 2 06.00 Wales v Fiji Hamilton Waikato Stadium

South Africa v Wales first up should decide the 1st and second placings in this group but I don’t think it will. I fully expect Wales to beat the out of form Boks side but the defending champions should go through the rest of the pool games relatively undisturbed and if they manage to stumble upon their best line up they will be very dangerous come the knock out stages.

Wales on the other hand will stumble against Samoa or Fiji because, well, that’s just Wales, but provided they don’t stumble against both they should still qualify in second place. It’ll still be a nervy enough morning in “the Valleys” on Sunday 2nd by reckoning anyway.

10th ranked Samoa are genuine threats with a good spread of experienced pros in the forwards and the backs, but the fixtures certainly do not help their cause with Wales, Fiji and South Africa as their last three fixtures. The match against Fiji is likely to be particularly “passionate” encounter to say the least. Their most realistic chance is for South Africa to beat Wales and have qualification in the bag before they meet in their last pool fixture with a disinterested Boks side letting them slip through in second  place ahead of Wales.

To Qualify: 1. South Africa, 2. Wales

Outsiders: Samoa

Match of the Pool: Wales v Samoa

Squads

Fiji Namibia Samoa South Africa Wales
Forwards (17) Forwards (16) Forwards (16)  Forwards (16)  Forwards (16)
Sunia Koto Hugo Horn Ole Avei Bismarck du Plessis Huw Bennett
Talemaitoga Tuapati Egbertus O’Callaghan Ti’i Paulo Chiliboy Ralepelle Lloyd Burns
Viliame Veikoso Jané du Toit Mahonri Schwalger* John Smit (c) Ken Owens
Waisea Daveta Raoul Larson Census Johnston Jannie du Plessis Ryan Bevington
Campese Ma’afu Johannes Redelinghuys Logovi’i Mulipola Tendai Mtawarira Paul James
Deacon Manu* Marius Visser Anthony Perenise Gurthrö Steenkamp Gethin Jenkins
Setefano Somoca Nico Esterhuyse Sakaria Taulafo CJ van der Linde Adam Jones
Sekonaia Kalou Hendrik Franken Daniel Leo Bakkies Botha Craig Mitchell
Wame Lewaravu Uakazuwaka Kazombiaze Filipo Levi Victor Matfield* Luke Charteris
Leone Nakarawa Heinz Koll Joe Tekori Johann Muller Bradley Davies
Rupeni Nasiga Jacques Burger* Kane Thompson Danie Rossouw Alun Wyn Jones
Akapusi Qera
Tinus du Plessis Maurie Fa’asavalu Heinrich Brüssow Dan Lydiate
Malakai Ravulo Rohan Kitshoff Manaia Salavea Schalk Burger Andy Powell
Netani Talei Renaud van Neel Ofisa Treviranus Francois Louw Sam Warburton (c)
Dominiko Waqaniburotu Jacques Nieuwenhuis George Stowers Willem Alberts Toby Faletau
Sisa Koyamaibole Pieter-Jan van Lill Taiasina Tuifu’a Pierre Spies Ryan Jones
Sakiusa Matadigo
Backs (13) Backs (14) Backs (14) Backs (14) Backs (14)
Vitori Buatava Ryan de la Harpe Kahn Fotuali’i Fourie du Preez Tavis Knoyle
Nemia Kenatale Eugene Jantjies Junior Poluleuligaga Francois Hougaard Mike Phillips
Nicky Little Theuns Kotze Jeremy Su’a Ruan Pienaar Lloyd Williams
Waisea Luveniyali Tertius Losper Tasesa Lavea Butch James James Hook
Seremaia Bai Darryl de la Harpe Tusi Pisi Morne Steyn Stephen Jones
Ravai Fatiaki David Philander Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu Juan de Jongh Rhys Priestland
Gabiriele Lovobalavu Danie van Wyk Johnny Leota Jean de Villiers Jonathan Davies
Albert VuliVuli Piet van Zyl Seilala Mapusua Jaque Fourie Jamie Roberts
Vereniki Goneva Heini Bock George Pisi Gio Aplon Scott Williams
Napolioni Nalaga Conrad Marais David Lemi Bryan Habana Aled Brew
Michael Tagicakibau McGrath van Wyk Sailosi Tagicakibau Odwa Ndungane Leigh Halfpenny
Iliesa Keresoni Llelwellyn Winkler Alesana Tuilagi JP Pietersen George North
Kini Murimurivalu Chrysander Botha James So’oialo Patrick Lambie Shane Williams
Danie Dames Paul Williams François Steyn Lee Byrne

 

Key Players:

Fiji: Deacon Manu

The Scarlets player is the man tasked with pulling a dispirited Fijian side together. Having steadily slipped down the rankings since their 2007 World Cup exploits Fiji have been plagued with political issues off the field as much as disjointed performances on. As much as Manu will be a steadying influence I can only see one big game from the Islanders. Whether it’s against  Samoa or Wales could decide the second place qualifiers!

Namibia: Jacques Burger

Burger currently plays for Saracens and has previously played for the Bulls but the flanker will have his work cut out if bottom ranked Namibia are to make any impact in the group. Despite a sprinkling of players turning out in South Africa and in France, Burger’s realistic target is for a spirited defeat to their Bok neighbours.

Samoa: Alesana Tuilagi

Samoa have a fine sprinkling of reasonably classy players but the sight of the distinctive Tuilagi charging down the wing is enough to strike fear in the heart of many an opponent. The Leicester player has been there and done that in his illustrious career and if he is getting involved in the game then Samoa will be a team to watch.

South Africa: Pierre Spies

Just quite simply brilliant in my book. If Spies is playing well South Africa have a realistic chance of defending their crown.

Wales: James Hook

This tournament could be the making of Hook who has promised so much in his career. However the 26 year old looks ready to take on the mantle of out half on a permanent basis and he could be one of the best in a long line of Welsh greats. If Hook fulfils his potential then Wales could be good, in fact very good indeed.

#SUFTUM