We’ve reached the end of the pool stages, with eight teams ready for the quarter finals. So let’s review before the finals start.
Australia = as expected, Australia cruised through Group A. Their biggest challenge was England, who they beat 18-4. Beltings of France and Lebanon confirmed the inevitable. With New Zealand finishing second in group B, they will be firm favourites to win the World Cup.
England = a patchy performance so far; losing to Australia and struggling to beat a valiant Lebanon before beating up France in the final round. On current form, they may struggle to get to the final, with a challenging quarter final against PNG.
Lebanon = the Cedars effectively sealed a quarter final spot by beating France 29-18 in the opening game. Losses to England and Australia were expected, but they didn’t disgrace themselves.
France = arguably their tournament highlight was Mark Kheirallah’s length-of-the-field try against Australia at Bruce Stadium, sure to be played in World Cup highlight packages for years to come. A gallant loss to Lebanon in the first week killed their finals hopes.
Tonga = the surprise packet of the World Cup, Tonga’s defining moment came against New Zealand in Waikato; trailing 16-2 at halftime, Tonga railled to win 28-22. The week before, they beat Samoa 32-18 in a highly entertaining game. Tonga’s momentus win over New Zealand was great for the tournament, saving it from complete predictability.
New Zealand = many fans (and cynics) expected an Australia v New Zealand final at Lang Park on December 2nd…until Tonga upset New Zealand. They’ll now have to face Australia in the semi final, rather than the final. Kinda puts the 74-6 win over Scotland in perspective.
Samoa = Samoa’s qualification for the finals highlights the ridiculous group stages of the World Cup. Because they’re in the stronger group B, Samoa made the quarter finals with one draw, where Ireland (with two impressive wins) miss out. It’s hard to see Samoa lasting beyond the quarter finals.
Scotland = the Bravehearts’ tournament highlight will be the 14-14 draw with Samoa, leading 14-6 in the first half.
PNG = with three games in Port Morseby and some handy NRL talent to bolster the PNG Hunters’ QLD Cup winning team, group C was PNG’s to lose…and they didn’t disappoint, belting Wales 50-6, beating a valiant Ireland and destroying USA 64-0. They’re a huge chance against a struggling England in the quarter finals.
Ireland = if anyone deserved to make the next stage, it was Ireland. They comfortably beat Italy and Wales and narrowly lost to PNG in Port Moresby. Ireland missing out of the finals behind Samoa (who finished three points behind Ireland) is a blight on the World Cup’s group format. With the 2021 tournament expanding to 16 teams, hopefully teams like Ireland will be rewarded.
Wales = nobody expected much from Wales, but few would have seen the big floggings from PNG (50-6) and Fiji (72-6) coming. The 34-6 loss to Ireland was slightly better, but not by much. It didn’t help that Wales played in the alien conditions of Port Moresby, Townsville and Perth.
Fiji = bolstered by the controversial Jarryd Hayne, Fiji breezed through group C, comfortably beating USA, Wales and Italy. Upsetting New Zealand in the quarter finals isn’t completely out of the question either.
Italy = while Italy had a troubled tournament, they did beat the awful USA 46-0. Their final game, a 38-10 loss to Fiji in Canberra, allowed locals to farewell former Canberra Raider Terry Campese, playing his only World Cup game for Italy.
USA = the USA were horribly outclassed in their group games, conceding 168 points and only scoring 12. They were kept scoreless twice (against Italy and PNG), finishing with the “wooden spoon” with no wins and a -156 differential.