So often called the sleeping giant of World Rugby, the United States are unlikely to awaken anytime soon. Still without a proper national professional league, America will rely on a handful of pros playing in England and France at the upcoming Rugby World Cup. Number eight Samu Manoa who has recently signed for Toulon is regarded as one of the best in the world, while Saracens fullback Chris Wyles will captain the side.
The United States have a tough draw with Samoa, Scotland and South Africa in consecutive matches, having failed to win against any of them in the past. Their first encounter against Samoa would be the best opportunity for an upset. Their final match against Japan is likely to be a 4th/5th place playoff for Pool B, and America will be hoping to exact some revenge after four straight losses against the Cherry Blossoms.
Key Players: Samu Manoa, Danny Barret, Chris Wyles
Pool Prediction: 5th
While Japan will talk up their chances of reaching the Quarter-Finals for the first time ever, improving on only one win and two draws in their previous seven World Cups will be the priority. Under maverick coach Eddie Jones the Japanese has improved steadily, with a larger emphasis on the set pieces. Japan currently has three players associated with Super Rugby sides, while the influx of foreigners into their league has greatly improved the quality on display. The majority of the squad will see this World Cup as a springboard for the debut of the Japanese Super Rugby launch next season, leading up to them hosting the tournament in 2019.
Their first two matches are against South Africa and Scotland, where they will aim to keep the score as low as possible. Their match against Samoa will be a prime opportunity to get off the mark, as their record against them has improved in recent years. Their final match against America will be a must win, as Japan has won the last four encounters between the two sides.
Key Players: Michael Leitch, Fumiaki Tanaka, Shota Horie
Pool Prediction: 4th
After falling to make it out of the pool stage of the World Cup since 1999, Samoa will be anxious to do so this time round after a favourable draw. Their squad boasts a number of stars of the French and English top leagues, and will be captained by London Irish flanker Ofisa Treviranus. The Pisi brohers, Ken, George and Tusi will feature heavily in their back-line, while former Chiefs flyer Tim Nanai-Williams is set to feature at Fullback.
Their matches against America and Japan are essential for their progression, while they would need to be extremely disciplined in their South African match to get a positive result. The Samoans do boast a powerful scrum, which they will hope can match that of Scotland when they meet in their final pool encounter, which is set to serve as a knock-out match for the Quarter-Finals. Samoa did beat Scotland in their last match played in 2013, and will hope to emulate that game in what is set to be a lively encounter in Newcastle.
Key Players: Ofisa Treviranus, Kane Thompson, Tim Nanai-Williams.
Pool Prediction: 3rd
After a disappointing Six Nations which saw Scotland lose all their matches, confidence would have been relatively low going into a tricky Pool B. Warm-up fixtures saw Scotland beat Italy twice while narrowly losing against France and Ireland, with the Scots knowing they will need to up their physical approach if they are to beat Samoa in their final pool encounter.
The Scots have chosen a strong pack as always, and will expect to dominate the set pieces in most of their pool encounters. Goal kicking duties should fall to captain and scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, while Fin Russel and Duncan Weir are set to battle it out for the fly-half berth. Their main attacking threat should come from their outside-backs, with fullback Stuart Hogg their star attraction. South Africans WP Nel and Josh Strauss are also sure to want to prove to the SA selectors that they were wrong in passing them over, after becoming eligible to play for Scotland this year.
Scotland will start their tournament against Japan and the United States, following it up with two distinctly harder encounters against South Africa and Samoa. Those last two encounters will both be played at Newcastle, and less than 100km from the Scottish border, is sure to see a large proportion of Scottish support.
Key Players: Richie Gray, Stuart Hogg, Greig Laidlaw
Pool Position: 2nd
While many teams heading to the World Cup would have caused a stir with their final selection, no nation would come close to South Africa with the controversy caused by the selection of some fringe players. The racial makeup of the squad has dominated the headlines, which shifted focus off the poor Bok record of just three victories in their last eight tests, which included rare losses against Ireland, Wales and Argentina.
Injury concerns to senior Bok veterans such as captain Jean de Villiers, Victor Matfield, Duane Vermeulen and Fourie du Preez have apparently cleared up, while there is still no clear consensus over who should don the fly-half jersey between Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie. The South African game plan will depend greatly on the ability of their pack to dominate opponents, with Bismarck du Plessis and Eben Etzebeth expected to lead the charge. Francois Louw, the only true open-side flanker in the squad, will have a large responsibility to ensure quick ball for the exciting new centre combination of Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende.
Despite their poor form, South Africa would be expected to top their group with relative ease, with their recent record against Scotland favouring the Boks heavily, and the Samoans lacking discipline to realistically challenge South Africa. Their tournament starts with minnows Japan before the bruising encounter against Samoa. The match against Scotland in Newcastle (close to the Scottish border) should be the highlight of the pool, while they finish against America in what is likely to be a run out for the fringe players.
Key Players: Eben Etzebeth, Francois Louw, Damian de Allende
Pool Prediction: 1st