New Zealand v England
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Saturday, 8pm (local), 6pm (AEDT), 5pm (AEST)
The Rabbitohs front row will be on display this Saturday night, when George and Thomas Burgess (England) face off against the Kiwi Haka, led by hooker Issac Luke.
In one of the most hotly contested international tournaments in living memory, the Final on November 15th is anything but a foregone conclusion, with all four nations still a mathematical chance of earning a spot – although you’d need a calculator and a set square to figure it out.
After winning their opening encounter against Samoa, England had the rare opportunity to knock Australia out of the competition in week two. And the unthinkable would have happened, had it not been for the fingertips of Greg Inglis – who desperately pushed an England kick in-goal dead, despite a gallant – and controversial – attempt from Ryan Hall to ground it and steal the match.
The disappointing loss will have to be forgotten quickly though if they are to beat a Kiwi team in red-hot form having not yet lost a game (beating the Kangaroos and Samoa in consecutive weeks).
After missing week one through suspension, Issac Luke returned to the international stage against the Samoa, and will no doubt be back to his scheming best having had the hit-out. His metre-gaining ability out of dummy-half coupled with a combination with Shaun Johnson will no doubt be a lethal punch for the Kiwis.
For England, George Burgess will be looking to lead from the front with his characteristic charges – particularly close to the Kiwi line. The big man is no stranger to scoring points from close-range, but in the face of a towering New Zealand forward pack, points might be better sought out on the fringes.
Look to Gareth Widdop and Sam Tomkins to create some opportunities for the men in red and white, while Ryan Hall will no doubt be causing plenty of problems again this week.
How to Make the Final
New Zealand: New Zealand are currently ranked first on four points with a points differential of +20. Should they win, or draw, Luke’s Kiwis will be into the final. Should the Kiwis lose by nine points or fewer they will be playing in Wellington next weekend. If they lose by nine points exactly, they'll be tied with England on for-and-against, but would advance on percentages with the stronger defensive record of the two teams. However, if New Zealand loses by 10 or more points, England will overtake them on the ladder, leaving the Kiwis relying on the Kangaroos not making up points difference between the two against Samoa.
After beating Samoa in week one of the tournament at Suncorp Stadium, England are ranked second with a points differential of +2. England will be hoping to win by 10 points or more to ensure their place in the final. A win by a smaller margin would still have them below New Zealand on the ladder, meaning they would need Australia to lose to Samoa or fail to make up the points difference. For example, an eight-point win for England would take them into the final if Australia beat Toa Samoa by fewer than 24 points.
England: A defeat or a draw for England would leave Australia needing to win by any margin to make the final, so the Brits would be praying for a shock Toa Samoa victory over the Kangaroos. But it would have to be a narrow victory; if Samoa win and leap England on points differential, then England and Australia would miss out on the final.
Australia v Samoa
WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Sunday 4pm (AEDT), 3pm (AEST)
Some would say the Kangaroos were lucky against England, while others would point to the youthful side’s resilience for eventually grinding out a remarkably close Test match victory in Melbourne last week.
Irrespective of the opinions, the Kangaroos will have a chance to book their place in the final – but so does Samoa.
Rabbitohs players Greg Inglis and Dylan Walker will line up for the Kangaroos for the third successive Test matcb, with Inglis playing at fullback, while Walker will resume his spot in the centres.
Both Rabbitohs reps have played pivotal roles for the green and gold’s in recent weeks, with Inglis coming up with vital tries at crucial moments of matches, while Walker’s defence on the fringes has been first class.
Australian Coach, Tim Sheens, made some drastic positional mid-game changes against England last week, with debutant Ben Hunt being brought on to effectively give the Kangaroos three halfbacks with which to play.
The unorthodox change immediately sparked the Kangaroos into life though, with Hunt combining with Cameron Smith to score within two minutes of taking the field. But the question remains, will the Kangaroos need to think even further outside the box to tame a Toa Samoa side that is proving itself as a force on the international stage.
How to Make the Final:
If they win? The Kangaroos' -14 points differential is their biggest problem. If New Zealand beat the English on Saturday night, then any Australian victory would see the Kangaroos leap over England and into the final. The same goes for a draw in the New Zealand-England match. But any England victory would require Australia to win and win big – they currently trail England on for-and-against by 16 points (a margin that would increase with an England win) and trail New Zealand on for-and-against by 34 points.
If they lose? If Samoa pull off an upset win then Australia will miss a first tournament final for the first time in 60 years unless England lose by 17 points plus whatever margin Australia loses by. In the same vein, if the Kangaroos and Toa Samoa draw then England need to lose by 17 points for Australia to qualify.
If they win? The Samoans need New Zealand to beat England on Saturday night to have any chance of snatching a place in the final. A 10-point differential currently separates England and Toa Samoa, so the Samoans would need to make up the difference in order to advance. If the Kiwis beat England by 10, any Samoan victory would send them through. On the other hand, if England beat the Kiwis or the two teams battle out a draw, then Samoa will be eliminated no matter the result on Sunday. If they lose? They depart the tournament with their heads held high.