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Rugby World cup 2011 Pools

Rugby World Cup Pools Overview - Pool A | Pool B | Pool C | Pool D

A glance at the teams competing in the 2011 Rugby World Cup which runs from September 9 to October 23 - Pool A.

Pool A

Canada

IRB ranking (as of Aug 15): 15

World Cup appearances (inc 2011): 7

World Cup best: Quarter-finals 1991

The Canadians have been playing rugby since the 1860s but still have not quite been able to close the gap on the big guns. They came close 20 years ago when a team which included Gareth Rees, Glen Ennis, Julian Wyatt and Norm Hadley pushed France to the limit before losing to New Zealand in a cracking quarter-final. Sadly, it was the end of an era rather than the start and the Canadians have failed to escape the pools since then. They are still churning out top-class players though - keep a close eye on Clermont lock Jamie Cudmore, a textbook case of power, strength and volatility.

France

IRB ranking: 6

World Cup appearances: 7

World Cup best: Runners-up 1987, 1999

France have long had the reputation, not always fairly, of being unpredictable - perpretators of brilliant running rugby when on song, but plodding, ill-disciplined and faction-ridden when not. The World Cup though has regularly brought out the best in them - witness the thrilling wins over New Zealand in the 1999 semi-finals and the quarter-finals last time out. Under coach Marc Lievremont, the French have again blown hot and cold in recent times, pulling off a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2010 only to slump to a first ever defeat to Italy this year. There is no doubt that with top-class players like Thierry Dusautoir, Morgan Parra, Aurelien Rougerie and Imanol Harinordoquy, France have the players to once again pose a major threat in New Zealand, but there are doubts over exactly what formation, and subsequently which tactics, coach Marc Lievremont will choose.

Japan

IRB ranking: 12

World Cup appearances: 7

World Cup best: Pool stage

Exciting times off the field for Japanese rugby, principally because planning is already underway for the Brave Blossoms to host the 2019 edition of the RWC. On it there has been some progress - like winning the Asia Five Nations for a fourth year running and stunning Fiji in the final of this year's Pacific Nations Cup - but Japan still look short of depth. With former All Black John Kirwan in charge they will certainly have some guile and they will look to winger Hirotoki Onozawa to lend some bite to the attack. However they will miss international record try-scorer Daisuke Ohata (67) who retired with a knee injury in January while a suspect hair tonic containing a banned substance -- apparently aimed at helping his moustache grow -- has ruled out fly-half Ryohei Yamanaka.

New Zealand

IRB ranking: 1

World Cup appearances: 7

World Cup best: Winners 1987

If the Mandela-inspired South Africa win in 1995 was an obvious gift to Hollywood, so too perhaps would an All Black victory in 2011. In spite of being widely regarded as being the best team in the world for much of the time since the World Cup started, New Zealand hasn't held the trophy aloft since the inaugural event in 1987. The terrible earthquakes that shattered Christchurch earlier this year have also lent this year's edition a real poignancy. As always the All Blacks are the team to beat. Coach Graham Henry is a man on a mission and few would deny Dan Carter, probably the finest player in the world today, the chance to cap his career with a World Cup medal. After thrashing South Africa in the Tri-Nations, it will take an extraordinary implosion or a massive performance from someone else to deny them.

Tonga

IRB ranking: 13

World Cup appearances: 6

World Cup best: Pool stage

With France and New Zealand in the pool, Ikale Tahi - otherwise known as the Sea Eagles - are going to have their work cut out to reach the knockout stages for the first time. They came close four years ago when they gave South Africa a decent run but it looks as though the perennial lack of depth could undermine their often skillful and always feisty play. They showed well in the Churchill Cup before losing to England Saxons and beat Fiji and Samoa in the Pacific Nations Cup, losing to winners Japan by a single point. Melbourne Rebels winger, Cooper Vuna, and New South Wales Waratahs lock, Sitaleki Timani are two of the key players but keep an eye out for Brumbies' wing Viliami Iongi who is a star in the making.

 
 
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