Source: Johan Rynners - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

WXV2 – Prospects

  • +1

First the last round fixtures (all at the Athlone Sports Stadium, Cape Town)

Friday 27 October, Scotland v Japan; KO 14.00 (local time, 13.00 UK time)
Friday 27 October, Samoa v South Africa; KO 16.30 (local time, 15.30 UK time)
Saturday 28 October, USA v Italy; KO 17.00 (local time, 16.00 UK time)

An immense amount hangs on this climax to the second-tier tournament; not at the top end, but the basement. There is no promotion to WXV1 this year (great relief to the side finishing last there!), but relegation lurks in this group. The match in question is between the two Ss, the Boks and Manusina.

Currently the (simplified) table looks like this:

                                Pts Diff

Italy 10 points           +31
Scotland 10                +24
Japan 5                         +9
USA 5                             0
Samoa 1                      -32
South Africa 0           -32

So just one bonus point separates the bottom two.

The Boks have suffered a triple loss, Tayla Kinsey and Luchell Hanekom with injuries that force their withdrawal. Aseza Hele’s red card means she is unavailable.

Despite the precariousness of their position, the Boks have two things in their favour: playing in front of a home crowd (bigger than last time, let’s hope) and their menfolk disputing a World Cup final the same weekend.

Both sides have leaked 30+ points in their two games, but they were against sides ranked a distance ahead of them. Now that they meet together, vital ingredients will be discipline and concentration.

Manusina have the distinctive talents of Oceania teams in freeing the ball and running. They have a big pack, but not all of them are blessed with pace. The Boks too have powerful forwards, and have tended to concentrate their efforts on establishing domination there, with Libbie Janse van Rensburg adding a powerful boot to the argument.

Sitting right in the middle of the pack are the Eagles. It’s revealing to hear their respected captain Kate Zackary, talk about building for the future. It would have been preferable if that process had begun at the start of the year, to profit from the developments Rob Cain had put in place. But Milton Haig is only now getting to grips with the program, and even an experienced coach like him needs more time to refine the team’s game-management. Even so, it is disappointing to see them struggling to dominate matches. With so many accomplished players in the squad you would expect to see them faring better.

At the top of the pile, the most Italy and Scotland can hope for is establishing boasting rights; promotion to the big time comes next year.

Both are in buoyant mood. The Scots will face a different type of opposition from the Eagles last week. But they have met the Sakura recently, and suffered an unwelcome home loss to them in Edinburgh.

At least they will know what they are up against. Lesley McKenzie has done a good job in advancing Japan’s game over the past few years, and now she has the experience and expertise of Simon Middleton to assist her.

But the Scots are a revelation these days, playing with a fluency and confidence that must delight their supporters. (Apologies for a recent error: they have five wins on the spin, not four.)

Precisely the same is true of the Azzurre. By the way, they dedicated their win last week to Melissa Bettoni, who gave birth to Aura and Charles.

Nanni Raineri was pleased with most aspects of their performance against the Springboks, but he couldn’t understand why they switched their emphasis to taking on the opposition up front. There was no need for that; they had the beating of them elsewhere. It will be vital or them to stick to the agreed plans against the Eagles; it’s a crucial match for them.

So the question is who can squeeze the better result out of two tight matches.

My non-existent pocket-money is on the Scots. When were they last top of the pole?