By Laurie Fitzgerald

In last week’s preview, I alluded to the tournament’s need for a big shock to set the competition alight.

Well there was one result on Saturday that blew the 2011 Rugby World Cup wide open.

Ireland’s 15-6 win over Australia was not just a victory for the underdog; it was a result that could have long-term consequences for the knockout stages.

Had Declan Kidney‘s side lost in Auckland it would have created a much more treacherous path to the final with South Africa in the last eight and New Zealand in the semis.

Now if they secure top spot in Pool C with wins over Namibia and Italy then they will face Northern Hemisphere rivals Wales and then France or England in the last four – leaving the Wallabies facing the more daunting route.

This means there’s a real chance that a side from the Six Nations could find themselves with a place in the final come 23rd October.

However, there is plenty of rugby to be played before those permutations come into play, and many potential twists and turns in store.

For the home nations, while it was victories all round they were all greeted on different scales.

Ireland’s effort was nothing short of heroic, Wales’ narrow victory over Samoa was full of relief while England’s win over Georgia was greeted with criticism.

But it means that all three along with Scotland are well-placed at the halfway mark of the pool stages.

Week 2 Results:

Thursday 15th September

Russia 6-13 USA

Friday 16th September

Japan 7-83 New Zealand

Saturday 17th September

Argentina 43-8 Romania; Fiji 3-49 South Africa; Australia 6-15 Ireland

Sunday 18th September

Samoa 10-17 Wales; England 41-10 Georgia; Canada 19-46 France

Tuesday 20th September

Italy 53-17 Russia

Wednesday 21st September

Japan 18-31 Tonga

Pool A

Both New Zealand and France carried on their relentless push for the quarter finals with bonus points victories over the weekend.

The All Blacks became the first team to break the half-century barrier when they scored 13 tries against the hapless Japanese.

Les Bleus found it tougher against Canada and led by just 6 points with 15 minutes remaining before a late flourish inspired by winger Vincent Clerc, who helped himself to a hat-trick of scores.

Therefore this weekend’s clash between two of the big heavyweights of world rugby will be to mainly determine who will top the pool and secure a more comfortable passage in the knockout stages.

For those that win Pool A, they are set to face a potential line-up of Scotland and Ireland to get to rugby’s showpiece in four weeks time.

However, the runners-up are set to face South Africa and Australia, a path that will take an awful lot out of those forced down it.

Graham Henry’s side have fitness doubts over crucial duo Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, but will still be heavy favourites against Marc Lievremont’s French outfit.

In the week’s other game, Japan will be looking to salvage some pride in what has been a difficult campaign when they face the experienced Canadians on Tuesday, who hope to secure their second win and a top-three finish in the process.

Pool B

As anticipated, the three main contenders came to the fore in week two to leave this hugely physical pool finely balanced.

Argentina impressed in their bonus point win over Romania, with the Pumas outclassing the Romanians with some clinical finishing and overcoming the pack with relative ease.

For England, they did what they needed to do by beating Georgia and getting the winning bonus points, but an unconvincing display marked the end of a difficult week.

Newspaper headlines were dominated by the team’s outing to a dwarf-throwing contest in a Dunedin bar following their narrow win over Argentina.

Some of the players actions, in particular Mike Tindall, have come under close scrutiny with the decision to go out for a few drinks during such an important tournament being brought into question.

Now it’s up to coach Martin Johnson to put the criticism on and off the pitch behind the squad, and work to improve things against Romania this Saturday.

But the big game in Pool B comes in Wellington on Sunday when Scotland face Argentina knowing that a win will secure their place in the quarters.

Andy Robinson’s team have had ten days to prepare for this crucial encounter, and for the Pumas it is do or die having already lost to England.

A win for the Scots and it sets them up perfectly for the clash against their oldest rivals to try and win the pool the following weekend, but they will need to raise their game after struggling wins against Romania and Georgia.

The last game of the week sees Romania and Georgia face off to avoid the wooden spoon after some excellent showings against the more established nations.

Pool C

This pool has taken one enormous twist and thrown up plenty of intrigue following Ireland’s win over Australia.

The win for Declan Kidney’s men puts them firmly in the driving seat, but they will know there is plenty of work to be done.

There is still a threat posed by Italy and if Nick Mallett‘s side were to beat the Irish in their final pool game it would not only stop Ireland from winning the pool, but also could see them go out.

So there is no room for complacency when they face Russia on Sunday, and a win with four tries or more could make a big difference in a group where every point is critical.

Meanwhile the Wallabies have been licking their wounds, with Robbie Deans and his squad having to deal with plenty of criticism from the Australian public and media.

There’s no doubt that when they unleash their backline, Australia can carve apart the very best of opposition.

But there seems to be growing belief that they struggle for a Plan B; if they get drawn into a war of attrition, Quade Cooper and co don’t seem to have an answer.

While they should overcome the United States on Friday, they need to add substance to their style to keep their World Cup dreams alive in the long-term.

As for the Italians, their schedule has been unkind with two midweek games in their pursuit of a top-two finish.

Victory over the USA on Tuesday is essential if they are to avoid another disappointing early exit in the pool stages.

Pool D

After last weekend’s results, we now know who are best-placed to qualify from the pool of death.

South Africa made real strides following an unimpressive win over Wales by overpowering Fiji in Wellington.

For Wales themselves, they knew defeat against Samoa would have been catastrophic for their World Cup chances and showed great character in getting a gritty win.

Not only did they have to come from behind to get the four points, but they also had to survive a huge physical bombardment by the Samoans to get their first victory of the tournament.

Warren Gatland’s side face Namibia on Monday knowing that five points will set them up perfectly when they face the Fijians in the final weekend of the group stages.

By then, the Springboks may have secured a comfortable win over the unfortunate Namibians when they face them tomorrow.

The big game of the weekend in Pool D sees the clash of the Pacific Islanders as Fiji and Samoa look to end each other’s chances of qualification.

Samoa need to pick themselves up after their disappointment last Sunday and if they overcome their rivals then they will have a chance going into their final game with the Springboks.

However, a win for Fiji could give them a real opportunity to repeat their heroics of 2007 when they knocked out Wales to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

With this intrigue in store, don’t be surprised to see more twists and turns this weekend.

What do you think? Will the home nations take a giant step towards the quarter finals? Leave a comment and let us know your views.

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