The Rugby World Cup has already seen some headline-grabbing results, but the action is set to become even more intense this weekend with several crucial matches taking place in England. There is one fixture that sticks out above all others, as the hosts take on Wales in the so-called “Pool of Death,” and in one of the biggest matches of the first phase. But, with quarterfinal places still very much up for grabs, there is plenty more to intrigue over the next two days.
Here’s a rundown of the six fixtures.
Italy vs. Canada (Elland Road, Leeds, Saturday, 9:30 a.m. EDT)
Italy suffered an expected defeat to France in their opening match, but must still maintain hope of getting beyond the Pool stage at a World Cup for the first time. If they are to do that, then a victory over Canada is an absolute must. But it will have to be achieved without captain Sergio Parisse, an obstacle Italy have not overcome to win a match since 2012. Still, they will fancy their chances of ending that streak on Saturday. Canada, ranked 18th in the world, were handed a morale-sapping 50-7 loss to make it eight straight defeats for Kieran Crowley’s team.
South Africa vs. Samoa (Villa Park, Birmingham, Saturday, 11:45 a.m. EDT)
South Africa would not have expected to be going into their second match of the Rugby World under intense pressure and with coach Heyneke Meyer describing it as a “must-win.” But that’s the situation they find themselves in after the two-time champions were on the receiving end of the biggest upset in the history of the competition when going down 34-32 to Japan last Saturday. The reaction back home has not been kind and Meyer has made eight changes to his lineup to take on Samoa. In contrast, the Springboks’ opponents will now sniff a major opportunity to score a memorable win and give themselves a real chance of making the quarterfinals. Samoa began with a 25-16 win over the United States, although they have never beaten South Africa in eight attempts.
England vs. Wales (Twickenham, London, Saturday, 3 p.m. EDT)
Twickenham is undoubtedly the place to be this weekend for a meeting that could well decide which team goes through to the last eight, from a Pool that also includes Australia. For different reasons, the buildup to the showdown between the neighboring rivals has centered on the two team selections. In England’s case, coach Stuart Lancaster’s decision to replace George Ford with Owen Farrell at fly-half and bring in Sam Burgess at center has been heavily scrutinized and will be even more so if the result does not to their way. For Wales, the question has been which players will be fit enough to take the field. Having already lost Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies and Rhys Webb ahead of the World Cup, their opening win over Uruguay came at a cost of further injuries. Coach Warren Gatland, though, will be hoping that the fact they are now underdogs could play in their favor.
Australia vs. Uruguay (Villa Park, Birmingham, Sunday, 7 a.m. EDT)
Elsewhere in the incredibly tough Pool A, Australia will expect to have little trouble making it two wins out of two when going up against the Pool’s minnows. The Wallabies began the World Cup with a solid 28-13 win over Fiji, although the failure to get a bonus point awarded for scoring four or more tries will have been a frustration. Coach Michael Chelka will be keen to make sure that is secured against Uruguay, even though he has made 14 changes to his side. Uruguay made a strong start against Wales in their first World Cup match since 2003, but eventually went down to a 54-9 defeat.
Scotland vs. USA (Elland Road, Leeds, Sunday, 9:30 a.m. EDT)
The U.S. Eagles came into the World Cup with higher expectations than ever before after a strong buildup, but they failed to get the start they were after when falling victim to Samoa. The dream of making the last eight is already an incredibly tall order, and it will require a first ever win over Scotland for that to remain a possibility. Perhaps, though, the U.S. can take inspiration from Japan’s upset victory over South Africa in the same Pool. Scotland brought Japan back down to earth on Wednesday when triumphing 45-10 to begin their tournament in convincing style. But Scotland will now face the same challenge as Japan when going into their next fixture on the back of just four days’ rest. To try to combat the risk of fatigue, coach Vern Cotter has made 10 changes to his lineup.
Ireland vs. Romania (Wembley Stadium, London, Sunday, 11:45 a.m. EDT)
With lofty expectations of at least making the semifinals of a World Cup for the first time, Ireland got the job done against Canada and should do likewise against Romania in match two. The big test will come against France in the final game of Pool D, which could well decide which team avoids holders and favorites New Zealand in the quarterfinals. Before that, Irish fans will be eager to see some more flair from their team. That may be a tall order against a physically tough Romania team, especially with center Robbie Henshaw still not being risked and coach Joe Schmidt making 12 alterations to his starting XV. In eight previous meetings, Romania have never finished within 20 points of Ireland, although they held their own against France for the first 30 minutes in their opening match before losing 38-11.
TV and live stream info: All 48 matches are available on pay-per-view in the USA by contacting your TV provider, and available to stream for a price of $199.99. The price to stream individual matches starts at $27.95.