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Rugby World Cup: US starts play Sunday, as part of pool stage action

The Pool Stage is the initial round of competition in the Rugby World Cup. At the conclusion of this round, two teams (a winner and a runner-up) will advance to the next stage, or "quarter-finals." There are four pools - A, B, C and D, and it is widely anticipated that the top seeds in those pools: New Zealand, England, Australia and South Africa respectively, will move to the next round.

By Christopher HartmanContributor / September 11, 2011

Louis Stanfill of the U.S. tries to offload the ball from a maul during their Rugby World Cup Pool C match against Ireland at Stadium Taranaki in New Zealand.

Bogdan Cristel/Reuters

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The Rugby World Cup, starting Friday, September 9th, is comprised of twenty teams organized into four pools (A, B, C & D) of five teams each. The International Rugby Board has authority over pool assignments, and attempts to make them as evenly matched as possible. Only the winners and runners-up of each pool will advance to the “quarter-finals” round.

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Pool A consists of New Zealand, Canada, France, Japan and Tonga. New Zealand comes into the tournament as the favorite overall – they currently are first in the International Rugby Board (IRB) rankings, and, at this writing, have already defeated Tonga, 41-10 in the RWC’s initial match made possible largely by the outstanding play of the All Blacks’ fullback Israel Dagg. The real battle here will be for pool runner-up among Canada (IRB ranking #14), Japan (13) and France (4). Of those, Japan poses the only real major test for France, and the latter should win convincingly. France placed a respectable 3rd in a grueling Six Nations tournament this past year and when taking history into account, Japan hasn’t won one RWC match in 14 tries. New Zealand and France sail into the quarter-finals.

Pool B comprises Argentina (IRB ranking #9), England (5), Georgia (16), Romania (17), and Scotland (7). Scotland finished a disappointing 5th of six teams in the Six Nations tournament, but comes into New Zealand with consecutive victories over Ireland and the Azurri (Italy’s Rugby Union, also known as the Blues). Their head coach, Andy Robinson, has “demanded” nothing less than victory over Romania in their first contest, and veteran fullback Chris Paterson (the first Scottish player to play in four World Cups) will attempt to deliver in the first round. England, a comparatively young squad coached by past English star player Martin Johnson and team captain Lewis Moody, will have to get through a strong Argentina squad that finished third at the 2007 Cup. With a relatively weak remainder of the pool, look for England to place first, with Argentina overcoming a weathered Scottish squad to grab the runner-up spot.

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