JONATHAN DAVIES: Ireland facing exit
7:35am Tuesday 25th September 2007 in Sport
Time is running out for Ireland in this World Cup, and I believe they will be the big casualties by not securing a quarter-final place.
There can be no disguising the fact they've experienced a really bad tournament, with the manner of their performances.
I felt they were in the game against France last Friday night, but once Vincent Clerc scored his first try, the home side totally dominated.
The other thing that shone through for me was France coach Bernard Laporte at last realising he needs a top-notch goakicker in his side, and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde did the job superbly.
Ireland, I feel, will beat Argentina in Paris next Sunday, but I can't see them winning by the required bonus point margin. Even then, they've still got to deny Argentina a losing bonus.
Argentina have been going well, but there is no doubt in my mind that France froze against them in the opening game and Les Bleus also missed their kicks.
Ireland have got it all to do, but a win would at least give them some pride back. The tools are there to beat Argentina, yet it is going to be a huge ask for things to work out in their favour regarding the quarter-finals.
There is a lot being said and written about apparent off-field problems in the Ireland camp, and there just doesn't seem to be any privacy for players now.
It didn't surprise me some of the things came out in the week of the France game. Also, when you are not playing well, the whole world seems to be against you.
When you are down in sport, you are really down, that's the way it is. The Ireland squad has got to close ranks now and just keep really tight going into the Pumas encounter.
England showed a considerable improvement in defeating Samoa.
The England pack performed really well, especially during the opening 20 minutes, while Jonny Wilkinson was such an instrumental figure in the game through his tactical kicking.
What Jonny does is he turns pressure into points, and he also made the two tries scored by Paul Sackey. His presence made a significant difference to England.
They now face Tonga on Friday, which is a game I feel they will win. They will be too structured for the Tongans, although there are still some issues for England head coach Brian Ashton to look at.
England's midfield isn't right, and I like the look of Leicester centre Dan Hipkiss.
He's played well this year, he is deceptively powerful and he gets teams across the gain-line. Finding the right balance in midfield is vitally important.
It is very difficult for any coach in terms of changing a side that has done well, and there is also a call to be made regarding Phil Vickery, who is available again after serving a two-match ban.
Matt Stevens, his replacement, had a really big game against Samoa, so Ashton could decide to use Vickery off the bench, but the coach will ultimately decide what he thinks is best.
England will know that if you go through the phases against Pacific Islands teams, then their defensive structure will eventually collapse.
There were two instances on Saturday when Samoa had penalties, went to touch and then lost the resulting lineouts. If they could keep their shape, then they would be a lot better side.
I don't think anyone can blame Scotland coach Frank Hadden for picking the team he did against New Zealand.
Hadden knows he will be judged on the result against Italy in St Etienne next Saturday, and if Scotland beat Italy, they won't worry about what happened against an All Blacks side which didn't play that well.
Australia, in beating Fiji yesterday, confirmed to me what a very impressive and clinical side they are.
The Wallabies have the tournament's best back-line, and Berrick Barnes has looked really composed since he came into the team as replacement for an injured Stephen Larkham.
It also has to be said that Fiji rested 11 players ahead of facing Wales in Nantes next Saturday. There is no doubt Fiji have targeted the Wales game.
One thing Wales have got to improve is their consistency in getting over the gain-line. They played some good football in beating Japan, but if Wales don't get over the gain-line against Fiji they will be like sitting ducks for their tacklers.
The lineout has gone better for Wales, and the scrum has gone better, but they are playing a little bit too laterally. If they get over the gain-line, there is no doubt they can trouble anyone.
Looking ahead, England will beat Tonga, Wales will beat Fiji and Ireland will beat Argentina, but not by enough. The toughest call in this last round of pool games is Scotland versus Italy.
Scotland will start as favourites, but it is not a done deal.