Take Six: Vakatawa shines for France while Gilchrist calls for Scottish aggression

There was no action on day eight of the Rugby World Cup in Japan but there was still plenty of news with the competition hotting up as it nears its second week.

There was no action on day eight of the Rugby World Cup in Japan but there was still plenty of news with the competition hotting up as it nears its second week.

Here’s our latest look at all the key talking points.

England are sitting pretty in Pool C after two bonus-point wins from two.

And after Jack Nowell and Mako Vunipola came through Friday’s morning stringent fitness session, the Red Rose are all of a sudden close to picking from a full complement – with the one doubt over Piers Francis who has been cited for a dangerous tackle following the win over the USA.

But after the strong showings of Joe Marler and Ellis Genge so far, Vunipola cannot expect to come straight back into the matchday 23 that will face Argentina next week.

Attack coach Scott Wisemantel said: “We trained early this morning and they are good and hopefully everyone is available for selection next week. At this stage we believe everyone will be available for selection (for Argentina).”

“(Nowell) does offer something different and he is a hybrid really – a winger-cum-back-rower with the way that he plays, so he does offer something different.

“Mako (Vunipola) gives us something with our ball carrying and energy around the park. But he will find it difficult to get back into the team because the boys are doing a good job.”

“(Argentina offer a) huge challenge and they carry a lot of threats and that reflects what they have done with their systems with the Jaguares in Super Rugby and also their Argentina B team that plays regularly as well, so they have a good system and play a lot of rugby. They have threats all across the park.”

Ireland will look to make it two wins from two on Saturday against tournament hosts Japan.

They have received some mixed injury news, with Rob Kearney and Keith Earls back in the back three but Jack Conan is a late scratch with a foot injury.

Scrum coach Greg Feek admitted the injury to the Leinster No.8 was a ‘little setback’ but the main focus in the build-up has focused on scrum time and fly-half.

Feek is confident that his all British & Irish Lions front row are ready for what the Brave Blossoms can bring, and has also backed Jack Carty to fill in for Johnny Sexton.

Asked if it is too simplistic to say Ireland rely on Sexton, Feek said: “Yes 100 per cent; Jack Carty’s been involved in all our games this year.

“For that alone is huge, there’s huge amounts of growth, particularly when Johnny Sexton was World Player of the Year and there’s almost a bit of osmosis being around him. You’ve got to get as much knowledge out of him as you can.

“With Joe (Schmidt), his analysis on our own players is at a point where Jack wouldn’t have been in our squad all year, whether it’s on the bench or starting, if he didn’t have the right tools to what we want need to do, and to understand the game and understand what fits our group and how best we may be able to play.”

Wales named an unchanged starting XV for their huge Wallaby clash on Sunday.

Warren Gatland admitted he and his coaching staff did consider a couple of changes, notably Ross Moriarty in the back row who remains benched behind Aaron Wainwright.

But Gatland did reveal that Hadleigh Parkes has a small fracture to his hand, hence Owen Watkin’s inclusion at the expense of Leigh Halfpenny on the bench.

Wyn Jones received special praise for his scrummaging against Georgia, but the main man was, of course, Alun Wyn Jones.

On Sunday in Tokyo he will become the most-capped Welshman in the history of the sport – yet another accolade for the reigning Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship.

“He’s a great competitor. Since he’s been captain we don’t have as many fights at training because he used to start most of them! That’s how competitive he was.

“People who get to the top have a drive and a desire to want to be successful and he’s definitely done that.

“To become Wales’s record Test player with 130 caps is pretty special. I think he joins George Gregan as the fourth-highest (on 139 overall with nine caps for British Lions). Hopefully there are many more to come.

“He doesn’t say a lot, he just leads from the front at training and in matches and sets a great example for the senior players, but in particular the younger players.

“We’re very lucky to have him in the team and captaining the side.”

Callum Braley got his first taste of World Cup action against Canada on Thursday and the Gloucester scrum-half was happy to start alongside Tommaso Allan in the half-backs.

The pair helped pull the strings as the Azzurri eased to a 48-7 success, running in seven tries in total in Fukuoka.

And for Braley, who only made his Test debut during the warm-up matches leading up to the tournament, Allan’s presence made his life a lot easier.

He said: “He’s a fantastic player and a vital cog in our attack. He runs a lot of what we do so is a massive part of our team.

“His communication on the field and off it is fantastic, being dual-lingo means he is a vital part.

“There’s happy faces (in the squad), definitely. We set ourselves the objective to be in this position after two games (on maximum points) so we’re happy enough with how we’ve dealt with the last two games and where we’ve put ourselves.”

Italy now have a week to prepare for their next match against South Africa, as they look to repeat their victory in 2016 which would clinch a place in the quarter-finals.

Gregor Townsend admitted his players had lacked aggression and energy in their World Cup opener against Ireland and second row Grant Gilchrist is desperate to ensure that is not the case in the rest of the competition.

The 27-3 defeat to the 2018 Grand Slam champions was a disappointing start to the tournament for Scotland, who now find themselves with no margin for error ahead of Monday’s clash with Samoa.

And Gilchrist, who started the game alongside Jonny Gray, has called on a much-improved performance from the team, as they look to prove their worth.

He said: “People are questioning whether we care and whether we are aggressive enough, and that’s hurtful so we need to go out and really show that [we do care and are aggressive enough].

“We all took a beating on Sunday night. We’d put a lot of work in behind the scenes for the last four or five months building towards that game and it’s no surprise that in the 48 hours afterwards you are going to be in a dark place because everybody is rightly annoyed and a bit pissed off with how we played.

“But nobody is more annoyed than the guys who have been grafting for the last four months.

“I think we look internally first. What we set out to achieve, we didn’t do. We made a commitment to each other to do X, Y and Z – and, to me, that’s the biggest thing… what you commit to your team-mates.

“External to that, we’ve got some motivating factors, but there is enough for us to be concentrating on in-house in terms what we can do better.”

Virimi Vakatawa did not even make France’s initial 37-man squad to prepare for the World Cup, but the way he has got up to speed since joining up with the squad is an example to follow according to full-back Thomas Ramos.

Vakatawa missed the cut initially before being brought in to replace the injured Geoffrey Doumayrou during the warm-up matches.

As a result, he came off the bench in the final victory over Italy and did enough to earn a starting spot against Argentina, playing a part in both French tries in the 23-21 success.

And for Ramos, it was no surprise to see Vakatawa make such an immediate impression.

He said: “It wasn’t completely new for him. He already knew the France squad, he’s a great player.

“And after the season he had at Racing, no one has been surprised by what he has produced on the pitch. He has adapted well and played very well against Argentina.

“He knows everyone and gets on with everyone in the squad. When he arrived, everyone was happy to see him. It must have been a blow to miss out on the 37-man squad.

“So in his pre-season he must have worked really hard with Racing to get here and produce that sort of performance.

“For that alone, he’s an example to us. It shows that once again that you cannot ever give up.”