RWC 2003 – Its A Two Horse Race
by Colin Johnston
26 Aug 2003
Only England and The All Blacks Can Stop New Zealand Now!
Tri-Nations 2003 is out of the way, All Blacks crowned best in the South and people are now looking forward to RWC ’03. It was all too easy in the 3N, averaging more than 35 points per match against 2 of world rugby’s super powers. So who is left to challenge All Black dominance? Only France and England have a chance and to be honest, I don’t think the Frogs have got what it takes to get there. Irrespective of what happens in Marseille this Friday or at ‘Twickers’ the following week.
England have a pretty straight run through until the semis, only the Boks could potentially hamper them and as we have seen they are pretty dire at present. England’s biggest worry after the Boks may well be ensuring that they have sufficient fit players after the encounter to continue in the tournament. An England:France semi would be worth watching but that supposes that the French can get there, too.
We all know about England now and for those of you that have read Col’s column before you will know that I have a pretty jaundiced view of this highly “professional” unit. But, undeniably, England have a good team spirit and play for each other. In most positions, except centre, they have strength in depth that the other nations can only dream about. Take the latest rout that we witnessed on Saturday when the full strength Welsh Druids were sacrificed at their own altar in Cardiff by a mixture of England’s 2 & 3 XV. To make things worse it was a record score.
In that Test the English forwards proved that world class strength in depth is not a problem in the front 5, the back row was efficient but there were no world beaters there. In fairness to the 2 second rows on show, they would probably walk into every other test side in the world after Saturday, they were that impressive. The backs on the other hand were not as accomplished as you would expect. King, the outside half, missed eight kicks at goal, but ran the ball well enough. The 2 new centres did nothing to prove that they would make the plane to Oz. Both wingers have been capped before and will probably be there, the full back won’t. Gomersall as the third scrum half? You pays your money, you takes your choice. I think they will go for Healey.
So where does that leave my usually crystal clear myopia? Previously, I wrote that England’s pack was over the hill and the heat would wilt their chances of picking up the RWC in November. Now, I don’t think so. Leonard, went the full game, at pace(ish) in hot conditions. So, if he can do it the younger guys can, too. The tight five are covered for subbing out during a game, no problem there, it’s the back row that may cause some problems for Woodward and Co. The young guns aren’t in the same class as the first choice back row, or for that matter the some of the other nations that they will face, especially NZ.
Their pack will control the ball and therefore the game. Sexy Super 12 handling and running will be of no use to anyone without the ball. If the England locomotive finds all the gears and the refs don’t kill them with penalties, there is not a pack in the world that can hold them. This is not good for the All Blacks because we saw the damage that the mediocre Bok and Ozzie packs did to their unit in the last 2 Tri-N matches. We also saw what a hardened 6 man unit can do against a poorly led and disorganised 8 in June. You add in the guaranteed Wilco 15 point factor and the ABs have to score and convert two tries just to catch up.
What about a challenge from the ‘Cheese munching surrender monkeys’, sorry the French challenge? Well, their summer tour was disappointing, even if they were short on top personnel. The team fires well with Gaultier but they struggle without him. To make things worse he is another candidate for Help The Aged and is injury prone. Their forwards are good scrummagers and ‘uncompromising’, shall we say, in the loose and everyone knows what their backs can do. Again, like England, they will not take NZ on in Super 12 fashion. Why should they? That would be suicide. But lets face it they won’t get the opportunity to anyway, so why waste space discussing them further?
So, who else is left to swipe the crown? Only the All Blacks. But has Mitch hamstrung their chances of final day glory by not having selected a squad with a recognised world class, experienced, international kicker in the squad ? You tell me, but I certainly think so. By going without a full blown kicker Mitch has also signaled the Kiwi’s intent to all comers: the All Blacks are going to score tries and to entertain in Oz. It is up to everyone else to try and stop them. So quite simply, the Rugby Wrold Cup crown can be summed up like this, all NZ have to do is to make sure that the number of tries they score adds up to more than the number of points England kick.
Sound familiar? Maybe a bit like 95 all over again with the Boks. The All Blacks were the best team there. They took rugby onto a new level but for a number of reasons, some under hand, some not, they lost to a spirited but limited Bok out fit. My guess is this time round, NZ will once again be the best team, excellent entertainment with banana kicks and slight of hand from a grinning Carlos but ultimately, that won’t be enough to win a hard nosed final against a dominant pack and Wilco’s Golden Boot.