The Eight Emerge
by Tracey Nelson
2 Oct 2007
The final eight teams have been decided, with the boil over being Fiji’s win over Wales – thus knocking the Welsh out of the tournament with the conclusion of pool play. The three southern powers of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia had already booked their quarter final spots by finishing undisputed top of their respective pools before the final round, however Pool D remained an enigma right up to the final pool game as to which of Argentina, Ireland and France would miss out on going through to the quarter finals, and who would finish top of the pool and thus miss playing the All Blacks in that game.
As expected (well, by those of us who usually reside south of the equator anyway), Argentina put paid to Ireland’s hopes, beating them comprehensively in the end to emerge the overall winners of Pool D by virtue of having beaten France in the opening game of the tournament. That there are two sides in the quarter finals, neither of whom compete in either the Tri Nations or the Six Nations, should be making some of the fuddy duddies at the IRB sit up and take notice. Not that we shall hold our collective breath.
With Australia, New Zealand and France all now ending up on the same side of the draw, South Africa looks to have the easiest road through to the final meeting Fiji in the quarter finals, and then most likely Argentina in the semi (Argentina meeting a less than impressive looking Scotland in the other quarter final). The fly in the ointment for South Africa could well be Argentina though, who are looking more and more confident as the tournament progresses and they have both the forward pack and the kicking game that could quell the Boks.
Australia will play the unfancied England in their quarter final, and given the woeful state of English rugby you’d have to think that Australia would win that game unless it comes down to a swathe of scrums which is the one area England would certainly have the wood on them. Meanwhile New Zealand will take on host nation France – although this game will be played on the neutral territory of Millenium Stadium in Cardiff and it remains to be seen how France will cope with the lack of home ground advantage.
With the rapidly decaying state of rugby in the home unions, and France looking out of sorts other than when playing the minnows, there remains a high chance of the semi finals being an all southern hemisphere affair. One has to wonder what the interest will be like in France and the UK should that happen. Surely the tournament organisers would not have wanted a New Zealand-France clash this early in the tournament, and likewise I’m sure that France would have been expecting to play a quarter final in front of a partisan home crowd on their home turf in Paris.
To win the Webb Ellis Trophy, New Zealand now faces the sternest path having to beat France, Australia and most probably South Africa to be crowned world champions. And if they can beat those three teams in space of three weeks, then they surely will deserve that mantle.