RWC Summary and Predictions
by Paul Waite
20 Sep 2011
Let’s have a look at the story so far in the pools at RWC2011, and then have a quick look at what might (or might not) lie ahead as we zero in on the knock-out phase.
The 2011 edition of the Rugby World Cup continues to deliver more cracking games as compared with 2007. The first weeks of pool games are normally a succession of thrashings delivered with appropriate hauteur by the ‘tier 1′ teams to the ‘minnows, with the occasional evenly contested minnow-vs-minnow encounter. Not this time around!
In fact the term ‘minnow’ is now officially defunct. Inappropriate. There are no teams at RWC2011 which deserve that condescending label, and the people who, after 2007, were suggesting we revert to the 16-team format are thankfully being shown up for the short-sighted idiots they are.
Even the All Blacks’ 83-7 rout of an under-strength Japan falls into the same perspective, given the 145-17 stomping in 1995. The Brave Blossoms competed for the full 80 minutes and were not daunted, just over-matched.
There were other examples of the massive increase in global playing standards by the tier 2 teams. England vs Georgia was a classic. Georgia were playing a team which has won the Rugby World Cup once, and been finalists twice. To say they competed is an epic understatement. Georgian forwards, most of them looking like Popeye’s nemesis, Bluto, fired themselves into the English defensive line like missiles, and their heroic efforts earned them a close 10-17 deficit at halftime. They eventually went down 10-41 as they tired and leaked points in the second half, but given they were being forced to play only FOUR DAYS after their previous pool game against Scotland (a hard-fought 15-6 defeat), that was unsurprising. England left the field looking battered by the encounter, and still utterly confused by the Laws of the game.
The game of the round was undoubtedly Australia vs. Ireland played at a rainy Eden Park. Leading up to this Ireland had suffered through a forgettable August of World Cup build-up games losing to Scotland, England and twice to France. But it was a fired-up team of Emerald-isle men who really took it to the jaunty Aussies in Auckland. Though the damp conditions probably helped, it was mainly the shutting down of play-makers Genia and Cooper which delivered the surprise 15-6 result. That and a ton of Irish passion.
To say that the Aussie World Cup plans are now derailed is over-stating it, but they have undoubtedly been severely dented. Ireland still have to make good on their leg-up, but victories over Russia and Italy would seem to be well within their scope. If that happens then Australia will come second in the pool, and probably meet South Africa in the Quarter-final. An early exit therefore looms for one of the Southern Hemisphere giants. The Wallabies need to be very worried about this as the Boks, historically, have been well suited to beating them in this kind of pressure-cooker encounter.
All the other pools seem to be on course for the following probable quarter-finals in the knock-out phase of the cup:
QF1: Ireland vs. Wales
QF2: England vs. France
QF3: South Africa vs. Australia
QF4: New Zealand vs. Argentina or Scotland
QF1 does offer Samoa an outside chance of getting there ahead of Wales, but Wales have Namibia and Fiji to play, whereas Samoa have Fiji and South Africa, so it will be very difficult.
With QF4 Argentina are 3 points behind Scotland but Scotland has yet to play England which may well result in a zero points haul and Argentina has Georgia which should get them at least 4. So the Scotland vs. Argentina pool game next week should decide which of them goes through to the knock-out stages.
Looking too far ahead is dangerous, but we love danger so let’s throw the clichéd (and boring) ‘one game at a time’ rule out of the proverbial window.
In some parallel universe, the above quarter-finals will produce these semi-finals:
SF1: Wales vs. France
SF2: New Zealand vs. South Africa
And, being an All Blacks supporter, and a lover of symmetry I can’t help but predict that the 2011 Rugby World Cup final will be the same as the inaugural World Cup held in 1987 in this country:
Final: New Zealand vs. France
And the result of that will obviously be a New Zealand victory by 29-9.