Sunday, September 09, 2007

World Cup thoughts

In case you hadn't noticed, the 2007 Rugby World Cup kicked off on Friday. And with a bit of a bang as well, with Argentina turning over the hosts France 17-12, and deservedly so. Here's a few observations and some no doubt wildly inaccurate predictions.....

Wales

Comfortable enough in the end against Canada today, but they were far from great overall. The new slate-grey change strip is far from great as well. Gareth Jenkins will have a few selection headaches before the crucial game against the Wallabies, not least: does he try and start with both James Hook and Stephen Jones? If so, which way round? I'd be tempted to start with Hook at outside-half and Jones at inside centre, with Tom Shanklin (Wales' best player from what I saw today) outside them. They can always mix it up and swap positions occasionally. If we (as reason dictates we probably will) come second in Pool B then we'll play the winners of Pool A, which I'll stick my neck out and say will be South Africa, in the quarters. And then catch a flight home shortly afterwards.

New Zealand

Surely, surely, this will be New Zealand's year? There are only two ways I can see them tripping up - one is unexpectedly meeting France in the quarter-finals and France producing another absolutely miraculous performance like they did in the semi-final in 1999, the other more likely one is either Australia or South Africa producing an epic defensive performance and strangling the life out of them, like the Australians did in the semi-final in 2003 and the Springboks did in the final in 1995. I'm not putting any money on it, though.

The Rest

The bookies have South Africa as second favourites. I disagree. The Australians look like a better side than they were in 2003, and they've got a few players coming towards the end of their careers who are going to want to go out with a bang, including possibly the most under-rated player in world rugby, Stephen Larkham. The other thing about the Aussies (and indeed Aussie sportspeople in general) is there's absolutely no chance of them bottling it under pressure. They know how to win, by whatever means necessary. Do the All Blacks? The answer to that question will probably dictate who wins the tournament.

None of which means to say the South Africans are a bad side. They don't have the sustained excellence of the Wallaby back division, for instance, and their half-backs are not the greatest (though I wouldn't want to tell that to Butch James in a dark alley) , but on the other hand they do have Bryan Habana on the wing. As for the French, now is as good a time as any to trot out the "depends which France turns up", "can beat anyone on their day" clich├ęs, but I suspect they're not quite good enough, and nor are England. Ireland may well be good enough, but historically they tend to flatter to deceive in this kind of big tournament. And Brian O'Driscoll will be the most-targeted player in the tournament, with the possible exception of Dan Carter. O'Driscoll also shares with Jonny Wilkinson an almost masochistic relish for diving face-first into rucks and throwing himself into tackles on 19-stone second-row forwards, which is highly commendable, but not always in the best interests of himself or his team.

My overall prediction? Fiji to pip Namibia 7-6 in the final.

No, only joking. New Zealand to beat South Africa in the final.

While you're waiting to see if I'm right, here are a couple of rugby-related lookey-likeys of the day: firstly the man who lifted the World Cup in 1995, Francois Pienaar, and macrobiotic tantric sex god Sting.


Secondly: Scotland coach Frank Hadden and Top Gear slightly-less-annoying-then-the-other-two-twats bloke James May. Stay with me on this one: you've got to ignore the hair, and focus on the smirk and the slightly jowly chops. No? Please yourselves.

3 comments:

The Black Rabbit said...

Well I think you're right about The All Blacks beating The Springboks in the final.
But then again, so do ALL the bookies.

Not impressed with any of the home natia today, tho I didn't see the 2nd half of the welsh game. I left for work as soon as Alfie and Captain Crap (I think that used to be Stephen Jones' nickname) came on (I think Wales were losing at the time) and confidently told Anna that Wales would be ok then.

Scotland. Well lets face it - any of the Anzac teams would've put 15 tries on Portugal today - christ knows what will happen when NZ meet "the wolves".

Ireland. What was that?!
Wouldn't be that surprising would it, if The Pumas effectively put out The Paddies.

Agree wit dew about The Wallabies n all.

All I hope for really, is that we don't lose to Italy AGAIN! Surely not. surely....

electrichalibut said...

Did you notice how I sort of contradicted myself as well? i.e. by saying I'd have Australia as second favourites, and then going for a NZ v SA final. I suppose I'd justify myself by saying: I think Australia are the second-best team, but if things pan out as they probably will and all three southern hemisphere teams top their groups, then the Wallabies and the All Blacks will meet in the semis, and I would back the All Blacks to win. Needless to say the bookies will have worked this one out as well.

The Black Rabbit said...

Absolutely.
The bookies do appreciate that of course.
The Wallabies are probably the second best team in France (if you see what I mean), but they (the bookies) also don't think they'll beat The All Blacks in their (probable) semi-final game.
Effectively, the seeding / draw is a little skewed at the sharp end.

Two MOUTH WATERING games coming up -

ENGLAND v SETH EFRIKA
and
IRELAND v ARGENTINA

not to mention-
IRELAND v FRANCE

or, dare I mention it again...
SCOTLAND v ITALY.


I wish you well against Australia, and I'm sure you'll capitulate slower than us, but I'm putting that in the same bracket as our game versus New Zealand. Probably painful viewing.

Good luck anyway though.
I mean that.
Honest.