Friday, September 21, 2007

World Cupdate

Just watched the France-Ireland match in Pool D - not a great game, but very exciting, and a comprehensive enough victory for the French in the end. Nice to actually get to watch a game, the last couple having been on ITV3 which my two-bit chickenshit digibox doesn't seem to be able to pick up at the moment. Here's a few random nuggets gleaned from the first fortnight's action:
  • Underrated player alert number 2 - Damien Traille of France. Seems to have been around for years, but his howitzer right boot gives the French a whole world of options at inside centre, not least because they are a bit flaky at outside-half, and I'm thinking of Freddie Michalak in particular here. Gavin Henson fulfils a very similar rĂ´le for Wales, when he isn't either injured or out of favour with the selectors. Then again you can understand the whole Charlotte Church thing being a bit of a distraction.
  • Speaking of Michalak, he can be a nightmare at outside-half, but he does have his moments; the try that broke the Ireland game wide open was a moment of utter genius. I still think David Skrela might induce less heart attacks among the French supporters, and possibly be more effective overall, though.
  • Ireland have been strangely terrible so far, and I've no idea why. Nonetheless French supporters will be cheering them on against Argentina next week, since an Irish victory might just allow the French to win the group and thereby avoid the All Blacks in the quarter-finals.
  • The All Blacks are undoubtedly awesome. But I wonder how much of them having been the pre-tournament favourites before every World Cup so far is a result of them having the best playing strip colour? There's something ineffably cool about black, after all.
  • England were terrible against South Africa last week; the Springboks won at a canter without really having to get out of second gear. England are unforgivably stodgy and unimaginative behind the scrum at the moment. Josh Lewsey and Jason Robinson have been the only guys who have looked capable of breaking the line - Wilkinson and Barkley may help against Samoa, though neither of them are exactly Barry John, but if their passing isn't spot on the Samoans, and Brian Lima in particular, will rearrange some ribcages, and could even win.
  • Mike Phillips of Wales has been a revelation both as Dwayne Peel's understudy and when he got a chance to start a game against Japan this week. He reminds me very much of Terry Holmes - almost like an extra flanker, though hopefully not as chronically injury-prone as Holmes was.
  • Stephen Jones and James Hook still pose a selection problem for Gareth Jenkins. I reckon the best arrangement is probably Jones at outside-half, Hook at inside centre, Shanklin at outside centre.
  • My quarter-final predictions: Argentina v Scotland, France v New Zealand, South Africa v Wales, England v Australia.
  • Based on that, my semi-final predictions: Australia v New Zealand, Argentina v South Africa.
  • And my final prediction, as in the last post: New Zealand to beat South Africa.


The Black Rabbit said...

Well, your "predictia" once again tally up with every book maker in the land.

After last nights disappointment, the Pumas versus Ireland game may be the only one to upset that apple cart. However, as you pointed out, Ireland don't seem to be at the party in France.
L'equipe allegedly made some pretty personal comments about Ronan O'Gara earlier in the week, although they deny that and said all they thought was that there was some unrest in the Ireland camp.
Ireland obviously deny that, but Francois Pienaar said on tv before the game last night, what looks to be increasingly obvious - there must be something afoot behind the scenes.
I think Eddie O'Sullivan has (temporarily?) lost the confidence of his players, and to drop Stringer for the France game was a terrible mistake and a sign of something amiss.

You've talked about England, Ireland, France and Wales, so I thought I'd do the dirty and give the best performing team of the whole northern hemisphere (at least before the slaughter of Japan by Wales t'other day and the ritual sacrifice that is the All Blacks training run out on sunday) a mention - namely Scotland.

14 tries. Ok. (Probably should have been more like 20 really).
BUT. 14 converted. 100%. Now that IS impressive.
Rory Lamont joint top try scorer at the moment - boy has that lad come on in the last year - he used to be abysmal, (in the Marcus Di King Rollo mode).

The key match for Scotland was always going to be facing the Italians again, especially after the horrendous loss at Murrayfield in the last six natia, when we gifted the yellow-bellys 21 points in the first 6 minutes.

However, what Frank Hadden and the SRU have done regarding the impending New Zealand game is nothing short of a disgrace.

To name a second XV for the All Blacks game doesn't show a professional approach. It is disrespectful to the All Blacks, to the world cup and France, and most importantly of all by far, to the dwindling population (and future? population) of Scottish rugby fans and supporters.

Yes yes. But it's all about qualification isn't it? Why risk your best players getting injured or tired against a team you KNOW you are going to lose to, when the IMPORTANT, MUST WIN game comes only a week later.

I'll tell you why, and you'll do well to listen, damn you.

If Frank Hadden had asked every one of his players whether they'd like to play versus the All Blacks, EVERY player would have stuck his (her in the case of Southwell and Di Rollo) hand in the air crying "ME! ME!"

We are playing the best team in the world by far (doesn't happen that often) in the World Cup (only once every four years anyway) at home in a supposedly French world cup(WILL CERTAINLY NEVER happen again).
The fans have shelled out up to £200 for match day tickets and Murrayfield will be at last packed come sunday (rare indeed these days).

The All Blacks have come expecting a battle. The fans (both Scots and Kiwis) have spent their savings buying extortionately priced tickets.
The fans want to see their heroes play (thats the Scots, not the Kiwis).
The players want to see how they measure up to the best.

So we put out a second team, because we have BOTH eyes on the Italy game.

Scottish professional rugby is in one hell of a state at present. It virtually imploded with all that furore surrounding Edinburgh over the summer. Make no mistake, Scottish rugby was quite literally and only just, saved at the eleventh hour a few months ago.
Murrayfield is empty, even when tickets are only priced at £8 (see Romania game, and Frank, 31,000 fans was NO result for the SRU).
The SRU are so worried about their future even now, that there is STILL talks of Murrayfield going as an international rugby home, and Meadowbank taking over.

So we put out a second XV against the All Blacks.

I'd look on Scotland as pretty pitiful if I was part of the New Zealand set up at the moment, and thats quite a big step away from a long-standing, traditional, historical even, great friendship and affinity between the two nations.

We are also sending the WRONG message to the Italians. They know we're concerned, or if they didn't, they shurtainly do now!
We WILL beat the Italians. We would've beaten them even if we'd fielded our best XV against the All Blacks this sunday and a couple of our players had been injured.
Thats how to approach the Italian game, with our chests puffed and our chins out.
And if we did lose to the Italians (again), we'd take it on the chin. At least, at the very least, we could have said we put out our best available team for the entire tournament, we did our best. Our best wasn't good enough this time - so this is how we must improve.

Stuck in a very comfortable sea of mediocrity is Scotland, and its not pleasant viewing. It makes a mockery of the struggles of teams like Portugal, Georgia, Romania and even Argentinia who lets face it, MUST, they MUST be allowed to play in an international rugby competition which isn't the world cup, and SOON. (Maybe the 6 Nations should become the Ten Nations, with a far more even share of money handed out by the IRB, but thats a whole other point for the near future I'm sure).

The SRU wonders why the game is in such a mess north of the border. They wonder why Murrayfield is only half full most of the time.
They wonder why there is another (bigger than ever this year) mass exodus of players out of Scotland, from the grass roots of the game, to our world class players (only few of them n all).

They need not really wonder at all.
The All Blacks, France, the IRB, the developing rugby nations, the Scottish players and like I've said, the long-suffering Scottish rugby supporters should all feel disgusted with the SRU.

Is it any wonder Scottish Rugby is in trouble?
No. Not if we make decisions like this.

Apart from that....!
Well, we'll ship a dozen tries to NZ on sunday, and then beat Italy.
Looking forward to Argentina (I love em, they're great, just like their golfers), in the quarter final.

Of course, we may rest our first XV for that game, with BOTH eyes on the semis....?

electrichalibut said...

No veiled criticism was implied by my not mentioning Scotland (although they are a bunch of cocks), I just didn't have anything particularly interesting to say. And, apparently, nor did you, hahahahaha.

No, I'm only joking, gawd bless yer. It's probably because they're the only one of the northern hemisphere nations not to have had a "serious" game yet - their big two are coming up. And I'm inclined to agree with you about the NZ game, on balance, for the reasons you've so eloquently and lengthily described, though I think I am a bit more sympathetic to Hadden's viewpoint than you are. If you start from the two premises that a) you're not going to beat the All Blacks whatever you do and b) defeat to Italy is unthinkable, then what Hadden has done is a reasonable conclusion.

Clearly there are other factors involved, as you point out, which muddy the waters a bit. Oh, I dunno.