Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Total Flanker Guide to: Rugby World Cup 2011

OK, back in Blighty after a ridiculously relaxing fortnight and here it is at last - what you've all been waiting for - the TF guide to what may or may not happen as Rugby World Cup 2011 begins to unfold...

A word of warning. Please do not expect anything particularly insightful from what follows. I have about as much clue as the next man as to what is about to transpire. Although my preview of the 2007 tournament was spookily accurate in some respects it was also miles wide of the mark in others. Such is the reliability of pure, unadulterated guesswork.

Anyroadup, not very long ago the tournament seemed an age away, with all the talk being of Super Duper Rugby, Tri Nations, pre-season training camps and warm-up matches but suddenly that's all behind us, the phony war is over, the tournament is imminent and before you know it some lucky captain will have his mitts on the Webb Ellis trophy.

But which captain will that be?

Taking an investigative peak at the qualifying pools:

Pool A - Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, Tonga

Once again New Zealand find themselves in a pool unlikely to provide much serious competition. 'Sacre Bleu' - I hear you say - 'surely the French will provide a stern test?' Frankly I doubt it (and don't call me Shirley). Actually I very much doubt that Monsieur Lièvremont will even bother to field his strongest line up against New Zealand (assuming he knows what that is). He may prove me wrong but, despite recent hiccups, all I see here is the All Blacks strolling through. A possible danger is that that they may yet again be undercooked come the latter stages, but I suspect recent defeats may provide the required kick up the jacksie. France to secure an easy second spot, with Japan making history by securing two wins against Canada and Tonga respectively, who will fight it out to decide who props up Pool A.

Pool B - Argentina, England, Georgia, Romania, Scotland

Tough, tough pool for England. Argentina first-up is potentially the stuff of nightmares, Scotland are nothing if not awkward buggers and both Georgia and Romania are likely to present an overtly physical challenge. Assuming everything goes to plan and England win the pool (not a foregone conclusion by any means) they'll enter the knockout stages either in a state of battle-hardened readiness or battered, bruised and exhausted. Those players on standby would be wise keeping themselves fit. I'd expect Argentinian nous to be too strong for Scotland, who may also struggle against the tough Georgians. The once upon a time dangerous Romanians, I suspect, will end up bringing up the rear.

Pool C - Australia, Ireland, Italy, Russia, USA

I have, for some time, had a nagging feeling that the Aussies are going to have a good tournament and their recent TriNations triumph has done nothing to quell my unease. The question is, might this also be the year when the Irish finally get things right? Recent results suggest not and Declan Kidney is going to have to manage BOD's fitness very carefully while trying to coax a few more stellar performances out of the likes of POC and DOC if they are to have a chance. Italy's fearsome scrummage provides an opportunity to gatecrash the top two's party, while Russia v USA will provide a unique contest within a contest as they re-enact Cold War hostilities.

Pool D - Fiji, Namibia, Samoa, South Africa, Wales

Let's just assume for one minute that the senior South African players largely decide to ignore their coach and run their own campaign, the main question for this pool will be whether Wales can see off their Pacific Island dual nemeses, having been dumped out of previous tournaments by both Fiji and Samoa. I suspect that Fiji will struggle to overcome their well-documented problems but Samoa, more or less playing at home, will have a great shot, and I remain unconvinced that Wales have what it takes mentally to see off the Samoan storm heading their way. Sadly, I think Namibia are destined to be the tournament's whipping boys - keeping the score respectable and their players safe will need to be their priority.


New Zealand start as clear favourites and it's difficult to see much beyond them as champions. Doubts do persist, however, about how they might handle the pressure once the serious stuff takes over - although failing to secure this year's TriNations may turn out to be a huge blessing in disguise. What's patently obvious is that a fit Dan Carter will be essential to the cause. A Springbok victory isn't out of the question, but it would be in spite of (rather than because of) the efforts of their coach. My nagging feeling about the Aussies refuses to go away whilst England's ability to play knockout rugby can never be discounted (if the 2007 team could reach the final then really anything is possible). Anyone else? Not really. It's a well worn cliché, but who knows which French team will turn up, whilst for an elderly Ireland team the latter stages of a Rugby World Cup are simply virgin territory.

So, with my head on the block and being startlingly unoriginal, New Zealand it is. Maybe.


Gareth said...

Welcome back TF, nice tan I'm sure.

I've studied the tea leaves, thrown the bones, consulted the stars & emailed Mystic Meg and am no further forward in coming up with a winner than you.

I do know it won't be my boys in green. Not enough talent in enough positions and frankly (bar a magnificent win against Eng in Dublin) a crappy 2011.

So given that my money is on..........Australia.

England are a RWC too soon and don't have the experience or class to win this one. I'm sure no-one will want to face them but equally won't be terrified of them either

SA - England a la 2007. If they ignore the crazy one they could make it even to the final but don't have the team to really get it done.

France - Actually do have the squad and I may sneak a fiver on them as an outside bet. It depends on whether Lievremont is taking his medication or not. Why does he keep picking Skrela? Its almost like David S has a bet going on about how crap he can be and still be picked

And finally the mighty All Blacks. Never discount them but I just have a sneaking suspicion that they will do the usual - 95% brilliant, wipe the floor with everyone they play but.......that 5% will be when it matters, Quarters/Semi's/Final and that will be their undoing.

I hope whoever wins it comes from one of the teams who actually play some positive rugby not just try and disrupt the oppo. I'll leave you to decide who that covers.

Anonymous said...

An interesting read. I agree with Gareth, this RWC may have come a little early for England who are still developing as a side.

I've been intrigued by the development of the USA team, however, and while they won't win the competition, it will be interesting to see how far they've progressed under the stewardship of Nigel Melville, who I recently conducted an interview with.

Nursedude said...

Tommy, if the USA's pre-RWC losses to Canada(x2) and Japan are clairvoyant, I am not looking forward to much from Eddie O'Sullivan's Eagles. I hope I am wrong, but the only realistic shot they have of a win is against Russia.

I think this is New Zealand's tournament to lose.(where have we heard THAT before?)

I am currently in Australia until 9/19 when my wife and I head to New Zealand, where I have tickets for 3 matches.