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Before I begin, it’s probably only fair that I say that I have been watching most of these matches on highlight form on RTE 2. I haven’t gotten up to watch any of them live, except for the Ire v Australia game. Fair dues to anyone who has.
Anyway, we come to the end of the series of pool games of World Cup 2011, and the individual pools are starting to take shape. Most of the games have had the predicted results, although, thankfully most of the minnows haven’t been as easy pickings as some might’ve thought, which is great to see. In earlier tournament’s, some of the second-tier sides were conceding over a century of points, which doesn’t do anybody any good. Much better to see the team’s looking competitive (although there has been a few landslide victories, they’ve been kept to a minimum).
Unfortunately, something that has affected the minnow’s chances of scoring upsets is the scheduling of the tournament. Some of these team’s have had to play a ridiculous 4 games in 2 weeks (whereas Ireland, for example, have played 4 games in 4 weeks!). It would make much more sense for the top-tier teams to have games closer together as they have the quantity of good players to cater for this. Ireland could put out a second-string side and still win a few matches. Teams like Russia don’t have this luxury and something like this just underlines the gulf that still exists between the top-tier sides, and second-tier. Hopefully this problem can be sorted out before the next tournament, as we want to see as many teams as possible with a fair shake.
On to the pools:
We start with our own pool: P00L C
Ireland beating Australia remains the shock of this World Cup so far, and has completely thrown open the tournament. It now looks quite likely that Australia will meet South Africa in the Quarter-Final, which would be epic. Although it would considerably lessen the Wallabies chances of reaching a Semi, as South Africa have never failed to reach the Semi-Finals. Another factor to consider is that no team has ever lost a pool game, and gone on to win the tournament (although I wouldn’t put it past Australia to be the first, considering their track-record in the World Cup).
Ireland continued their winning ways, beating the Russians (who were playing their 3rd game in 11 days), by 62-12. It was a dominant performance by the Irish, although they did badly to concede 2 tries (one score by former ‘Rock lad Artemyev). Now Ireland face Italy, in what has become the crunch game of the pool. If Italy manage to win, it would turn the pool table upside down. It would mean that each of the top 3 teams (Aus, Ire, It) had lost a match, and the pool would be then decided on points difference. Ireland would then go from topping the pool to possibly not even advancing to the knock-out stages. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen and Ireland can keep on building on their great win against the Wallabies (something that will help Ireland’s chances of victory is that Italy have to play the U.S. mid-week, before they face us on Sunday).
Reflecting on the Russia game, I was surprised that Declan kidney kept O’Gara and Kearney, especially, on so close to the end of the match. I would think that if he intended to play either of them against Italy that he would taken them off sooner to prevent injury (Australia suffered 3 serious injuries against the U.S.). One factor in picking O’Gara over Sexton is kicking form. O’Gara slotted 7 out of 8, whereas Sexton has missed most of his kicks. It was thought that there was something wrong with the ball, but there could be something else affecting Sexton’s form. As the pool stands, the likelihood is that Ireland will win the pool, with Australia coming 2nd. Of the 2 remaining teams, the U.S. have only scored one victory, over Russia, and are likely to suffer a second defeat in their last match against Italy. Russia have lost all their matches and could suffer their heaviest defeat against Australia.
There were, realistically, only 2 teams that could possibly advance from this pool, the only question been in which order they would advance. That question has now been answered, with New Zealand finishing off France in style, 32-17. France conceded 3 tries in the early stages, and it looked like the match would become a rout. Thankfully, they were able to reclaim some pride, scoring before the end of the game. France had been New Zealand’s bogey team in previous World Cups, but this match possibly came too early in the tournament. The All Blacks played with real style, and their back-line seems to be one of the most dangerous around. Nonu and Smith at centre are especially dangerous. The All Blacks also inflicted one of the few thrashings of this World Cup, beating Japan 83-7 (although this was not as bad as in the 1995 tournament when Japan lost by 145-10). Japan have lost all their matches so far, although they did do well against France. Their last match is against Canada, which they have a pretty good chance of winning. Canada won a close match against Tonga, and did well against France. They finish the tournament against New Zealand, which could be quite a rout. Tonga face France last which they won’t win (although Japan did do well against France, and Tonga beat Japan by 31-18). So, who know?
This pool is still very much undecided. There was a 3-way tie going into the pool between Argentina, England and Scotland, which has yet to be resolved. England have managed to beat Argentina, but haven’t played Scotland. Argentina beat Scotland but lost to England. It all rests on Scotland’s game against the English. If England can win, it will mean that they will win the pool, with Argentina likely coming 2nd. If Scotland win, it will mean that the pool will be decided on points difference. At the moment, my money is on England to win as they are playing the better rugby, and really have the better team. You can’t count out the Scots, though. Of the other teams in the pool, Georgia still have to play Romania and Argentina. They will lose against Argentina (Argentina will want to inflict a heavy defeat, which will help their chances if the pool is decided on points difference). Georgia will probably lose against Romania as well, although not as heavy a defeat. Romania will be looking to achieve their only victory of the World Cup, against Georgia.
It looks like South Africa will top this pool, with 2nd place still a 2-way race. South Africa almost lost to Wales but have managed to inflict pretty heavy defeats against Namibia (in one of the only routs, by 87-0, the only game where one team has failed to score) and Fiji. Their final match is against Samoa, which won’t be an easy game (Samoa are probably the hardest tacklers in rugby) but which they’ll probably win. If South Africa did lose, it would be their first loss, ever, in the pool stages of a Rugby World Cup. Wales did superbly against the Springboks, and managed to beat Samoa by a try. They face Fiji last, and will want to score a lot points in that match, to increase their chances of progressing. Fiji did knock them out of the tournament in 2007, so they can’t be underestimated. Wales also have a game against Namibia to play, midweek, before their match against Fiji. Namibia are another team that have lost all their matches, and will probably suffer another defeat against Wales.
As it stands the likely quarter-final matches are:
NEW ZEALAND V ARGENTINA
SOUTH AFRICA V AUSTRALIA (that will be epic!)
IRELAND V WALES
FRANCE V ENGLAND
4 great games! (which I will watch live!)