Well, the 2011 Rugby World Cup is coming to a close, and it’s being a great tournament, overall. We still have the 2 semi-finals to play, of course, and they look like being very exciting matches. Wales play France on Saturday, kick-off 9 a.m., our time. Then Australia play New Zealand, on Sunday, at the same time. 4 great teams, playing very exciting rugby. I’ve being doing a bit of research on the games and I’ve come up with some interesting statistics:
FRANCE V WALES
Overall, the teams have played each other 88 times, with results been almost equal. France have won 42 (sorry Uncle Frank, I got them mixed up), with Wales winning 43, and 3 drawn! So, very even.
Although, in the last 10 matches, France have won 8, to Wales’s 2 (which both came in Wales’s Grand Slam winning years, 2005 + ’08). France won their most recent meeting, in this years’ 6 Nations, quite comfortably, 28-9.
The teams have never met before in the World Cup. France have a better record in the World Cup, overall, having played in 5 semi-finals, winning 2 (’87 + ’99), and losing 3 (’95, 2003,’07). Wales have played in only one semi-final, (losing to New Zealand, in ’87, who, ironically, then went on to beat France in the final, that year).
Of the 4 semi-finalists, Wales are the only team to have never appeared in a World Cup final. France, meanwhile, are the only one of the 4 that are not coached by a New Zealander (they’re coached by Lievermont, while Wales are coached by Warren Gatland).
Wales are on a real roll at the moment. They came out of their pool with a lot of credit and were very dominant against us. France, on the other hand, have had a rather poor tournament, so far. They lost, to both New Zealand and Tonga (which was a shocker), and didn’t’ play well in their other games. They only really came alive against England. They’re still suffering from off-field controversies, while Wales have had a pretty smooth ride.
France have the more experienced team, overall, with most of their players in their late-20’s/early-30’s. Most of the Welsh team are in their early/’mid-20’s (this didn’t stop Wales against Ireland, of course). Wales do have an inexperienced team, though, and this is where the nerves might surface (back in 2003, France had a great out-half, Frederick Michalak, who played brilliantly against us in the quarter-final that year. Unfortunately, the big occasion got to him in the semi-final, against England, and he wasn’t the same player). Will the Welsh team have a similar problem?
I’m up for Wales, I have to say. A lot of their players did well for the Lions in 2009, and I think it would be good for rugby to see them coming through, for once. See another team make it to the final, instead of the usual Tri-Nation’s sides, mixed with England and France. It would be great for the celts!
AUSTRALIA V NEW ZEALAND
Australia have played New Zealand 142 time, with Australia only having won 41, to New Zealand’s 96, with 5 drawn! On the face of it, it looks like a very one-sided fixture. But you have to take into account that, for most of the 20th Century Australia weren’t a very strong rugby team. When the British and Irish Lions would tour New Zealand, they’d play a few games in Australia as a warm-up! Of the 8 main Rugby teams, Australia were 8th! It’s only really been since the mid-80’s, when Australia beat the four home unions (Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales), that they’ve really come into their own. That fact is highlighted by the fact that they’ve twice won the World Cup.
The 2 sides have met twice before in the World Cup (in ’91 and 2003), and Australia have won both times. Australia have the better World Cup record, overall, as well. They’ve appeared in 3 finals, and won twice. Whereas, New Zealand have appeared in 2, and 1 once (’87).
The game will be held in Eden Park, where Australia have a very poor record. They’ve haven’t won there since ’86, having lost the last 12 games there. They even lost to us there earlier in the tournament.
New Zealand came top of their pool, although they haven’t really shone, yet. They had a very tough time against Argentina, only waking up in the last 15 minutes. Australia have had a much tougher time. They lost to us, which really knocked them back, and didn’t really impress in their other pool games. They did very well to beat South Africa, although they never really dominated the game, and were quite lucky in the end.
It’s a real battle of the coaches. When New Zealand did badly, in the 2007 World Cup, their coach, Graham Henry, looked like he might be replaced. The name people had in mind to take over from him, was Robbie Deans. The management decided to stay with Henry, and Deans became coach of Australia, where he remains. We’ll see on Sunday if New Zealand will be regretting that decision.
New Zealand have a few injury problems, at the moment. They’ve lost Dan Carter, who’s a huge loss, and haven’t really replaced him. Richie McCaw is also a worry, despite what they say. Both those players went off in the quarter-final against France, in 2007, and the All Blacks imploded. It will be interesting to see what happens if they lose McCaw during the match. Like Carter, they have no replacement that comes close to his skill level.
New Zealand have the home advantage, of course, but they’ll be under a tremendous amount of pressure. Australia can be just as good as New Zealand, and they won’t have that same pressure on them. I don’t mind which team wins to be honest, although I have to say that I think that this year the All Blacks will finally do it.
It could be a Wales v New Zealand final, which would be something. In fact, any combination of the 4 sides has possibilities. Let’s see how they play out!