- By Kevin McCarthy
Time to make predictions! Utterly useless predictions most likely, but everyone does it and it wouldn’t seem fair not to join in the fun.
Are they pointless? Well no obviously not, but you can guarantee that while some assumptions will prevail, others will be ruthlessly overturned by the actual bounce of the ball or blow of the whistle.
Who would have it any other way? I always like reading the statistical crunchers who claim on past world cups that X will happen. But we aren’t playing previous world cups, which is kind of the point.
All the stats really tell you is that if you replayed all those previous cups, here’s what happened. It has a more tenuous hold on what might happen, if all the many factors that impact a team and match remain the same i.e. you take them out of the picture.
They don’t tell you that in a final, an overweight recently returned white baiter turned first-five will kick the winning penalty, or that in another moment, a terrible reffing call will let Australia survive. That’s partly why we watch though, isn’t. For the clutch moments that make or break, and I’ve never seen any spreadsheet that can capture those.
So anyway, all caveats in place, what say I.
As Ringo Starr once almost sang, it won’t come easy, you know. Yes that 36-nil thumping settled nerves and the romp against Tonga was ideal for letting the backs feel the vibe, but we all should remember that the All Blacks have largely misfired for two years now at the highest level. Still winning more than most, but would you bet the house? Is there a hidden master plan about to be unveiled? More likely, we should hope that the high tempo, defence cracking, skills game we know is there will be executed.
Greatest asset: No one else has two first-fives of the calibre of Mo’unga and Barrett.
Greatest weakness: That bone china midfield better not become injury central.
World number one. Seems odd, but the ranking reflects that there is not much between the top sides. If you dispute, its only 12 months since they snotted the All Blacks with blanket defence and a great forward effort. Why they have gone walkabout since then is one for Joe Schmidt to work out. Can they bounce back or is their game style already outdated?
Greatest asset: Joe Schmidt. He’s a clever coach. He’ll get them there or thereabouts.
Greatest weakness: Have opponents figured them out – and can they change gears.
The Bokke are back. Aka FIGJAM (not going to spell that out for you, it’d be rude). Great to see, but remember the Boks are generally always back when it comes to New Zealand. Let’s see how they go against the full range of top nations. For sure, no-one will particularly want to face them in the later stages.
Greatest asset: Self belief married to that old-fashioned Bok muscularity, welded onto some good attacking backs and as per usual, a steady hand at 10.
Greatest weakness: Can the Boks handle it if they come up against a side that matches or bests them physically.
Either Eddie Jones is a genius that has ended four years of experimentation by pretty much settling on an England side and style that could cause serious mayhem. Or he’s a genius who has ended four years of experimentation by settling on an England side that still gets baffled when things turn chaotic in a match.
So, who knows? They look good, but that’s never been an England failing.
Greatest asset: They’re big, pretty athletic, and if allowed, will dictate a hard to beat approach.
Greatest weakness: Talking endlessly before they walk. Oh well.
Was 36-0 a fair reflection on the Wallabies. I suspect not. They will be there or thereabouts, and it will depend on whether they can in a short timeframe, practise a style that can match the bigger teams Semis in reach, but beyond?
Greatest asset: Keeping it simple on attack but effective.
Greatest weakness: Can be bullied up front on a bad day.
Got to be, despite the snipers, a real chance for the final. Wales remember should have been there in 2011, except for the Warburton red card. Gatland knows what he has and how to work with it – and knows how to annoy the opposition.
Greatest asset: Used to winning more than losing these days.
Greatest weakness: Can they mentally be up to win the big games when the crunch comes.
Not a chance. Never. Will play appallingly in pool stage, and squeak through maybe. Okay, might make the semi. Or the final.
Greatest asset: They’re France.
Greatest weakness: They’re France
Honestly and perplexingly very under-rated. Not setting the world on fire at international level but remember the Jaguares reached the Super final this year. Their history at World Cups is to overperform – but not quite kick on. Expect the same this time.
Greatest asset: A bright style, that can score tries and challenge good defences.
Greatest weakness: Bafflingly, the forwards. Where’s that scrum gone?
Up and down like Hadrian’s Wall. They’ll be fun to watch – and implode at some point. Still, the sort of team that on its day can upset. Whether that upset coincides with a key match is the mystery.
Greatest asset: Attacking flair.
Greatest weakness: Can’t stitch together consistency, a fatal flaw at a world cup.
No offence but you still can’t see any of the tier twos making it through. That said, Japan has got to be the best show, and we know that somewhere along the way, a Pacific team will give a big boy a hell of a fright.
Greatest asset: Nothing to lose
Greatest weakness: Asked to be the cannon fodder.
So, there you go. It’s getting exciting aye!
Great to see Super Rugby will be one continuous season next year.
Sure, it starts in January, but a bit of summer footy always appeals.
Excellent too to see the start times bought forward half an hour – much appreciated by those commuting home from the Stadium.
As for the draw – well, looks interesting for the Canes.
But this is not the time to be talking about that. There’s that other tournament first