Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rugby Union-World Cup Musings

The Irish team -to play Bayonne-announced by Eddie O Sullivan contains no great surprises.
Ireland: 15 Girvan Dempsey, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (captain), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Denis Hickie, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 Neil Best, 6 Simon Easterby, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Rory Best, 1 Marcus Horan. Replacements: 16 Frankie Sheahan, 17 Bryan Young, 18 Malcolm O'Kelly, 19 Alan Quinlan, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Paddy Wallace, 22 Geordan Murphy.

The loss of Shane Horgan is a severe blow. Hopefully he can play against Argentina and France in the Group of Death. However I have grave doubts that this injury can withstand the heat of battle. Ireland cannot afford the loss of key players. The ultimate nightmare would be the loss of Ronan O'Gara.

France team manager Jo Maso has strongly defended his pack ahead of the return match against England this weekend. Les Bleus came away from Twickenham on Saturday with a hard-fought 21-15 victory. However England dominated in the line-out and scrums for much of the game.

England probably lack sufficient flair to win the World Cup. However too much cannot be written into the outcome of pre World Cup tests. Players must keep something in reserve for "the real thing". Teams will not demonstrate key moves to opponents.

On balance France is a better bet to win the World Cup than England. French forward power will provide the platform for a dazzling back division to launch a ferocious assault on the Championship. Also home support will drive the French players to greater heights.

Ireland cannot expect realistically to win the World Cup. There is very little cover for players in key positions such as prop and out-half.
It is highly unlikely that Ireland can dominate either France or Argentina in the scrums. Can Ireland emerge with a victory over France or Argentina and escape from The Group of Death to reach the quarter finals?
South Africa scored fifteen tries in their 105-13 victory over Namibia in their RWC warm-up match at Newlands on Wednesday with flanks Juan Smith and Schalk Burger both getting hat-tricks. The Springboks rested most of their key players during the Tri Nations Championship. They fancy their chances. They fear no body. They are dark horses.

Australian preparation is second to none. Nothing is left to chance. However the Australian pack is the Achilles heel of the team. The Wallabies back division has skill power and flair in abundance. The Aussies has mastered the technique of living off scraps and winning. This may not be sufficient on this occasion.

New Zealand is the team of all talents. The All Black selectors rested key players during the Tri Nations Championship. However there is a huge weight of expectation on the players at home. The fact that anything up to eight of the players intend to play for French and English club teams -in the aftermath of the World Cup- may be a distraction.

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