Riddle me this: Payback time!

2 10 2007

The Riddler offers his uniquely one-eyed view of the Rugby World Cup Quarter finals… and I for one cannot find fault with ’em!

Riddler?  One-eyed All Black fan!It’s PAYBACK week in the Rugby World Cup as the quarter finals loom. Hot on the agenda are Australia versus England with Australia looking to exact revenge for their 2003 World Cup final defeat. A few hours later and host France square off with the All Blacks who will be looking to erase the horror of 1999 once and for all when they put the French to the sword. There no doubt which side of the draw is the interesting one with two bumper games on Saturday followed by two run of the mill encounters on the Sunday.

Australia vs England
The quarters open up with the clash of the 2003 finalists. When they met that day it was the Pom’s who were victorious in extra time. However four years on and the Pom’s of 2007 are but a mere shadow of that team and the Aussies will have redemption and payback on their mind in this one. After a dawdling start, the English have picked up their paces but even taking this into account, the improvement they have made still puts them a few rungs below the Aussies.

These two sides are both evenly matched in the forwards, with nobody with a stand out pack. Both teams are very proficient at set plays and more than handy in scrums and rucks and mauls.

wallabies-ball.jpgHowever where this game will be won and lost is in the backline. Here the English fall over and their backline is pretty much impotent on defence and offence. The only position where England can boast of being better in the backs is Jonny Wilkinson. There are huge problems with the English centres and when facing arguably the best centre pairing in the world in Giteau and Mortlock they will have their work cut out for them. With Gregan, Mortlock, Giteau, Latham and the try scoring machine Mitchell in the backline they will have too much pace, skill and power for the English to hold out.

Australia has some injury problems but nothing that should prevent them from having a comfortable win here. One real issue with Australia however is Tuqiri. How much longer will the selectors persist with him remains to be seen. If it was anyone else they would have been dropped long ago and if he plays he is a weakness in their line. A Mitchell/Gerrard combination is the form choice here. Whether the selectors are finally willing to bite the bullet with Lote remains to be seen.

A few people have been critical of Australia over their Canada win but that was their B side and quite a few key personnel where missing. One thing most people know about Australian rugby is the lack of depth. They have a lot of quality players in the main 15 but very poor backup for them.

Only real chance I see on an English win is if the heavens open up and this game is played in the rain. It is the only way I can see England neutralising the Australia backline and if the game turns into a forward slog in the mud, they have some hope behind the boot of Wilkinson. On a dry track though it will be a case of Mortlock and co running riot. Australia to win by 10-20 points for me with Jonny passing Gavin Hastings to become the most prolific scorer in RWC history.

New Zealand vs France
By now the Kiwi’s would be sick and tired of hearing everybody bring up1999. As a supporter it’s a tired old tune that the opposition keep playing again and again and again. This game is a perfect chance to put this to rest and the whole of New Zealand know this. There is no love lost when playing the French and this game won’t be any exception. People seem to think a 1999 result might happen but this French side is vastly different from the 1999 one and this All Black side is as well.

ab-ball.jpgSince Graham Henry came to the helm on the All Blacks he has owned France and Laporte. In 5 games he has coached against Laporte he has won all 5 of them and belted the living crap out of them on 4 of those occasions including 39 and 44 point wins in France. Every time they play France they seem to put in that little bit extra and sink the boot in.
Can’t see this being an exception.

A few people are questioning the lead up of the All Blacks, as having no real competition. Well this is generally the case before each tri nation tournament. They usually warm up against lesser sides like a France B in the build up, but that does not stop them from coming out in the opening game of the Tri Nations and notching an impressive win. Same scenario here.

Where will this game will be won or lost? You name it. The All Black tight five is far superior to the French. The loosies are stronger and better. The half combinations more impressive. The centre are pretty much even. The wings and fullback vastly superior. The bench vastly superior. There are few, if any, positions where the French have it over the All Blacks.

Many people have been talking the All Blacks down as having a poor lead-up despite scoring 46 tries in 4 matches. They have been talking about a 1999 repeat. They have been questioning their abilities and form. Well I think they will be out to dispel all these doubters and leave no questions why they are the $1.57 favourites. They have be idling along to date and are ready to step it up a few gears here.
All Blacks to win by 30-40 points.

South Africa vs Fiji
SAAlthough the dream result would be a Fiji win and everybody but a South African will be cheering them on, I can’t see them coming close to the Springboks. With a powerful professional forward pack and a solid defensive line, this is going to be a long hard game for the Fijians. A team like South Africa would usually field a B squad against Fiji but because this is a quarter final they will find themselves facing an A squad looking to send a message to the rest of the teams.

Can’t see Fiji winning anywhere on the park. They will absolutely dominate in the forwards. In the backs they are more disciplined and better structured and they have a powerful bench. In what is likely to be the most one sided of finals, I am tipping the Springboks by 50-60 points…

Argentina vs Scotland
Argentina look set to add another six nation scalp here to go with the Irish and French one. In Scotland they are likely to Argentinafind a weaker opponent than the other two as well. Argentina have looked impressive all tournament while Scotland barely limped into the finals with a 2 point win over Italy.
Los Pumas should have it all over the Scottish in the forwards and their rock solid defensive line should hold the unimpressive Scottish backline at bay. Doubt this will be a pretty fixture. Argentina aren’t exactly known for their flare. This is likely to be a hard fought grinding win with Los Puma suffocating the life out of Scotland. Prediction here is Argentina by 15-25 points.

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2 responses

2 10 2007

As always, a well-thought out analysis of the upcoming games Riddler.
I think the English 3/4s are going to be operating like a turnstile (not unlike Leon McDonald in the SF 4 years ago) when Mortlock gets wound up. I would agree that Tuqiri continues to get a game on reputation rather than any semblance of form. However, as Mark Gerrard went home injured after playing against the Cherry Blossoms for all of 2 minutes I am sure you meant to say that Mitchell and Ashley-Cooper were the form pairing for the wings….
I thinks the ABs will beat France, but I reckon it will be a lot closer than you have suggested, while Fiji might not even get as close as that.
The best part of the games this weekend? The very strong likelihood that all four semi finalists will come from the southern hemisphere in a northern hemisphere WC – cop that!
Go Wallabies!

2 10 2007

That indeed would be sweet, Rob…

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