It has been another momentous week on the
road to the 2007 Rugby World Cup which,
quite frankly, can't start soon enough. Four
years of build-up has been like 40 years of
Only 10 days to go, folks - just shut your
eyes and think of the England team if you
are in need of comic relief to get through
the final countdown.
It's prediction time, so let's hope these
words don't come back to haunt.
Here goes. Namibia won't win the cup, and
Portugal's campaign is in serious trouble.
As for Georgia and Romania, suffice to say
holes are appearing.
Which is how the bookies also see it.
Yes, you can actually place a bet on Namibia
to win the cup, at the irrelevant odds of
5000:1. For those with a liking for the
United States, read 'em and weep. You'll get
2500:1 at many betting places although shop
around and you'll find 5000:1.
Namibia? Portugal? United States? Huh?
Maybe these firms should stick to quoting
odds on royal baby names.
Giving odds on Namibia or Portugal winning
is like listing Fifi Gorgonzola Moonbeam as
a princely name prospect.
The Rugby World Cup is, once again, a
definite George, William, Charles and
Edward-type moment. Traditional.
The recent mass wrestling demonstrations
masquerading as European World Cup warm-up
matches have simply confirmed there are just
four nations in contention - New Zealand,
South Africa and France along with the pesky
Australian dark horses.
The bookies have had their go. Here are
3:1 - NEW ZEALAND
The bookies quote New Zealand at around 1:2.
Whenever odds makers put the little number
before the big number, this non-punting
brain flips into meltdown. So without
getting into the exact financial
ramifications, 1:2 stands for rip-roaring
The All Blacks were, to my mind, rip-roaring
favourites a few months ago but have drifted
because pre-tournament prediction nerves
have set in. Bold as brass in January. More
tentative, though, in August.
This has been such a messy rugby season, so
much so that the biggest story of late
involved Ali Williams quitting Auckland with
the aim of playing for Canterbury by playing
for Tasman, when it is difficult recalling
Williams playing much for Auckland in the
A very phoney war hasn't firmed the All
Blacks up as favourites. Theories are just
that. Playing form is the best guide, and
we've had precious little to go on. But the
All Blacks do deserve to remain the
favourites. They have the greatest scrum in
history thanks to Messrs Hayman and
Woodcock, and the world's best players in
other positions, including first
five-eighths and openside flanker.
But the main reason the All Blacks are
favourites is their opponents aren't playing
4:1 - SOUTH AFRICA
That jumped-up Jake White will be
insufferable if South Africa wins.
They are an excellent chance, though,
despite traditionally being poor tourists.
The Springboks have something precious,
something we ain't got, which is a lineout
that purrs along like John O'Neill talking
to a journalist. It looks so simple when the
Springboks do the lineout thing. John Smit
grabs the ball, looks up, hesitates for .007
of a nanosecond, chucks it at Victor
Matfield, he grabs it, and whacko - off they
go. For a variation, John Smit looks up and
chucks the ball to Bakkies Botha, who grabs
it, etc, etc.
If the World Cup becomes a New Zealand-South
Africa showdown, start quoting 3:56 odds on
this. White's mob will kick the ball into
the corners and go to work on Anton Oliver,
Chris Jack, Williams and Co. the way Hayman
and Woodcock set about opposing scrums.
Here's a question: What would you rather
have in the world rugby arena - an A-grade
lineout or scrum. Most coaches would take
Beneath White's bluster and years of dodgy
results, South Africa retain enough of a
belief that their rightful place is at the
top. For any doubts about their belligerent
attitude, check out the main No 10 prospect.
Butch James is as close to a nightclub
bouncer as you'll find at first
12:1 - FRANCE
There is a lot of late money on France, who
rate around 6:1. That's overly optimistic,
in my view. A lot of France's confidence is
tied up in their scrum - having a brilliant
scrum ranks alongside annoying or ignoring
America as the national hobby. Of late, they
do a much better job of annoying America.
The problem for the French is their egos
won't allow them to follow Australia's lead
and develop scrum cheating to an expert
level when in trouble. The All Blacks have
got it all over the French scrum unless
there have been dramatic developments during
the phoney war period. And the French
frontrowers are unlikely to resort to
walking away from the carnage mid-match - as
they did in Paris a couple of years ago -
under the World Cup spotlight.
Don't place too much store on that great
myth about the French being capable of
anything either. Sure, they have had their
moments, and the dissection of the All
Blacks in 1999 was superb. But how often
does it happen, especially in modern, highly
analysed rugby. The French are more likely
to blow a fuse, truth be known.
You also have to wonder if their coach,
Bernard Laporte - known as Herr Flick
because he is a dead ringer for the German 'Allo
'Allo sitcom character - might have a few
screws that aren't firmly wound in.
A lot of this sudden optimism about France
stems from them dealing to England and Wales
in warm-up matches. Giggle. The British
press have also leaped on the French
bandwagon in the name of Northern Hemisphere
Home teams do have a strong record of making
the World Cup final, although only two have
won the cup in five tournaments. That
brilliant French anthem alone is worth a few
Aux armes, citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons!
Marchons ! marchons
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!
Magnifique. La Marseillaise versus the
haka would be a brilliant World Cup final
experience, don't you think?
15:1 - AUSTRALIA
The bookies are much stingier than this, but
if Australia win a World Cup with that front
row, it is time to take up nude
mud-wrestling as our national sport. A
couple of key injuries would really hurt,
and there are too many questions about the
backline on which their hopes rest. George
Gregan is in armchair mode, Stephen Larkham
is hauling his battered body to the end of a
glorious career, Chris Latham has been
sidelined, and Lote Tuqiri is in decline any
time before midnight.
Don't fancy them at all. Don't fancy them at
all. If you say it often enough, you might
believe it. Those damn Aussies. They always
come up with something. John Connolly isn't
quite in Rod Macqueen's smart league,
although he is a formidable, streetwise
40:1 - ENGLAND
Drifting fast. At about 25:1 with the
bookies but, in reality, worth lumping in
with Georgia and Portugal. A team so old
that if they win the World Cup, they can
tell the grandchildren about it within the
next few years. Worthy of consideration as
defending champions and because their
gnarled forwards may muster bite to match
their media's bark.
There was only one Martin Johnson, however,
and this year's model has no one close to
his unclassy class. More amusement value
than anything else. Andy Farrell in the
centres - Jerry Seinfeld couldn't beat that
The experts reckon 20:1, but come on. When
do Ireland win anything? The Irish are
reasonably modest, leaving others to talk
the blarney about them. A dollop of
world-class players - O'Driscoll and D'Arcy
are seriously good centres and O'Connell a
magnificent lock - do not make a team.
Interesting question: When did these alleged
World Cup contenders last win the Five/Six
Nations? Answer: 1985.
An Irish journalist at the last World Cup
told me a problem was this - the only player
who honestly, really, deeply believes that
Ireland are as good as anyone else is
O'Driscoll. He is, while most of the rest
$10,000 million plus the value of Bill Gates
and Warren Buffett's fortunes (and still
counting):1 Wales, Argentina, Portugal,
Georgia, etc ... no-hopers.
CHRIS RATTUE |
The NZ Herald | Wednesday, 29 August ,
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