OK. Here we go. My prediction as to how the tournament will go
(Numbers in brackets indicate current IRB ranking.)
South Africa (4)
This is a straightforward enough group, with two “elite” teams and three also-rans. South Africa and England, who also met in the group stages in 2003, will joust for the top spot. However this time around, it looks like the Southern Hemisphere team that will come out on top. Since their triumph in Australia four years ago, England have shown nothing to suggest that they are in any position to successfully defend their title. Until the day comes that the Pacific Island nations can hold on to their best players from the lure of New Zealand and Australia, they will struggle to compete in tournaments like this.
Winners – South Africa
Runners-up – England
Possibly the softest group in the competition, this is an easy enough one to predict, so I won’t go into any great detail. Australia will win the group and Wales will comfortably take second spot.
New Zealand (1)
At last we’re seeing a bit of competition – but not for the top spot. New Zealand will win this at a canter. Fate has dictated that the tournament favourites end up in the same group as the lowest of the minnows – Portugal. Hopefully, no-one will get seriously hurt in that one.
The interesting tussle here is for second spot. Italy have now completed eight seasons in the Six Nations and at last are starting to gain some momentum. Ranked two places above Scotland in the IRB rankings, they have to be fancied to take second spot in the group. The Scotland-Italy head-to-head in St Etienne on 29 September could be a cracker.
Winners – New Zealand
Runners-up – Italy
D for Death. Ireland and Argentina are sick of the sight of one another by now, as this is the third time on the trot that the sides have met in the pool stages in the World Cup. In 1999, Argentina’s win over Ireland in Lens sent the men in green home prematurely. We exacted revenge in a buttock-clenching early morning encounter four years later.
This is by far the most competitive pool in the competition. Three world ranking places separate the top three teams in the group, which means that at least one team deserving of a quarter-final place will be going home on
Hallowe’en 1 October (edit: see comments below).
Being Ireland’s group, this is also the pool of most interest to this blog. So much Irish hope depends on variables. Can our lads make it through relatively unscathed? I reckon that Ireland has the best fixture path of the three contenders. We will see off Namibia and Georgia with some ease, giving our key players valuable game time together and hopefully avoiding injury. In addition, once the initial resistance has been broken down, the tries should come, giving us a decent first innings total for the others to chase.
France and Argentina is the curtain raiser for the tournament, and it will be a bruising encounter. Whoever loses will be have to play catch-up for the rest of the group stage. It will be a tough, physical match, and key men could be lost to injury. France should hold out in this one.
We meet the French on 21 September. Our lads need no motivation for this one. The last time the teams met was in the Six Nations, at the first rugby match ever to be played at Croke Park. It was an historic occasion and they pissed on our parade, undeservedly winning 20-17 (and going on, even more undeservedly to win the Six Nations itself.) So now it’s time to piss on their parade. If all our first team players are fit and ready, you can expect as intense and passionate a performance from Ireland as that which annihilated England in Croker two weeks after the French debacle. I’m sticking my neck out here and predicting an Irish win. The momentum from that should see them send the Argies home a week later. However, by this time, we will have picked up injuries to at least two key men.
Winners – Ireland
Runners-up – France
QF1 – Australia v. England. The match where the Champions give up their title. Australia should have little difficulty getting past an ordinary England.
QF2 – New Zealand v. France. It could of course be us, or even the Argies, but it doesn’t matter who, because the All Blacks juggernaut will prevail. France will be desperate to avoid this match as it will be played outside of France, in Cardiff.
QF3 – South Africa v. Wales. Can’t see the Boks lose this, to be honest.
QF4 – Ireland v. Italy. We will get through this, even if we are missing a few sharp-shooters.
SF1 – Australia v. New Zealand. A tough bruising encounter, and likely to be the best match of the tournament. New Zealand desperately don’t want the Aussies to win three World Cups, as it would underline Australia’s place as the pre-eminent rugby nation, something the Kiwis believe is theirs, even if their World Cup record doesn’t reflect that. New Zealand by a whisker.
SF2 – South Africa v. Ireland. This is where Ireland will make their exit, as by this stage the first choice XV will be carrying too many injuries and will be utterly knackered.
Final – New Zealand v. South Africa. It could go either way. It won’t be pretty, and it could well end up like the ’95 final and be decided on kicks. But I have to call it, and I will call it for the men in black. New Zealand to be crowned World Champions twenty years after their triumph in the inaugural tournament in 1987.
3rd place play off – Ireland will have one foot on the plane by then, having achieved their goal of a semi-final place, so the Aussies should have little problem with this one.
There you go. What do you think? Am I looking too much through green-tinted glasses? Give me hell in the comments.