Semi Final Match Up: Palla vs. Egg… and Wales vs. France

Here at Cordite Towers, Palla and Egg set out to discuss the weekend’s rugger like we always do, stretched out manfully in the nearest sauna, only a birch between us.  Normally, our shared passion for fast-paced, attack-minded, skilful, intelligent rugby means we see eye to eye, but on the subject of this week’s two semi-finals, we were in total opposition.  Palla is foreseeing a Wales v Kiwis final, while Egg is looking at France v Oz.  Neither could convince the other of their argument.  So, without further ado, Palla and Egg present their argument as to why they think Wales and France, respectively, will win.  Tomorrow, we’ll see who came out on top, and present our arguments for the second semi-final.

Palla Ovale says: Wales all the way

Wales were lightly dismissed in some quarters before the quarter-final as a bunch of inexperienced tyros who wouldn’t cut in the do-or-die cauldron of knockout rugby.  So much for that.  Now that Ireland have been despatched comfortably, this side has the confidence, and the ability, to go to the final.  France will hold no fear of them. 

A quick glance around their team shows them to be outstanding in almost every facet.  They’ve a hard-scrummaging front row that will stand up to the French.  Their back-row is arguably the best balanced unit in the tournament, and Warburton is vying with Pocock as the Cup’s most influential player.  Their centres have been only second to the New Zealand pair, and they have an abundance of pace and scoring threat out wide. 

More importantly, though, they are the best coached side in the Cup, and France arguably the worst.  Witness Wazza’s masterclass in nullifying Ireland’s threats.  I fully expect him to come up with something similar to derail the French, where at outhalf they look particularly vulnerable.  Doubtless, Roberts will be looking to smash through all 76kgs of Morgan Parra all day long, and given the Little General’s inexperience at half-back, expect the Welsh rush defence to do to him what they did to O’Gara when he has the ball – isolate him and cut off his options.

Finally, what of France?  The team appear to have taken control, but can they do what France so rarely manage – back up a big performance with another?  Palla doubts it.  Welsh tyros for the final.

Egg Chaser says: France have it

To get to this juncture, Wales have played three games at full intensity. They have won two well and lost one unluckily – very impressive. Different story now though – France know how to score tries, unlike the Bokke, Samoa and Gaffney’s Ireland.
Wales have yet to play a team who can put together multiple phase attacking, with the ability to run varying lines, break tackles and the gainline consistently and offload in the tackle.
In the case of France, they didn’t really bother until the quarter-final, concentrating instead on arguing among themselves. You do get the impression they prepared to face Ireland, but won’t be too worried about Wales either, having won the last three games between the sides, most recently 28-9 in the Six Nations, when the teams weren’t markedly different from this Saturday.
France are unlikely to play as well as they did in the first half against England, but should still be peaking around now – Wales are in bonus territory and, having gone to the well three times, may not have anything left for those crucial Championship minutes. Note also, France are habitual RWC semi-finalists – familiarity with rarefied stages can be a useful weapon, note how the same sides keep appearing in HEC finals – and unless Wales wear white, France are unlikely to freeze.
In spite of their laughable preparation, the French to win pulling away.

Dwarf throwing, Retirements, Eye-Gouges and Fudged Drop Goals: We rate your World Cup

We’ve pored over Ireland’s exit in some detail.  Here’s a run through the other nations who’ll have fancied their chances to do well.

Scotland: Failed to Qualify from Group
Poor wee Scotland.  Pipped by both England and Argentina by last-gasp tries.  Against Argentina they managed to work a drop goal opportunity to win it, but hurried the kick.  Against England they probably would have won had they not needed to win by more than seven and seek a try themselves when in front on the scoreboard.  They manned up impressively in both games, but the reason they failed to qualify is available in just one statistic: no tries in their final three group games.  They have plenty of grunt in the pack and can keep teams like England on the back foot for long periods, but they just can’t buy a try.  Their backs moving the ball look slower and less accurate than most AIL teams.

Mike Tindall Dwarf Rating: Sleepy. Time to wake up and learn to catch and pass the ball properly.


Argentina: Quarter Final exit to New Zealand
Worthy recipients of the medal for bravery and courage in the face of unlikely odds.  A shadow of the force of 2007, but their great warriors Ledesma, Albacete and Contepomi refused to go quietly, even if they couldn’t conjure up the same quality as four years ago, with Juan Matin Hernandez a notable absentee.  Should have beaten England and squeezed through against Scotland at the death, and can take real pride in their showing against New Zealand.  They came up with the try of the tournament, with Conters showing a touch of his fading genius, and held the Kiwis tryless for three quarters of the game.  Not bad considering Lobbe was injured and Nigel Owens was shafting them at every opportunity.

Mike Tindall Dwarf Rating: Happy. Can go home knowing the left nothing behind them.


Italy:  Failed to Qualify from Group
Italy have become an obstinate side at the Flaminio, but the task for the next coach will be getting them to perform on the road.  Showed up well against Russia with slick hands and fast-paced attack, but in their final win-or-bust pool game, their surrender to Ireland was meek and indisciplined.  They talked a good game, with Castro declaring himself ‘ready for war’, but when the moment came they were blown away by Ireland’s greater arsenal.  Somehow, somewhere, a 10 has to be found who can organise their backs and dictate the play.  Until then, they’ll continue to struggle.

Mike Tindall Dwarf Rating: Grumpy.  Need to keep composure when things go awry.

South Africa: Quarter-final exit to Australia 
Rather unlucky to lose to Australia, but they couldn’t cross the whitewash and paid the price. They brought physicality and certainty to the tournament, and in Francois Steyn, had perhaps the player of the group stages. The problem was, without him, they really showed their limitations. Short of the ability to kick penalties from the halfway line, and without his creativity at 12, they ended up spending 75 minutes camped in the Aussie 22 and losing 11-9. Schalk Burger was immense all tournament, and they played better against Oz than Wales or Samoa, but when you can’t score you can’t win.
Mike Tindall Dwarf Rating: Bosh-ful – kicking, no creativity, physicality – they are England with discipline basically

England: Quarter-final exit to France 
Where do we start? The scarcely-deserved victories over Scotland and Argentina?  The late and nasty tackles?  The lack of ambition? The stupidity of some of the penalties they gave away? The chambermaid incident? A huge pity that Johnno bottled it and let the running game of last November fade into nothingness, for there are some quality players in this side. It may sound harsh, but they brought nothing to the tournament. It appears Johnno has taken them as far as he can, perhaps its time for a new beginning?
Mike Tindall Dwarf Rating: Sleazy Sneezy – go home unlamented
Samoa: Failed to qualify from group
After beating the Wallabies during the summer/winter, Samoa went into the tournament very much on the Welsh and Saffa radar, and any chance of being taken lightly was gone. And they duly weren’t, with both sides playing very sensibly against the Islanders and winning. Samoa themselves rarely took the handbrake off and paid the price. Having said that, they didn’t exactly get the rub of the refereeing green, and generally played well – for example, they might have won Group B (the group of dearth). And although Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu might have a point about IRB bias, he didn’t exactly make it very well, did he?
Mike Tindall Dwarf Rating: Dopey – had the talent to go further, but go home frustrated

World Cup Quarter Finals 2: Squeaky-bum time

Okay, so we;re nought from two after this morning’s matches, but that’s not going to stop us having another go at it for tomorrow’s gmaes.

The top half of the draw is giving us a sneak preview of next years Quilmes/Castle/Fosters/Steinlager Quad-Nations (or whatever its going to be called) – although South Africa won’t usually play Australia in weather this bad, and Argentina won’t have as short a journey next time.

South Africa-Australia:

The clash of the kind-of titans – two teams that should stand to benefit from Dan Carter’s injury, but that have enough weaknesses to make you think twice about actually backing them. South Africa topped Pool D with a 100% record, but didn’t really convince against either Wales or Samoa, scraping wins with experience and self-belief as much as anything. Australia flashed against Italy, but then got beaten up by Ireland, and cruised past the minnows.

The Boks were quite content to let Wales and Samoa have the ball and contest the tackle furiously in their own 22 and defend aggressively and physically. In the last ten minutes of both games, they looked strong and confident. But we aren’t quite sure that will work against the best backline in the tournament (by far, now that Carter is injured). Australia will look to David Pocock to snaffle some ball, and try to bring Beale and O’Connor into the line to work their magic.

When Berrick Barnes was being pencilled into the Wallaby team, we were feeling good about predicting them to edge it, but its Pat McCabe, so we aren’t as sure. We think the Boks are going to miss Frans Steyn, especially for his long-range goal threat, and if Schalk Burger isn’t the most visible forward on the field, Australia should have enough to score 2 tries and scrape home. Wallabies by two. Maybe.

New Zealand-Argentina:

Panic stations – its here! The Rugby World Cup knock-out stages. Sans Dan Carter – disaster. Consequently, there are 3 things New Zealand want from this game:

  • Colin Slade needs to start looking world-class, very quickly. There is huge pressure on the young lad, and this is going to be the easiest game of the remainder of the competition – anything sub-par and it could be Weepu at 10 for the semi
  • Ruchie and Kieran Read to get 60 high intensity minutes and avoid aggravating their injuries – without these two, NZ aren’t going to win
  • No more casualties, especially to the centres – Ma’a Nonu has been one of the players of the tournament up to now, and Smuddy and SBW have shown real class

Now, they obviously need a win too. That’s pretty much guaranteed, but don’t expect a blow-out – New Zealand aren’t familiar with the knock-out format, and they will be content to feel their way back post-Carter and professionally put away the Pumas. Paradoxically, fireworks and a stroll will make them more nervous than an up-the-jumper mudfest. Argentina will savour the stage, but without Fernandez Lobbe and Hernandez, and with their gnarled front-rowers beginning to look their age, it is a step too far. NZ by 20.

PS. we’re one step closer to a France v New Zealand final, with New Zealand missing Ruchie and Dan Carter.  We’re expecting the host nation to implode with anxiety if such an eventuality comes to pass.

World Cup Heroes No.1: Mamuka Gorgodze

Georgia will be heading home after the first round, but will do so having achieved much.  They comfortably beat a reasonable Romania side, ran Scotland close and deserved a far better scoreline (and more recovery time beforehand) against England.  They owe much to the man they call Gorgodzilla, their superb flanker, serial MOTM award-getter and arguably the outstanding loose forward of the group stages.  Mamuka Gorgodze has been wearing the No.7 shirt on his back, but to watch him, you suspect he’s a man on whom the subtleties of openside vs. blindside play are entirely lost.  Whatever number he’s wearing, Gorgodzilla sees it as his mission to get his mitts on the ball as much as possible, smash any rucks when he isn’t the ball-carrier and cut down as many opponents as he can manage in 80 minutes.  He’s no headless chicken though – he’s a good footballer with nice hands and an ability to put others around him into space.  He also has an eye for the try-line and so it was no surprise to see him cross the whitewash for the pivotal try against Romania.

So, to our first, sadly soon departing, Whiff of Cordite World Cup Hero, we salute Gorgodze – he’s 118kg of pure Georgian mongrel and he’d walk into most top tier nations’ teams.  Top 14 forwards will sleep less easy once he heads back to Montpellier.

RWC: Anthemwatch

With Egg and Mini Egg having sat through multiple anthems (and enjoyed some of them), it got us thinking – if the match ended after the music stopped (and, mercifully, before the Haki (plural) begin), who would take home Bill?

Let’s preview:

Favourites:

France: The clear favourite. La Marseillaise is, without any doubt, the best national anthem in the world. Even for non-Frenchies, it makes the spine tingle, and is so republican, it would induce Mike Tindall to start sharpening the guillotine for Granny-in-law. And then induce the rest of les proles rosbifs to start sharpening it for Mike Tindall. Here is a SPECTACULAR rendition, one night in Cardiff in 2007.

Italy: Some anthems seem very much appropriate for their country. For example, Deutschlandleit seems rich, confident and suave, just like the denizens of Munich, Stuttgart and Berlin. In the same vein, Il Canto Degli Italiani seems jaunty, cool, but slightly unreliable (whats with the oom-pah bit?), and is an appropriate combination of boring Milan, dangerous Naples and sexy Rome. Altogether now: bom-bom-be-bom, bom-bom-be-bom, bom-BOM-be-bom, bom-bom-be-bom!!

USA: The best thing about the the Star Spangled Banner is that Americans positively encourage involvement and interpretation, as befits a nation which defines itself by its ability to assimilate. Can you imagine any other country allowing noted rock or rap stars the option of doing their “version” of the anthem at the country’s biggest sporting event every year? Unlikely. Yet the Yanks can’t wait for the anthem before the Superbowl. It’s optimistic, emotional and adaptable – and very hard to dislike.


Contenders:

Russia: Now, Egg Chaser is no flaming Commie, far from it. But there is something powerful about the old Soviet anthem, now adapted for Russia. It’s not without its controversy, as many Russians rightly remember the murder and explotation of their countrymen and women by psychopathic leaders, and refuse to sing along. For most, perhaps, its the perverse pride in remembering when Russia mattered. Anyway, check out the Paul Robeson version from the 1940s and at least appreciate the idealism. And here’s a flavour of what non-Russian former Soviets think of the anthem.


Wales: As befits a nation of choirboys choristers, Land of My Fathers is tuneful, musically sound and enjoyable. The impenetrable Welsh tongue makes this local anthem very much exotic. Maybe its stereotypical, but the Welsh players also seem like better singers than other nations. Or maybe its just the magic atmosphere in the Millennium. Either way, its a dark horse for the title.

South Africa: Like Ireland, the South African ditty is a prisoner of history and politics. The anthem shares the distinction (with the Italian one) of being in 2 keys, although the South African one is in 2 keys essentially because it is 2 songs merged together – Nkosi Sikelil iAfrica and Die Stem. The current anthem contains 5 languages and tries manfully to knit together a desperately fractured country. In spite of the grim music (particularly in the second half), a national anthem is about much more than that, and the sight of 15 proud South Africans singing every word in 1995 was simply incredible, and lifts this to contender status.

Going home early:

England: An absolute dirge. God Save the Queen has bored generations of Englishmen and antagonized generations of foreigners, which is perhaps part of its ongoing appeal at home. In true British fashion however, it has a great backstory. Firstly, no-one actually knows who wrote the song, and there is disagreement over what key it hould be played in. Secondly, it has been continually re-written, and current and former colonies continue to drop it (including England themselves for the Commonwealth games!). According to “protocol”, the Queen doesn’t sing it, we wonder does she just think its shite.

Ireland: Once again, the Irish manage to out-do the English on the rugby field by having not one, but two dirges. The much and rightly-maligned Ireland’s Call is virtually unsalvageable, but Amhran na bFhiann isn’t a whole lot better. Now, Egg Chaser is as patriotic as the next man and sings it with as much gusto as anyone else, that is a medium murmur, but it’s all pretty uninspiring, which is disappointing from a nation which has some cracking old tunes – some close to Egg’s heart are here and here, although Tommy Bowe’s version of one old favourite was fairly … errrrr … average. Despite all that though, this was amazing.

Scotland: Flower of Scotland is so dull that this is generally accepted to be the most rousing version ever performed. The most rousing! Ever!! It’s a pity, because the lyrics very much appeal to the Braveheart Scottish self-image, although it can seem a little incongruous when being sung by Alasdair, Hugo and Hamish the Tartan Tories in Murrayfield, Edinburgh, the most British city in the UK. Scotland deserves much much better.

The Agony of Choice

So, what should we make of the win over Russia? It was wholely pleasant really, very unlike most games we play when we are expected to win. We ran in a few tries, a couple of lads put their hands up for selection, Mushy scored a try in his last game for Ireland, and Deccie has been left with some selection headaches for the crucial Italy game on Sunday – what is there not to like?

Italy’s bonus point win this morning over the USA! USA! USA!, coupled with our desperate failure  to get one on 9/11 means we have no room for manoever – if we had our Yankee bonus point in the bag, we could have afforded to lose by <7 points and still top the pool and qualify – not any more – a win is needed.

Now, what team will Deccie send out to do the business. He has decisions to make at 4, 10, 11 and 12 – lets look at them:

  • Second Row: Donncha O’Callaghan was not bad by any means against Russia; you got your usual combination of secure line-outs and hard work around the park – but it must nag that both Leo Cullen and Donncha Ryan looked more effective, at tight play and ball-carrying respectively. Donncha has held off an on-form Micko in Munster for 2 years now, and hasn’t faced serious challenge at this level yet. Deccie is a cautious man by nature, but picking Cullen against a lumbering and heavyweight Italian second row partnership isn’t a huge risk – its a possibility though, not a probability
  • Out-half: Here’s the question. Rog was named man of the match against Russia while Sexto missed a laughably easy kick just when the spotlight was on him. Its going to be an arm-wrestle, the logic goes, pick the man who can hit a barn door when required. However, its more complicated than that. Firstly, Teacher Pet tells us Deccie doesn’t want to pick Rog. Secondly, Sexton would be the horse for the Wales course – why drop him now? Thirdly, when we nearly lost in Rome in February, Sexton started. We think Deccie will consider that a worst-case scenario and stick with Sexton as his first-choice 10. Rog will undoubtedly have a part to play, but it will be from the bench
  • Left Wing: Andrew Trimble was again our most threatening broken-field runner from the left-wing. Its hard to see what more he can do to get a shirt, but Earls is the man in possession and is improving by the match. Trimble, to be truthful, deserves the shirt, but Earls has it – Deccie is unlikely to drop a man he has invested so much time in 
  • Inside Centre: If Dorce was fit, this wouldn’t be a question. But he isn’t, and he hasn’t been for a while. Paddy Wallace performed well last week, carrying well and bringing players into play where possible, and is clearly the backup 12. When Sexton came on, he filled in at 12 seemlessly, as he did earlier in the tournament. However, that’s not a serious option if winning the tournament is an actual ambition. You could move Bowe, Earls, McFadden or Trimble into the centre, but since Deccie has never done this, you assume he’s not going to start in a game of this magnitude. We have a feeling PWal might hold on to the shirt, unless Dorce proves his fitness of course.

There is a fair degree of nervousness about this game, most of it based on the display in Rome in February. However, we are quite sanguine about it all. Italy have the best number 8 in the world, but our back row unit is better. Set-pieces should break even. Semenzato is a good 9, but they have no 10. Tomasso Benvenuti looks a serious player, but will he see the ball? Italy have been purring up to now, but we think Ireland have enough to hold them at arms length, and maybe even pull away late on.

Ireland v Russia: Preview

Tomorrow morning, as Palla greets the citizens of Rotorua with a doffed cap, Egg Chaser will be sleeping and letting the UPC auto-record thingy kick into gear. Then when he gets up and avoids Twitter, all will be revealed. Ireland will win with a bonus point, anything less is virtually unthinkable, but what should we look for?


Minnow Conditioning: The Russkies, amazingly, have a fully professional league. This should ensure their conditioning is a little better than, say, Romania and Namibia, who looked drained in their 3rd matches. The Bears are hardly likely to be like Duracell bunnies with 10 minutes to go, but they won’t collapse either. If Deccie empties the bench after 60 minutes (revolutionary, I admit), the game could peter out as opposed to exploding in a Bok-esque try-fest.


Solid as a … errr …. rock. Ireland’s defence has been excellent in this tournament to date, with only 1 try conceded, and that an 80th minute intercept. However, the 10-12-13 axis that made that happen (mostly) has been replaced with the fun-sized Rog-Pwal-Superstar combo. We do think that they will do ok – Rog and PWal aren’t salloon doors in reality and are reasonably familiar with one anothers games, and Earls (surely) can’t be as bad as he was against England – but its worth keeping a beady eye on, especially because of…..

Bath-barians rugby: The Russians came into this tournament touting themselves as a team who like to throw the ball around at every opportunity. They showed some sharper teeth in the last 50 minutes against Italy (after Yanyushkin came in at 9) and kept pace with the Azzuri in that time. Ireland aren’t exactly renowned for their patient approach, but throwing the ball around from the first whistle might actually pay dividends (for once) against a team who want to play it loose.

French Select Halfback at First-Five – It’s All Too Much

It’s dreadfully churlish to be critical of the wonderful New Zealand folk, who couldn’t be more welcoming, but the Ovale touring party feel the media have got themselves into rather a lather over the French team selection.  The hysteria has stemmed from the French selecting a ‘halfback’, Morgan Parra at, ahem, ‘first-five’.  The NZ Herald duly went into a tailspin.  It’s an outrage!  France are putting out a B Team!  They are throwing the game!  It’s disrespectful to the All Blacks!  And to the fans!  It’s a French farce!  The IRB must outlaw this!

It’s all completely overdone.  For a start, it is a dangerous stance to take – if the French team is so poor, go out and put 50 points on them and show them what you make of it.  For another, the selection is nowhere close to a B Team.  From 11-15 it’s France’s strongest selection, and while he is not a natural, Morgan Parra has been the most impressive performer in the 10 slot so far for France.  As for the second choice front-row, New Zealand would want to be careful indeed if they choose to identify Jean Baptiste Poux as a sub-par reserve player.

Some of the coverage this morning, having had 24 hours to mull it over, has been more reasonable.  Indeed, Colin Meades saluted the French cunning, noting they have the bench stacked with matchwinners, and that lulling the Kiwis into a false sense of security before ambushing them in the last 30 minutes might just be the best ploy.  It worked in 2007, when Michalak was sprung to deliver a game-turning cameo.  A repeat remains unlikely, but the French have played their hand craftily indeed.

Palla Ovale’s Tour Diary

Episode 1 – Auckland: Sweet As, Bro’

Yep, one team has been dominating the rugby conversation in Auckland and beyond this week, and for once it’s not the one in black.  Well, it is, but they’ve also talked a lot about Ireland.  Between defeating the Aussies, creating an atmosphere in Eden Park that they’re just not used to (rugby is considered too serious a matter for singing and chanting) and painting the streets green, the Irish have become the toast of the town.  There’s only one thing these rugby-mad people prefer to see thjan the Kiwis winning, and that’s the Aussies losing.  The Ovale clan have been besieged by uber-friendly folk dying to congratulate them on the win – it’s almost as if Palla himself was the one that shoved the Aussie scrum backwards time and again.

Even the Kiwi journos are impressed.  The Herald hailed the ‘Tullow Tank’ as a superstar in waiting.  Every Irish shirt in Auckland is sold out.  Suddenly Ireland are the new darlings in a countrry where they are used to getting a pasting and going home with their tail between their legs.

The Ovale touring party is revelling in it.  A trip to Waiheke finished with an impulsive purchase of a ridiculously priced bottle of wine to mark the occasion.  A stop in to the Matakana local pub led to the owners sitting down for over an hour to talk rugger and more.  Every shopkeeper, boat-driver or passer-by wants to stop and chat.  It’s a far cry from Paris in 2007, when you’d barely have known the world cup was taking place.

As for Ireland, well, Paul O’Connell summed it up.  It is great that Ireland can dredge up outstanding performances when painted into a corner, but consistency is required.  Ireland need to maintain a level when the occasion is more humdrum, and doesn’t enable them to draw on emotional reserves.  The Italy match, and probable meeting with Wales will be two such games – Ireland will be favourites, and will have to deal with a new kind of pressure: the entire nation of New Zealand will be behind them, while the media back home are as supportive as ever.  There’ll be no room for a siege mentality, and another emotional jersey presentation from Jirry Flannery is unlikely (unless it’s via Skype).  The boys will have to simply go out there and play rugby as best they can.  The job starts on Sunday when the midweek team will be expected to match Italy’s scoring feats against an ailing Russia side that must now be ready for the homeward journey.  A handsome bonus-point victory is needed to keep the positive momentum going.  Roll on Rotorua!

Idle Speculation

Ireland’s stunning win over Australia on Saturday has done more than make a nerdy rugby blog look silly, or a well-fed pundit look intelligent, it has thrown the tournament wide open. As it stands, it looks like all 3 Tri-Nations sides will be in one side of the draw, with the cream of the Northern Hemisphere in the other.

This situation gave rise to some frenzied water cooler speculation in Egg Chaser’s place of employment today – will South Africa or New Zealand throw games in order to engineer being on the (perceived) easier side of the draw? Now, Egg Chaser might be bitter and twisted, but he is no conspiracy theorist. However, he is a coolly logical fellow, and thus thinks if a situation mutually benefits 2 parties, then it has a pretty good chance of happening. So lets examine the issue, and assume everything else goes to form:

South Africa:

If they beat Samoa, they top the pool and will play Australia followed by the winners of New Zealand/France, just to get to the final. Tough. If they lose to Samoa, there is actually a potential for them to go out (as 3 teams will have 3 wins and 1 defeat) or even top the pool anyway (as they have a bonus point and lots of tries in the bag from the Fiji game). Samoa need to win anyway, no choice for them.

Verdict: No-brainer, the Boks must beat the Samoans – if they lose, they may still win the group, or possibly even crash out

New Zealand:

The winners of the NZ/France game essentially have a free pass to the semi-final – this is an obvious plus, but can lead to being undercooked (a particular concern for NZ given their history). And when they get there, its going to be either a South Africa side on a major roll, or an Australian team rejuvenated by a tough victory over the Meateaters – neither an enticing prospect. For the loser, its England followed by Wales or Ireland. Of the 2 scenarios, France will be desperate for the first one to avoid England, who they routinely fall to (especially in World Cups) – they don’t fear anyone as much. New Zealand, on the other hand, may not care as much – losing may actually give them a more straightforward journey to the final – they might rather take on SA or Oz in the after their opponents have had 2 huge tests, than after beating Scotland/Argentina by 40 points.

Verdict: if France beat New Zealand, the path to the final looks rosier for both

So, there you have it – the incentives are laid out. We aren’t expecting an Austria-Germany 1982 scenario here, just pointing out that France beating New Zealand benefits both sides in terms of getting to the final. I’m looking at the 6/1 available against France and pondering …….