The lead up to the 2011 Rugby World Cup has been far from smooth for the likes of the All Blacks and the Wallabies. The other major contenders for the title will be hoping these disruptions will hinder the performance of the two, who are likely to meet up in the final, providing all goes to plan in both camps. I don’t think anything is going to stop the AB’s push for their 2nd RWC, especially as it is in front of their home crowd.
The last couple of weeks have provided some talking points among the squads of both the All Blacks and the Wallabies. First, Wallabies winger James O’Connor missed the official Wallabies Rugby World Cup announcement and launch and therefore was suspended for the upcoming game against New Zealand. Australia ran out victors 25-20 in a close game to claim their 3rd Tri Nations series, and many players were able to put their hands up for a starting berth in the World Cup, such as the midfield pairing of Pat McCabe and Anthony Faingaa. No. 8 Radike Samo at age 35 had an outstanding game to show the coach and selectors that he is rearing to go for the RWC. This poses healthy selection dramas for Robbie Deans when he decides on his strongest Wallabies XV, and means James O’Connor will find it hard to come straight back into the starting line up.
The injuries to Kieran Read and Adam Thompson in the game last weekend have come at the worst possible time for the All Blacks. They will both miss some of the pool games in the World Cup and will only have a game or so to prove themselves before the quarter finals. Victor Vito, from Wellington, has shown in last weekend’s loss to Australia that he may be up to the task of filling the No. 8 role left by the absence of Read and it will be interesting to see how he performs in the pool stages. This Tri Nations loss to the Wallabies will not mean much to the boys in black though, as they know a victory in this years Rugby World Cup will forgive all. Graham Henry has been through the failure of the 2007 campaign and there will be only one outcome for him and his AB’s this year, to win.
The other three major contenders for the World Cup, England, South Africa and France, all good teams on their day, do not match up to the two Australasian teams. They lack the strength and stability of the All Blacks, and the firepower of the Wallabies. England are far from the experienced, well drilled, victorious team of 2003 and Johnny Wilkinson is past his best. South Africa who comprehensively won the last tournament in 2007, don’t seem to have the passion that was there four years ago and it was shown in their losses in this years Tri Nations. France, well we never really know with them, but they really don’t have the star power of the other top teams and shouldn’t progress further than the quarter finals.
Personally, I am predicting an All Blacks/Wallabies final on the 23rd October at Eden Park and even though the Wallabies may have gotten the upper hand on the AB’s by winning the Tri Nations, the All Blacks will prove too strong this time round, and finally will bring back the World Cup to New Zealand.