This week, our focus will be on pool play, and we'll start with Pool A. Obviously, this is a pool with just a bit of added interest, as that is where New Zealand has been drawn. The teams in the pool are as follows:
- New Zealand
Who advances from this pool will be largely dependant upon two matches; New Zealand versus France on 24 September in Auckland, and France versus Tonga at Wellington on 1 October.
The New Zealand vs France match assumes huge importance in terms of the overall tournament. The team that qualifies the highest from this pool will have an easier path through to the money rounds. Tho pool winner will face likely either Scotland or Argentina in the quarter-finals whereas the pool runner-up will very likely face England.
Thus the France vs New Zealand match will be an early test of both teams' mettle. We understand that this match is already a sellout, and just two weeks into the tournament, it should be an absolute ripper of a game.
We were reassured to hear All Black assistant coach Steve Hansen on the radio as we drove to work this morning; well reassured to hear what he was saying anyway! He said that one of the mistakes from 2007 that the selectors have learned from is NOT to make wholesale changes to the team once the tournament is underway. We take that as code that a front-line All Black team will be selected for the first three matches at least. By the time they meet France, they ought to have gelled as a unit, and for a one-off match, that is essential.
France on the other hand are the enigmas of world rugby. They can be awful one day, and brilliant the next. We hope that they don't have one of those days that only the French can have when the play New Zealand. And if they lose to New Zealand, don't rule out the possibility of Tonga beating them in the final pool match, especially if they have had a hard physical contest with the All Blacks; c'est La France!
Japan and Canada will try hard, but it's unrealistic to expect that either of them will threaten the front-running teams. But their participation is welcome, and they will bring their own style and kaupapa to this global event.
Will the winner of RWC2011 come from Pool A? We most certainly hope so!