Excitement is building with kick-off in RWC2011 just 60 hours away.
Pool C is one of the most clean-cut of the RWC pools; it's Australia's to lose, with Ireland and Italy fighting out second place.
We don't necessarily see that as a positive for the Australians; it reminds us of the All Blacks' rather soft ride through pool play in 2007, then having it all come unstuck in the first of the money matches. But the Aussies will be overwhelming favourites to win the pool, and move into the opposite side of the knockout draw to New Zealand. The draw does Australia no favours either; their toughest matches their first and second, versus Italy and Ireland respectively, after which they face the lesser teams in the pool. It's not the ideal line-up, by any stretch.
The contest between Ireland and Italy is the last match in pool play, on 2nd October. When the sides last met in the Six Nationas in February, the Irish snuck home 13-11, courtesy of a late field goal. Italy has improved markedly in the last couple of years, whilst the Irish haven't been quite the same force as in previous seasons. They and their ebullient supporters will be keen to turn that form around.
And there will be a fascinating contest in New Plymouth next Thursday when the USA goes up against Russia; there are all sorts of permutations about that match. We're getting online this morning to buy tickets for another New Plymouth match; Sunday's clash between the USA and Ireland. The USA team, currently resident in Wanganui is coached by Irishman Eddie O'Sullivan, and the match is being played on the tenth anniversary of 9/11; there will be no shortage of atmosphere at Yarrow Stadium (whoops; we're probably not allowed to say that!) come kick-off at 6pm on Sunday, and we'll be there!