1. Fail to prepare…. Now, Whiff of Cordite isn’t sure if Roy Keane has an Australian equivalent (apart from Harold Bishop obviously), but if he did, he expects he would have given an interview to a prominent Aussie journalist lambasting his teams preparation for their crucial game with Ireland. Sure, injuries played a part in their defeat, but how had the Australian team prepared for Les Kiss’ “choke” tackling technique, or Bryce Lawrence’s officiating foibles, or the wet weather? They plainly hadn’t, and never recovered from their initial shock at Ireland being competitive. And we haven’t even brought up the players blithe platitudes to BOD while neglecting to mention Mike Ross and Séan O’Brien, who are actually Ireland’s 2 most important players, before the game. Had they even watched Leinster last season?
2. One door closes…. Happily for Dingo Deans, his useless centre partnership he used against Ireland has been replaced by a much more potent unit in the aftermath of the defeat. Berrick Barnes and AAC have given Australia a really good balanced footballing centre partnership, and one that is defensively sound. If the Wallabies had scraped past Ireland, Pat McCabe and Anthony Faingaa may have been taking the field against Wales – with attendent lick-lipping by the confident young Welsh squad. With David Pocock back in harness, the Aussies are a completely different prospect, and the South African rope-a-dope technique that worked against Wales and Samoa may be less effective in the quarter-finals.
3. Black Swans…. The terrible beauty that is a New Zealand team without Dan Carter is about to manifest itself. In the quarter-finals of the World Cup. With Colin Slade at out-half. Allied to a half-fit Ruchie and Kieran Read, New Zealand are in serious trouble. The sensible thing for Smiler Henry to do would have been to swallow his pride, and given Nick Evans a bell – the Harlequin is still the second best Kiwi 10 around. And the third best is probably Stephen Donald. The NZRFU may have pulled the plug on it, but its fair to say the circumstances are exceptional – it would not have been hard to sell to its players the notion that no other player plying their trade abroad would be considered.
4. Arm Wrestle…. The best thing one can say about Group B was that it was high-intensity. Because the attacking ideas and basic skill levels were, for the most part, appalling. The 3 key games were decided by late tries that owed more to tiring defence than they did to attacking ingenuity. The collective kicking statistics (including drop-goals) for the 3 games were a scarcely credible 21/48 (43.8%). Scotland scored only 4 tries, 2 in the last 10 minutes against Romania. The only bright spot was the fantastic Gorgodzilla, whose 90 metres carrying and 20-odd tackles game against England (in a 31 point loss) was simply brilliant. One must wonder what has been taken out of England and Argentina by all this. Sure, France have barely broken sweat and seem intent on killing each other, but they have to have a chance based on lack of physical exhaustion if nothing else.
5. Repeat Performance…. In the last tournament, England and South Africa both made it from Group A all the way to the final. If we are to expect that from any pool this year, which would it be? With due deference to England, France and Argentina, it would be surprising if any of them managed to get out of the morass they have found themselves in. So its South Africa-Wales or Ireland-Australia. The Welsh seem maybe a little callow and the rock-hard Boks perhaps a little too long in the tooth to beat Oz and NZ. On the other hand, if player returning from injury can galvanise the Wallabies to step it up, would you fancy Ireland to repeat the ambush in the final?