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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Contrasting Rugby With American Football

I found this column from an American writer,  Jack Bechta,  who wrote an article on "Rugby vs The NFL". (Pics above from USA-Italy at the Rugby World Cup in Nelson, including USA captain Todd Clever)I thought some of the things each sport can learn from the other made some interesting reading:

The article also had video of a nice try Clever scored while playing sevens for the USA.

Bechta takes the IRB to task compared to how the NFL is managed. Rugby and the rugby culture are unique, but that does not mean that the two entities cannot learn from each other. The statistic that should make the NFL red-faced is the number of rugby players pursuing post graduate degrees.

Rugby fans have to be happy with the recent World Cup, but the long and short of it is, the sport can do better.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rugby World Cup Final: Redemption at Eden Park

There have been so many story lines at this 2011 Rugby World Cup: Injuries to key players, referee controversies, inspired play by Samoa and Wales, increased offense, the biggest upset in Rugby World Cup history and the hopes of a nation of 4.5 million souls hoping to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy. I was lucky enough to have been in New Zealand for almost two weeks, and was able to see three games with my wife.(USA-Australia, USA-Italy and Scotland-Argentina) As I went from Wellington to Palmerston North, to the wine country of Martinborough, to Nelson, to Abel Tasman and Picton, I saw an entire nation behind it's national rugby team...
I think the word redemption is an appropriate one after the All Blacks ground out an 8-7 win over a gutty French side. France was in need of some serious redemption in they eyes of many rugby fans-this writer included. I have given them a lot of stick for their unimaginative play, their lack of leadership from their coach, losing to Tonga 19-14 in the preliminary rounds, and to being somewhat lucky to have defeated an inspired Welsh side playing 3/4 of the game a man down.

In an epic story, every hero has to have a nemesis. France, for whatever reason, almost always seem to come up big against the All Blacks in Rugby World Cup play. In most matches, if you can hold a side to 8 points, you should win the game most of the time. France simply played inspired rugby. They hit everything wearing a black jersey with all of their might. Dusautoir(just named IRB Player of the Year) was a tackling machine, just like he was in 2007's upset win Cardiff. Like the win in Wales, he also scored a try on Sunday, but it was not enough. François Trinh-Duc, in Lievremont's dog house this World Cup, had to come on for an injured Morgan Parra at Eden Park, and he played his best match of the tournament. France may have lost-but nobody will question their heart after almost breaking Kiwi hearts at Eden Park.

Stephen Donald was not even supposed to be on this All Black side on Sunday. Yet with All Black #10's being chewed up and spit out with injuries during the World Cup, Donald found himself replacing an injured Aaron Cruden in the World Cup final. The collective sense of dread at Eden Park had to be palpable as he trotted on the field. With Weepu misfiring his kicks at goal, Stephen Donald ended up with a battle-field promotion and hit the penalty in the 45th minute, which would end up being the difference in the game.

The All Blacks, by any yardstick, have been the best team in the World for the past 7 years in terms of winning percentage, Tri Nations trophies-but the NZRU headquarters in Wellington have been waiting for the return of the Webb Ellis Trophy. The All Blacks found redemption after coming up short in 1999,2003 and 2007. They were the best team of the tournament, and I think deserved their victory.

It was just a wonderful tournament. I am happy for New Zealand, the All Blacks and their fans. It's been a miserable year in the land of the Long White Cloud. Let the celebrations begin...

PS-I wonder if there are going to be a bunch of World Cup babies being born 9 months from now?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Final Cheap Shot Before New Zealand-France

While we were in New Zealand, I grew to become a big fan of the "Yeah Right" add campaign that the New Zealand Brewer Tui Beer came up with. I must confess to enjoying a few cold Tui's( as well as Speights and Mac's) during my time in New Zealand.

Our hostess in Lower Hutt, Annette, alerted me to this latest of the Tui "Yeah Right" campaign. I loved it because it not only speaks about the somewhat star-crossed relationship New Zealand has had with France on the Rugby pitch, and also the political arena, for those who remember the French bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbor.

A little bit of fun before the All Blacks take on France for the Rugby World Cup title in about 7 hours.

Who says that Kiwis don't have a sense of humor.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Last Wallaby Standing....

Well, the third place game at the Rugby World Cup between Wales and Australia was an entertaining affair, in my opinion.

The 21-18 victory by the Wallabies gives them a Bronze medal from this Rugby World Cup. Wales, once again will rue the number of missed kicks at post. It cost them against France, and it cost them again against Robbie Deans' men in gold.

It really was a battered Australian side that survived. They had to get through this game without Kurtley Beale, who re-injured his hamstring, and the Wallaby-Kiwis-Love-to Hate, Quade Cooper blew out his knee in the first half. Berrick Barnes was the man of the match for the Wallabies, he scored a drop goal, a try, and after Cooper had to leave the game, he was a calming influence in the Wallaby back line. James O'Connor had a very solid game at the wing, and Wales would love to have somebody who could be as dependable of a kicker as O'Connor has become for the Wallabies.

You knew that the Welsh were going to be up against it in this match. Wales just does not have a ton of depth, and it was clear they missed their captain, Warburton in this match. As a fan you had to admire Shane Williams being able to score a try in what will almost certainly be his last Rugby World Cup match. At the end of the game, it was evident that there was no way that Wales could win, but yet at the end of the game, the Welsh pushed hard for the try, they put over 30 phases of ball together before Leigh Halfpenny was able salvage some Welsh pride in what has been a very, very surprising World Cup for Warren Gatland's men in red. Wales may have lost this match, but they gained a lot of fans in this tournament. I also think that they have to be really looking forward to the Six Nations in February.

Australia had to take some serious stick in this tournament for losing to Ireland in the preliminary round and the antipathy of Kiwi fans against Quade Cooper. The Wallabies also have a bright future, I think. A Bronze medal from the Wallabies-including a win over the defending champion Springboks-is a bit of a salve for any wounds left over from the semi-final loss to the All Blacks.

This match was a bit of an appetizer for Sunday's final between France and New Zealand. I know my appetite is very keen after this.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The IRB Got One Right: Craig Joubert to Ref the Final

The IRB can be the whipping post for rugby fans the world over for a variety of perceived offenses. When the word came out that the South African whistle-blower will ref this Sunday's Rugby World Cup final between France and New Zealand, I cannot think of too many people who can complain about his body of work in this RWC.  I thought he showed a steady hand in the All Blacks-Wallabies semi-final, and I also felt that his work in preliminary round games was quite good.

International rugby is very different from almost any other sport that I can think of. First of all, rugby is a very, very difficult came to officiate: You have 30 players on the field, there is all kinds of activity going on at the breakdown and mauls, you have to keep track of who is onside and offisde-which is very fluid during the game, you have to be conscious of player safety in tackles( Alain Rolland got roasted over the coals over the game-changing red card he showed Welsh Captain Warburton) and in scrums. You have a very physical game played by players who are increasingly bigger, faster and stronger than what they were even compared players from the 1999 Rugby World Cup.(Don't believe me? Take a look at video from 1999, and compare it to what you see now)

The other thing that makes international rugby different is that the match officials are known by name, face and reputation even to the most casual fan. I don't think you see that in any other sport. One thing about the Rugby World Cup is that the IRB does not try to be politically correct and have referees from lesser rugby nations referee top-flight matches at the World Cup-unlike what you see at the FIFA World Cup.(How somebody from Mali or Uzbekistan not refereeing in a top league is given the right to call a World Cup game escapes me.) At least the referees picked for the RWC ply their trade in a Super 15, Top 14, Magner's League or Guinness Premiership Rugby competition.

I have refereed high school soccer and wrestling, so I have more than a little familiarity with the second-guessing that goes on the minute you go out to midfield/the middle of a mat and place a whistle around your neck. Like any tough job, I can appreciate when somebody does the job well. I was afraid that the IRB would balk at having Joubert referee two games in a row involving the All Blacks, but I think they got this one right.(Joubert becomes the second South African to referee a RWC Final. André Watson officiated two finals)
For those who are curious about such things, here is how the rest of the line-up looks for this weekend's Bronze Medal and Championship matches at this Rugby World Cup 2011:

Wayne Barnes-Head Official
Touch Judges: Romain Poite and George Clancy

New Zealand-France
Criag Joubert-Head Offical
Touch Judges-Alain Rolland(Also the alternate official should Joubert be incapacitated) and Nigel Owens.

Television Match Official-Guilio de Santis

Let's hope that on Monday morning, rugby fans will be talking about the play of the All Blacks or the French, and not about the competence of the referee.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Settling into the routine here in Delaware, where I will be working for the next 3 months. Just me, the Missus and Buddha the Bulldog.

The Calendar says that I am 51 today.  I keep asking myself when I will start acting like an adult? When I look in the mirror and see the increasing amount of grey on my head, I should feel older-but I don't. I cannot help but think back that 30 years ago today, I turned 21 in Montpellier, France, where I was spending my Junior year abroad. That year in France was a watershed moment in my life. It's also where I saw my first ever rugby game on TV: France playing Wales at the old Cardiff Arms Park. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. It planted a seed in the back of my mind that would not come to fruition until many years later, but getting involved with rugby and the rugby blogosphere back in 2006 has been just a blessing.

I do know this: I have a wonderful wife, two great kids, an amazing grandson, a fantastic daughter-in-law, and fantastic people I have been able to meet thanks to rugby and the blogosphere.  Being able to meet Slugso and Scotty in NZ(along with Slugso's very fun wife, Fiona) was just a wonderful thing. I could not have imagined it when I started my original nursedude blog site back in 2006.

I just got done with a fantastic trip to Australia and New Zealand-a real adventure for me and the Red-Head. I have now been to two Rugby World Cups-I took the entire family to France back in 2007- and I am planning on making it to England for 2015. 

One of the downers for this past year has been that doing my travel nurse gig has made it hard for me to play rugby. I am glad I was able to get a run in for the Metropolis Old Boys against the Old Laurentians from Rugby, England back in April.

At any rate, I am thankful to still be vertical and in good health, and look forward to blogging another year.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

All Black and Blue

At the time I took this picture of a French painter working on an All Black mural in Wellington,  most people were thinking that New Zealand would make the final of this 2011 Rugby World Cup. Not many people would have fancied the painter's compatriots making it to the final against the hosts, given their dodgy form in the preliminary round. Well, in sport, just as in life, truth can be stranger than fiction; given that Les Bleus will play the All Blacks, in a re-play of the 1987 final. (Australia will play Wales for 3rd place, just like in 1987, as well)

As for Sunday's semi-final between the Wallabies and All Blacks, the game started with Quade Cooper putting the opening kick-off straight into touch, giving the All Black pack a chance to send a message to the sometimes maligned Wallaby scrum.  The All Blacks opened the game with a physicality and focus that was amazing. They put the Wallabies on their back foot for the first 20 minutes-the game was played almost entirely in the Wallaby defensive zone.

All Black Fullback Israel Dagg and wing Cory Jane were fantastic. They were flawless in fielding anything that Quade Cooper and his mates kicked at them. Australia is a place where they have a reputation of being great at fielding balls in the air, but I have to say that in watching Dagg and Jane operate, they looked almost like Aussie rules football players with the way they were able to take the high ball.

Dagg was also a blistering runner. It was actually a run by Dagg down the right tryline and deft dish to Ma'a Nonu that gave the All Blacks the only try of the game.

Piri Weepu had a good game in the field at scrum-half for the Kiwis-but his gun sites were off as he missed some penalties that could have had the game all but buried in the first half. Aaron Cruden, the young fly half added a drop goal and did what the All Blacks needed-they did not need Cruden to create magic like Dan Carter, but all they needed for him was to NOT make any mistakes-and he fit the bill perfectly, making his tackles stick and making the good strategic kicks when he had to.

For me, the most dangerous Wallaby was Digby Ioane. The Queensland wing ran hard, and on more than one occasion, was able to penetrate deep with some physical runs.

This was a game that was not for the faint of heart. The hitting and physicality of this semi-final was formidable, to say the least. South African referee Joubert(Who I felt did a great job-I hope the IRB assigns him to ref the final) was sending people off the pitch to the blood bin with great regularity. The close-ups of the banged up, bloodied players made them look almost like Mixed Martial Arts fighters.

In the end, a 20-6 win for New Zealand was probably more relief than joy for the players and nerve-wracked Kiwis at Eden Park and watching on their TV's, but the All Blacks are THIS close to accomplishing what they set out to do. It has to be a tough thing to carry the expectations, hopes and desires of your countrymen, but Graham Henry's players seem more than up to the task

Rendez-vous with Les Bleus next Sunday at Eden Park in Auckland. Let the build-up begin. It now becomes a battle of nerves between the All Blacks and France. The All Blacks looking to get a gorilla sized monkey off their back. France looking to see if the 3rd time will be the charm for a team searching to lift their first-ever Webb Ellis trophy.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wales: Seeing Red

The moment that changed France-Wales
Like some of my sleep deprived compatriots in the USA, I was up at 4 AM EDT to watch Wales and France in the first Semi-final of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Wales was looking for a first-ever trip to the Final. France was looking to overcome internal dissension and poor pool play to book a place in the finals for the first time since 1999, after their epic, enthralling win against the All Blacks in the Semis.

In this first Semi, Wales looked the better of the two teams early on, as both teams were having a helluva time with the wet ball. It affected the handling and even the kicking game-James Hook missed a penalty when his plant foot slipped under him, and the kick would sail just wide right. He did convert an earlier penalty that had Wales up 3-0.

In the 18th minute, the young Welsh Captain Sam Warburton followed through on a tackle of French wing Vincent Clerc by picking the French wing up in the air and off his feet and Clerc's head hit the ground first. In judo it would have been a match-winning ippon. In rugby, it's a very dangerous tackle-the perfect marriage of the speedy Clerc running into the bigger and stronger Welsh flanker. Irish referee Alain Rolland did not hesitate for a second. A red card to Warburton at this early stage of the game changed it: Gone was the Welsh leader, a very good player, and a forward. This would have affect the Welsh scrum against the French.

I thought at this point that the rout would be on. No way would Wales be able to stay close to the French. I was wrong.

To have called the Welsh heroic for their play while being a man down for 62 minutes against a talent-laden French side would be an understatement. France put themselves into position late in the first half to threaten with tries, and yet, the Welsh went into the locker-room at half-time down only 6-3, courtesy of the boot of Morgan Parra-who would add one more penalty in the second half to make it 9-3.

The French seemed content to kick the ball for territory. Some of their kicking seemed aimless. With a man advantage, the French seemed like they were playing not to lose rather than playing to win. I cannot think of the last time I saw a XV de France play that way. It almost bit France in the ass.

Welsh scrum half Mike Phillips took advantage of some rare possession in French territory to score a cheeky  try. The conversion failed, but Wales was, incredibly, very much in the game.

Late in the game, a penalty(I thought a harsh one) against Nicolas Mas gave Leigh Halfpenny( who was simply brave and adroit fielding all of the high balls lobbed at him) a chance to hit a penalty from midfield. The gutsy fullback's kick came just under the bar.  From another 1-2 meters in, it would have made it.

I think people watching this game have to be thinking a couple of things. Wales showed incredible heart by playing 3/4 of a semifinal a man down against a talented side, and coming THIS close to still winning. France, on the other hand, now becomes the first team with two losses in group play to ever make a RWC final. The French seemed unusually afraid to take the game by the scruff of the neck and make it their game. If Australia won ugly against the Springboks last weekend, this game was an even uglier win for France-but they are still going to the final to play the winner of Sunday's All-Blacks-Wallabies game.

Part of the reason that a sport like rugby is such a great game is that it does mirror life: you have to deal with setbacks, and that sometime, life is just not fair.  The Welsh were gallant losers. The French unsympathetic winners. I think that's the shortest way you can paraphrase this semi-final.
A Maori reaction to France's ugly win against Wales?

Friday, October 14, 2011

All Eyes on Auckland....

Less than 8 hours to go before France and Wales get it on for the first Semi-Final at Eden Park in Auckland.

The entire rugby world now will cast it's attention to New Zealand's largest city. I will be up in the middle of the night here in the US watching it-luckily I am off work this weekend and a little sleep deprivation won't create any problems.

Eden Park should just be magic. I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crunching Numbers: Putting on My Thinking Cap...

Buddha the Bulldog with his RWC Cap....
The Great thing about a tournament like the Rugby World Cup is that gives some us who not ordinarily numbers crunchers the chance to have some fun-maybe not as much fun as rugby songs, but still fun....

My good friend Lu-and Ferdy's partner in crime on the blogosphere over at had put out an interesting colored graph showing the nations from quarterfinals to champs. It gave me an idea to try to figure out who has been the most "Successful" team in Rugby World Cup history. The obvious way is to count trophies, which give the Wallabies and Springboks the lead with two apiece. But what I decided to do was backtrack from 1987-2007. I gave each team who was a losing quarter-finalist 1 point, losing Semifinalists 4 points, losing finalist 8 points, and the RWC champ 12 points. One thing that should be remembered, is that South Africa was not invited to the competitions in 1987 and 1991 because of it's Apartheid policies....

With that in mind, here is what my numbers came up with:
1. Australia-38 points
2. England-34
3. New Zealand -33
4. A draw with South Africa and France both with 29 points.
6. Scotland-9
8. Argentina-5
9. Ireland-4
10. Tie, Fiji and Samoa-2
12. Canada-1

With Wales, France, New Zealand and Australia all still playing at this RWC 2011,  Wales will leap-frog past Scotland, and France will at a minimum take sole possession of 4th place. If the All Blacks can beat Australia this weekend, they will pass England, and if they can win it all, they will lead the hit parade at the RWC- and equal their Tri-Nations partners by winning the Webb Ellis Trophy for the second time-and adding some more memorabilia at the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Four Teams Looking for Bill...

We are now down to the last four in this orgy of the oval ball known as the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
"Bill" out for all to see at Argentina-Scotland in Wellington
Wales, France, Australia and New Zealand are all looking to lift the William Webb Ellis Trophy, otherwise known as "Bill". This weekend they will play the Semifinals at Eden Park, where the memories of players past and Maori culture all come together.

Auckland will be hopping with hopeful Welsh, French, Aussie and Kiwi fans.  I was glad to have a chance to see Auckland and Eden Park before leaving New Zealand to come back to the US. My only regret is that I won't be able to soak in the ambiance in person.
A view of the Wellington Skyline

Given how lousy I was with my predictions for the quarterfinals( 1 out 4), I think that any of four remaining teams would NOT want me to pick them. But since I cannot tackle, pass, ruck, maul or scrum, logically it would seem that I have no power to hurt anybody, so I am going to go through with my picks. I think both games will be tight. I just don't see France playing two good games in a row. I think even if the All Blacks have their 3rd or 4th choice fly half, the rest of the team is pretty bloody strong-and Piri Weepu has been kicking great-21 points from his boot against the Pumas.

I see a New Zealand final against Wales. Now that Wellington is done with it's games at this Rugby World Cup, I would like to give a shout out to the city of Wellington. It's a beautiful capital city that has some of the most helpful citizens I have ever met. A tip of the cap to kind-hearted Wellingtonians who helped me have such a great stay while I was there.
Wellington, New Zealand has a natural beauty that is breath-taking

Sunday, October 9, 2011

1987 Revisited...

1987 was a watershed year in my life. My son Ian was born in 1987, the Minnesota Twins won their first ever World Series Title in baseball...and the All Blacks won the very first Rugby World Cup at Eden Park.
Eden Park-New Zealand's Mecca of Rugby
In this 2011 Rugby World Cup, my quarterfinal picks were not very accurate-just 1/4 out of my picks. were correct. I only had the All Blacks win against Argentina as being accurate. What this means is that the final four for 2011 is identical to that in 1987: Wales, France, New Zealand and Australia. The difference is that this time the semifinal match ups will be different: New Zealand will play Australia and France will play Wales.

The thing that sticks out of this year's final four is that they have all played much of this tournament with ball in hand. Back in 1987, the game that sticks out most in my mind is that semi-final between France and Australia, won by by the French in the dying minutes on Serge Blanco's wonder-try.
An Official RWC Ball signed by the Pumas.

Australia was outplayed by South Africa, France lost not one, but two preliminary round games, Wales lost a game to South Africa in the preliminary round, and the All Blacks are playing without Dan Carter. Each team going into the semi-finals seems to have an issue.

I still think that whoever wins the semi-final between the Wallabies and the All Blacks will win this World Cup. I also think that Wales will beat France-not because they are the better side, it's just that in past World Cups, whenever France has played a good game, they follow it up with a mediocre performance. I think that bodes well for Wales. That said, given that France has been the bogeyman a couple of times in stopping the All Blacks, there would be a certain symmetry if the All Blacks would play France in this year's final.

I still think the All Blacks will get by Australia-who have not had a ton of success against New Zealand on Kiwi soil.  There are just so many sub-plots going into the semifinals, the rugby press will have a field day this week. All I know is that France has never won the RWC title, in spite of two finals appearances. Wales has never been in the final-indeed, this year marks the first time Wales has made the semi-finals since that first RWC in 1987. at this point, I am picking the All Blacks to play Wales in the final at Eden Park.
The Statue of David Gallaher at Eden Park

Let the build-up begin. The ghosts of prior All Blacks like David Gallaher will be watching...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hair Raising Quarterfinal Picks...

I am back in the USA since Saturday.  On my Air New Zealand flight coming back to the States, my fellow passengers got the shocking news about France losing 19-14 to Tonga, and England Scraping by Scotland to run the table and win their group.(By the way, I give Air New Zealand REALLY high marks on customer service-it was a great flight)

My wife, my Bulldog and I are in route on an almost 1,500 mile drive from Dallas, Texas to Wilmington, Delaware. This means that somewhere along our trip, we have to find a rugby-friendly bar or pub that is showing the quarterfinals of this orgy of rugby known as Rugby World Cup 2011. With the quarterfinals, all eyes will be on Eden Park in Auckland, and "The Cake Tin" in Wellington.
Magner's League Quarterfinal: Wales-Ireland

Ireland's physical win against the Wallabies turned this World Cup on it's head, insuring that one group is all Southern Hemisphere and other quarterfinal group is a Four Nations, Northern Hemisphere group. Wales had only one one loss in group play, a very tight, if not controversial loss  to the Springboks. Wales got some serious revenge against Fiji knocking them out of France 2007 with a 66-0 beat-down of a very disappointing Fiji side in Hamilton.

Unlike some of the other surviving teams, neither Wales or Ireland have any major health issues or losses going into this weekend.(Something that South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and England sure cannot say) Wales has been running and gunning and gunning in a way that would make a French rugby fan salivate. The trouble is, I think they are going to be playing on a wet track in Wellington. I give the advantage to Ireland's front row and loose forwards. Add to that the senior leadership of O'Driscoll and Ronan O'Gara's boot, I just think Ireland will grind out a 15-6 win.

The Soap Opera Quarterfinal: England-France
England and France will actually step out of the back page of the newspaper and try to play some rugby for a spot in the Semifinals. England and France flat out don't like each other. They have met 4 times in World Cup play, with England winning 3 times, something that elicits all kinds of sour grapes from French players about how they were still the better team. At this tournament, Marc Lievremont, the French coach, has not hesitated at all in throwing his players under the bus after they huffed and puffed to wins against Japan and Canada(Don't let that final score against Canada fool you-the Canadians were well in that game until after 60 minutes, and the French Front row looked like they had been worked over with hockey sticks after the game). France is melting down in a way similar to their soccer brethren in South Africa last year. If Marc Lievremont had been on the Shackleton Expedition, nobody would have come back alive.

England has been getting some serious stick in the Kiwi and British press for the poor conduct of some of their players off the pitch, and with unconvincing wins against Argentina and Scotland. Never has a team with a perfect record in RWC qualifying had so many barbs thrown their way. Wilkinson has not had a great RWC with the boot, and they will miss Delon Armitrage to suspension. Their forwards have been wracked by injuries on this World Cup. I know in every RWC, France always has one game where they just play swashbuckling, great rugby, like in 1999 and 2007 Against the All Blacks. This time around, I just don't see it happen. England 18-10.

The Southern Hemisphere Caged match Quarterfinal:South Africa-Australia
These teams have been hit really, really hard by the injury bug. Drew Mitchell is out of the tournament for the Wallabies, François Steyn and Bakkies Botha are both out for the Springboks. For group winners, the Springboks are really nicked up. They beat Samoa last Friday night in Albany, but the Samoans put them through the wringer in a really, really physical contest.  The key for both of these teams is that their talented fly halves are both OK. Quade Cooper, the Wallaby Kiwis love to hate and Morné Steyn bring talent and an x-factor. Both have lead their club teams to Super Rugby titles. A lot of people gave Cooper some stick after the loss to Ireland, but I saw him live in Wellington, when he ran wild against the USA-you would have to be nuts to not want to have this guy on your team. With a very strong chance of rain in Wellington, you would have to think that South Africa's stronger front row should have the advantage against the Wallabies. We know that Steyn is a great guy with the boot-but it's a whole different thing kicking in the complicated winds in Wellington's Cake Tin compared to those bombs he hits at Loftus Versfeld in the altitude back in South Africa. The Wallabies have the horses with their backs to be creative if they can get the ball wide. I think Springbok physicality will carry the day over the Wallabies. 17-6 Springboks.

The what-are-we-going-to-do-without Dan-Carter Quarterfinal: New Zealand-Argentina

Argentina has looked a shadow of itself from their form in 2007. They should have won against England and should have lost against Scotland. They have qualified on nerve and guts, if not panaché . They also have had thousands of their compatriots make the trip from Argentina to New Zealand. There will be sky blue striped shirts in a sea of black-clad fans at Eden Park, giving a nice added ambiance to the game. 

All Black fans have been in major funk when their star fly half Dan Carter got injured and will keep him from playing anymore at this World Cup in front of the adoring Kiwi masses. I don't think fans in New Zealand are worried about getting past Argentina. The All Blacks are just too bloody strong and good for an aging Puma side. They are worried about getting by the Springbok-Wallaby winner-I think for them, they feel like without Carter, they can beat any of the European sides, but question if they can get past either of their Tri-Nations rivals without their Charismatic number 10. Of all of the quarterfinals, this is the only one that I see as a rout: New Zealand 30-3 over the Pumas. 

My only regret is that I am having to now follow the World Cup from afar, after being able to be assaulted on a daily basis by rugby coverage on TV and newsprint in New Zealand.