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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.

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