THIS is surely the weakest of all the pools with New Zealand sitting head and shoulders above the rest, and if the Pumas don’t qualify in second place there will be a stewards’ enquiry.
The All Blacks might have appreciated a few tougher games.
Back in 2007 they were drawn with Scotland, Italy, Romania and Portugal. The Kiwis scored more tries (46) than they conceded points (35) as they averaged a whopping 77 points per match. The lack of any decent opposition in the pool was blamed on them then falling to France in that epic Cardiff quarter-final.
New Zealand may well face France in the quarters again (if Ireland beat them in the pool stages) and they are always wary of Les Bleus; the one team in international rugby to have little fear of the mighty All Blacks, especially when it comes to the forward battle.
If New Zealand are allowed to play their high tempo, ball in hand, running rugby then they are all but unstoppable. If they are suckered into an arm wrestle, usually by a dastardly combination of the weather and the opposition, then life gets interesting.
The All Blacks set scrum is not the immovable rock it has been and there are a lot of players with a lot of miles on the clock: Dan Carter, Tony Woodcock, Richie McCaw, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith won’t be around much longer.
In all, ten of the Kiwis boast 50 or more caps and while you would normally pick a greybeard over a greenhorn it’s a fine line between standing on the top of the world and being over the hill.
Argentina famously beat South Africa for the first time ever in the Rugby Championship but they are still sitting in a lowly eighth place in the World Rugby rankings and, for reasons only they know, the Pumas selectors think they can get along without their lock of ages, Toulon’s Patricio Albacete, who has been overlooked after putting someone’s nose out of joint.
Tonga can do some damage, both physical and mental, as Scotland and France both know to their cost, but it’s doubtful they have the resources to trouble either of the nations seeded above them. Former Edinburgh hooker Aleki Lutui is included at the age of 37 as is Glasgow’s summer signing from Gloucester, prop forward Sila Puafisi.
Georgia gave Scotland a fright four years ago and they may make a little history come this World Cup. The “Lelos” included 18-year-old Vasil Lobzhanidze in their squad and should the scrum-half get a game he is set to become the youngest player to compete in the Rugby World Cup. He has already been capped, playing against Germany in February of this year before helping the national U20s team to lift the World Trophy (second tier) in the annual age grade championships.
Georgia have been training in Poland and utilising the same cryogenic technology that Wales have used in the past to help with their strength and conditioning which didn’t prevent a recent 27-7 loss to Newcastle Falcons in a warm-up match and they lost two players to injury at the same time.
The side is led by the giant Mamuka Gorgodze, “Gulliver” to his Georgian fans, who now does his mightily impressive stuff for a suitably sizeable club, the three-time European winners Toulon.
Namibia are the fifth team in the pool and, while you wish the smallest of minnows all the luck in the world, there isn’t enough of the stuff to give them a snowball’s hope of a single win never mind a place in the quarters.
Saracens’ scary flanker Jacques Burger will fly about the field to good effect, several South African Super Rugby players and three recruits from the French leagues will stiffen the sinews.
Namibia even boast a full-back, Chysander Botha from Exeter Chiefs, but as long as this West African desert can qualify for the World Cup, rugby will never be able to call itself a truly global game.