ALL BLACKS LIGHTNING ATTACK
ALL BLACKS LIGHTNING ATTACK
ALL BLACKS LIGHTNING ATTACK
Russia, Samoa, Namibia, Argentina, Tonga, USA, Georgia and Uruguay have all been eliminated from quarter-final contention, while Canada and Italy might as well be, and Fiji need a miracle.
So, the power rankings are about who is left in the running to win RWC 2019.
1) (1) New Zealand : Scored the two biggest wins of the tournament during the week, and while neither was anywhere near perfect, they got in some good work time on their lightning attack strategy, didn’t suffer any injuries or suspensions, and got one of their best players back in action. A good enough week’s work, and enough to stay just ahead of:
2) (2) England: OK, they got some help against Argentina when Tomas Lavanini suffered another relapse of the stupid virus, but they’re the only team with maximum points, and still look the biggest challenger to an AB three-peat.
3) (4) South Africa: They too got some help with Italy shown a red card, and still look a bit stereotyped in their approach, but they are, and will remain one of the hardest teams to beat.
4) (3) Wales: Drop one place only because they’ve inactive since the win over Australia. Even if they lose to Fiji, they’ve still got Uruguay up their sleeves. Should top the pool, quite possibly leaving Australia to face England in the quarters.
5) (5) Japan: Another good win, over Samoa to remain unbeaten at the top of pool A, and yet still without a guarantee of progression to the quarters. Scotland could ruin it for them with a big win over Russia and then beating Japan and denying them a bonus point. Surely every neutral will be hoping Japan aren’t denied by a whisker for the second tournament running.
6) (6) Ireland: Bounced back from the Japan debacle to easily account for Russia and stay in the hunt, and if they can beat Samoa will confirm a quarter final, quite possibly with the All Blacks. However, one suspects there is still a twist or two left in Pool A.
7) (7) Australia: Too good for Uruguay, and pretty much guaranteed passage to the last 8, and while the coach is getting plenty of headlines, the team is not setting the world alight.
8) (8) France: Came perilously close to a second World Cup defeat against Tonga. Will need to be a whole lot better to challenge England for top of Pool C.
9) (-) Scotland: Bounced back from a lame performance against Ireland to wipe out Samoa 34-nil. A bonus point win over Russia sets up a potential winner take all, loser go home scenario with Japan.
10) (-) Fiji Stayed alive, albeit on life support, with a proper Fiji performance against Georgia. Would need a big win over Wales, and miracles elsewhere to make it. Not going to happen
11) (10) Italy could make it if they get a bonus point against the All Blacks, and half the Springbok team is sent off against Canada. You just never know.
12) (-) Canada Will sneak through if they can beat both the Springboks and Namibia by a huge margin with bonus points. Seriously.
On Other Matters:
The Over Correction is in Full Swing:
After being too scared to hand them out over the first week, the refs are now too scared not to, and are dishing cards out left right and centre, yellow and red.
The two All Black yellows against Namibia were more of the careless variety, but Nepo Laulala took an unnecessary risk with his swinging arm. It’s not like the message isn’t well and truly out there, and they are going to have to be extra careful from here on in.
Trouble with the reds, is that it always sparks debate about the public getting short changed by teams going down to 14, and what it takes away from the contest.
Red Cards are there as the ultimate deterrent to actions that threaten the health and wellbeing of the players. The message must get through and softening the blow by allowing carded players to be replaced in-game is not going to help.
What they could do, considering the erratic way in which cards are handed out, and to reduce the chance of a player being wrongly dismissed, is consider making all cards yellow.
That would allow 10 minutes of scrutiny by a panel to determine whether the player can return or stay off for the rest of the game.
But that’s not going to happen right now.
Right now, it’s about being smart, because this issue has the potential to decide this tournament.
And enough of the “the games gone soft” narrative.
Ask most players, past or present, and they’ll tell you the game is harder than it’s ever been, because the bodies are bigger, stronger and faster, and the collisions are off the scale.
Just because it’s no longer OK to put the slipper in or sock someone doesn’t mean it’s not a hard game.
The Return of Big Brodie:
The fact that Brodie Retallick got through 30 minutes without any apparent issues with his shoulder is encouraging.
If he is fully functioning by the quarter finals then its great credit to him and the medical staff, but shoulders are notoriously tricky, and he’ll need to get through more action unscathed before we have a definitive answer.
Still, it was great to see him out there, was it not?
Meanwhile Back at the Ranch:
Both the Mitre 10 Cup and Farah Palmer Cup competitions are closing in on the playoffs, and with so many pieces of the jigsaw still to fall into place, we’re set for a fascinating final weekend of round robin action.
In the Mitre 10 Premiership Tasman continue to play some dazzling rugby, helped no end by a deep roster that has allowed coach Andrew Goodman to rotate players and keep them relatively fresh and free of major injury concerns.
They’re guaranteed home advantage as long as they’re still in the hunt, and will this week play Hawkes Bay with a chance to become the first team since Auckland in 2007 to go through the round robin unbeaten.
They’re not over the line yet though, and you’d be foolish to write off Canterbury given their track record, or Wellington, despite their surprise defeat to Harbour.
While the Mako have pole position sewn up, there are other battles still to be decided. Canterbury are threatening Wellington for second and a home semi, while North Harbour, Auckland, and Waikato are in a blink-and-you’ll- miss-out scrap for fourth.
In the Championship Bay of Plenty are really challenging for top spot now, and with rivals Hawkes Bay to play Tasman this weekend, the door is open.
Only Counties-Manukau in the premiership, and Southland and Northland in the Championship are out of the running, and potentially all seven games this weekend will impact on the playoff race.
In the FPC Auckland and Canterbury look set to scrap out the top division, but the eye catchers have been Otago, who have had a great season in the championship and are eying promotion.