I said in my very first Laureus blog that the All Blacks were favourites to win the Rugby World Cup, before the competition even started.
But whenever they get drawn against France in a crucial match (not just in Rugby World Cup’s!!) – as in this weekend’s quarter-final - about four million people in New Zealand have their hearts in their mouths. For two reasons: history and Gallic unpredictability. In 1999, France beat the All Blacks 43-31 In a semi-final, described by some as one of the greatest matches ever seen – even if you were from New Zealand!
In a quarter-final in 2007, a very similar situation to this, France won 20-18. Four years later in the 2011 World Cup Final, the All Blacks won, but it was a close run thing against the French who only 3 weeks earlier has lost to the Tongan’s in the last game of the pool stages. Secondly – you never know which French team will turn up.
They didn’t play well against Ireland, but we know how important confidence is in sport, and the French will know they have done it before against the All Blacks and will believe they can do it again. As a former captain, I am comfortable with the All Blacks’ campaign so far. Frankly they have known for three years that they will be in this position with three matches to go, and they know what they are doing.
But, against the French, logic seems to go out of the window. There has been enough preparation and enough experience in this All Black team to make sure they get the job done. Australia keep impressing me .They’re the form team of the RWC2015 pool stages. Their win over Wales, with just 13 men at one time, was formidable. They showed fight, resilience and a determination not to lose. They have always had an expansive approach to the game, but their scrum has been a revelation in this World Cup.
I cannot compliment scrum coach Mario Ledesma enough for his work. In five matches of the Rugby World Cup, they have totally reinvented themselves as a team over the last 18 months. And they will have Michael Hooper back for the quarter-final against Scotland. I have loved the fun and flair of Scotland in the pool matches – the match against Samoa was one of the best in the entire World Cup – but their goal was the quarter-finals and they have achieved that. I think they will see that as a success and I do not see them winning against Australia. Wales are a team that have constantly amazed me.
Their team spirit, their never-say-die attitude has won them friends around the world. Coach Warren Gatland has proved a wizard with his game plans, but their scrum against Australia was shaky. Against South Africa in the quarter-finals, I think this may be the moment when their challenge is going to end. I thought South Africa might go for experience in the match, but they have gone for youth.
I think this is the right move for them. Centre Jesse Kriel and Lood de Jager are players for the next generation and are not too bad at the present! Captain Fourie du Preez is looking more and more comfortable with every outing and his combination with fly half Handre Pollard is looking very solid. If there is to be an upset, I would pick Argentina to beat Ireland. The Irish have shown so much spirit you would love them to keep winning, but they lost senior players through injury against France and Sean O’Brien, their best player in that match, is suspended.
I am hoping that Joe Schmidt has a few more aces up his sleeve! Argentina always do well in World Cups and currently they are fresh, they have had no injuries and their performance against the All Blacks last month will have given them inspiration. My teams for the semi-final are: Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, Whatever happens this will continue to be a very special Rugby World Cup..