Well the Round Robin games are done and dusted and followers of the All Blacks find themselves in a familiar and rather uncomfortable position: the knock-out stages of the Ruby World Cup (RWC). The first RWC that I actually remember was RWC 1995 (yes, sadly this means I don’t actually remember the only time the All Blacks won it, though I’ve seen footage so I know that it did indeed occur…). Therefore my personal history with the RWC goes something like this:
- RWC 1995 (South Africa): defeated in the final by SA
- RWC 1999 (Wales): knocked out in the semi finals by France
- RWC 2003 (Australia): knocked out in the semi finals by the Wallabies
- RWC 2007 (France): knocked out in the quarter finals by France
Notice the alarming pattern of getting knocked out prior to the final? I refuse to mention the ‘c’ word.
Regardless of the feat of reaching the quarters or better since the tournament began, for a team that has consistently topped the rugby world rankings over the years it’s not the best track record. New Zealanders expect the All Blacks to win; there is very little room to manoeuvre if you’re an All Black and even less if you’re the coach – you’re expected to retain the Bledisloe every year, hold off the ever increasing charge of the Northern hemisphere teams (it’s only a matter of time before Ireland improve to the point where they actually beat New Zealand in a test for the first time ever) and most importantly win the Rugby World Cup. Good luck retaining the coaching position if you don’t, odds are you’ll be swiftly replaced if you come out of the tournament without the trophy (though somehow Graham Henry beat those odds after RWC 2007 and well done to him, he deserved to stay on).
And so once again we find ourselves back in that familiar position, facing that tantalising promise that this time around it’ll be better – that this time around we’ll progress beyond the quarters, beyond the semis and into the final where (for the first time in 24 years) we will win the Webb Ellis trophy. I do not envy the men in the All Blacks squad, not only does the nation expect them to come out of the tournament as winners, but so do a fair chunk of the rugby watching world, now that’s pressure and then some (and that’s even before contemplating the humiliation of not winning the trophy while the tournament being held on home soil).
All of which is compounded by the fact that Dan ‘the perfect ten’ Carter is now out of RWC 2011.
Things may seem to some to be a bit grim for our boys in black, but I’ll reckon it’ll be alright (‘she’ll be right, mate’ to quote the Kiwi colloquialism) and I reckon that because I have faith in the boys in black and what it means to them to wear that strip. Sure that faith has been tested, but I still believe in them – and what is faith without belief? Anyway, I gave my prediction for the RWC 2011 way back here, but here’s my amended prediction plus how I reckon the knock out stages will go:
England bt France by 13 points or more
Australia bt South Africa by 12 points or less
New Zealand bt Argentina by 13 points
Ireland bt Wales by 12 points or less
Wales bt France by 12 points or less
New Zealand bt Australia by 12 points or less
New Zealand bt
Wales France (but it should’ve really been Wales) by 12 points or less
So there we go. I’m rather sentimental when it comes to predictions (as my seasons of Virtual Rugby show – one year the ‘Canes, the Lions will come good and win!) so I wouldn’t take this too seriously, in the end how well the ‘Blacks do depends on what head space they’re in for those 80 minutes – it’s all in the top two inches.