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New Zealand favorite to win World Cup which will expose gulf in quality

New Zealand favorite to win World Cup which will expose gulf in quality

The sixth Rugby World Cup is expected to reward New Zealand as the strongest team on the planet after enduring expected tough challenges from South Africa, Australia and host France.
It's also likely to show that rugby doesn't have the depth of global talent it thinks it has.
Although the sport's controlling bodies are proud that it is also played in North and South America and parts of Africa, Asia and Europe, the standard of play by World Cup qualifiers such as Namibia, Portugal, Japan and Georgia doesn't suggest they are catching up on the powerhouse teams. More likely they are falling further behind.
Even the defending champion is struggling.
England ended Tri-Nations domination of the World Cup by winning the title in 2003 and made it even more painful by doing it on their home turf.
But England went into a steep decline after that thrilling extra-time victory over Australia in Sydney and, rated a 25-1 shot with the bookmakers, stands little chance of becoming the first team to win the title twice in a row.
Instead host France, a two-time runner up, is the best contender from the Six Nations against yet another three-pronged attack from the Southern Hemisphere sides who all have won the title before.
Australia is the only team to have won it twice (1991 and '99), New Zealand won the inaugural World Cup 20 years ago and South Africa captured the title on home turf in '95.
A glance at the bookmakers' odds suggests they are not looking beyond those four for the champion.
New Zealand goes into the championship as the 1-2 favorite and has the world's best attacking player in flyhalf Dan Carter. But the All Blacks have a history of not performing at their best when they reach the World Cup.
South Africa has climbed out of a deep slump and rebuilt a powerful allround team, while Australia was packed with quality players though many of them are close to international retirement.
France also has a wealth of talent but its fragile temperament reaches all the way to coach Bernard Laporte, whose selections are often puzzling.
If England is to be any kind of a force, it will rely heavily on the accurate boot of flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson and a heavyweight pack. Ten-man rugby seems to be England's best chance to get the semifinals.
Ireland vs. Argentina in Paris should decide which of those Pool D teams reaches the last eight, and the same applies to Scotland vs. Italy at Saint-Etienne in Pool C. If Wales plays to its strengths, it has a strong chance to make the last eight along with Group B favorite Australia.
Although 20 teams take part in the Sept. 7-Oct. 20 championship, they are split into four groups with the strongest teams seeded and favored to reach the quarterfinals.
The sad state of the so-called world game is that the powerhouse teams are so much stronger than the outsiders that they will amass embarrassingly lopsided results in the group stages.
Former Australia winger David Campese, who helped the Wallabies win the title in 1991, says it will also be embarrassing for the sport.
Pointing out that South Africa beat first-time World Cup qualifier Namibia 105-13 in a warmup game, Campese says that the part-time players from such teams as Namibia, Portugal and Georgia are far too weak to be in a championship against the top sides.
"You have to ask the question: Why are amateur teams playing in the World Cup in the professional era?" says the former winger who scored 64 tries in 101 tests.
"I think it's pathetic and the International Rugby Board should have gone with England's idea of two tournaments running at the same time."
England wanted the leading 16 nations to contest the World Cup, and an eight-team pool to replace the knockout quarterfinal stage. At the same time, 20 emerging countries would compete for a so-called Nations Cup. The IRB decided to stick with the current format.
"The IRB haven't thought where the World Cup is heading and I do not see how it is going to help the sport in Namibia, Georgia and Portugal to have these teams hammered in every game," Campese said.
Namibia and Georgia are in the same group as France, Argentina and Ireland and effectively will be playing each other to decide who doesn't finish last. Portugal is grouped with New Zealand, Italy, Scotland and Romania and is almost certain to finish last.
"How are you helping spread the game of rugby by showing these teams being badly beaten on a regular basis?" Campese says. "I can see a strong argument for the cup going straight into a quarterfinal format for the top eight ranked teams."
The way the tournament pans out, if the leading teams play to their form, then the quarterfinals should be: Australia vs. England, New Zealand vs. Ireland or Argentina, South Africa vs. Wales, and France vs. Scotland or Italy.
That should lead to New Zealand facing either Australia or England in one semifinal and South Africa meeting France in the other.


Updated : 2021-01-21 14:23 GMT+08:00