Gregor Paul on rugby

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Lack of world class no.10s won't hurt World Cup

Welsh halfback Mike Phillips is in the form of his life. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Welsh halfback Mike Phillips is in the form of his life. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It's true - the arrival of Stephen Donald in the All Black camp hardly inspires confidence. It's a worry, not so much because of his wobbly history as a test five eighth, but because he's the fourth choice.

No coach ever wants to be dipping that far into the stocks come a World Cup semi-final. But the despair and angst can be kept to a minimum. It has become apparent that this is not a World Cup about No 10s.

Look at the four sides left in; France are playing a halfback at first five. Fine talent though he is, Morgan Parra had never played a test at No 10 until this World Cup. The Welsh have opted for the highly promising but hugely inexperienced Rhys Priestland ahead of British Lions James Hook and Stephen Jones while everyone's favourite pantomime villain, Quade Cooper, was a ghost against both Ireland and South Africa.

Not by choice albeit, but the All Blacks have also been robbed of their world class first five and have played three of their five games without Dan Carter.

None of the four semi-finalists have an in form, world class operator at No 10 and yet one of them is going to win the World Cup.

That's because this tournament is being determined by halfbacks and opensides - they are the new rock stars of the game.

Dimitri Yachvili was superb against England - his kicking game killed the old enemy. Mike Phillips is in the form of his life; so strong and agile and quick into his running. Will Genia is freakishly good - an aerobic athlete who goes for 80 minutes and makes the game all about him.

And there was Piri Weepu. He has come of age in this tournament, his performance against Argentina the best of his All Black career.

Helping France passed England was Thierry Dusautoir and his thousands of tackles. Sam Warburton is emerging as a great and it's easy to see why Warren Gatland made him captain at just 22. David Pocock, whether he got lucky with referee Bryce Lawrence or not, was the man who frustrated the South Africans.

And then there is King Richie - sore foot and all - but still the master. Before anyone frets about him being quiet against the Pumas - wasn't his kind of game. The Pumas tied him into the tight stuff - something none of the other three remaining teams in this competition have the ability to do. Against France a few weeks ago, McCaw was at his imperious best and he'll spark up again against the Wallabies.

So really there isn't need for anyone to ponder jumping off the Harbour Bridge just because Aaron Cruden and Donald are the All Black options at first five. It's not ideal that Carter and Slade have been ruled out - obviously confidence would be greater if the former was still around. But nor should it be seen as disastrous.

Weepu and McCaw are the men around whom this campaign will now be built - and they are men in whom everyone can have faith.

- Herald on Sunday

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