Chris Rattue on sport
The latest sport analysis and comment from Herald columnist Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue: All Blacks so far ahead there's no contest


The All Blacks will win the World Cup. There, got that one off the chest.

Predictions are demanded in this newspaper game so now's as good a time as any, after a shambolic test between leading contenders South Africa and Australia.

Graham Henry's All Blacks are so far ahead of the pack that the choice is to either tip their triumph or not make a prediction at all.

Predicting All Black World Cup victories has become a trap for allcomers, as we all know. Under the circumstances, though, what else can you do - pick Wales?

This tournament might even become a lopsided one-horse race unless the pretenders and defenders can raise their game. On form, that one horse - the All Blacks - can win in a canter.

Rating the All Blacks as overwhelming favourites carries a host of dangers, which include enduring the howls of derision from the "heard this all before" brigade. Promoting an air of complacency that might soften the All Blacks is tantamount to treason according to some, but rest easy, troops, because the players never read the newspapers.

Such is the All Blacks' woeful history of favouritism gone wrong that pundits are afraid to err again.

But let history be history.

Having witnessed South Africa and Australia fluff most of their lines in Durban yesterday morning, there is nowhere else to go in the World Cup prediction game other than to say New Zealand will be the hosts with the most and can win going away from a lame field.

The Tri-Nations match between the world champion South Africans and the world number two side Australia was a dishevelled duel.

Despite their defeat, South Africa present the greatest hurdle to a New Zealand World Cup victory, because their power could prevent Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and co. running riot on the front foot.

Not on the Durban showing though, in a match littered with errors but only one try. Unless South Africa and Australia find gears above the ones they clunked through in Durban, they will get wiped out by an All Black side that is brimming with power, skill, just enough pace and Carter ... and not necessarily in that order.

The strength of the European threat posed by England and France will be clearer during the tournament but despite their strong World Cup records both are outside title prospects on form and New Zealand soil. Most Northern Hemisphere tests since the last World Cup have been dross. England coach Martin Johnson's selections remain confused.

World champs South Africa are hardly guided with much intelligence or clever scheming either. The yappy yaapie Peter de Villiers' policy of uncovering every last niggle to rest 20-odd players from the early Tri-Nations matches fell flat on its face at Kings Park and the Springboks are in danger of being under-prepared for their world title defence.

De Villiers' reinstated first-string side were awful, butchering winning opportunities with a cumbersome and unskilled display wrapped in tactical naivete. Even the drop goal attempts were lame.

De Villiers even continues to dally with the unthinkable by leaving his brutal, imposing hooker Bismarck du Plessis on the bench. The tactical low point came when de Villiers switched his captain John Smit from hooker to tighthead prop, immediately transforming the under-pressure Wallaby scrum into scary monsters.

De Villiers can't get Smit out of his thoughts or off the field and, to be fair, the captain still has a certain x-factor. The Springbok coach is madder than we envisage, though, if he continues to leave du Plessis out of the starting lineup.

Australia were more physical than in their wimpy effort against the All Blacks but only marginally so and were kept in the game by South Africa's errors. Even though he landed enough goals, James O'Connor still looks a dodgy kicking proposition.

The Wallabies have excellent test combatants, headed by the bullet- headed Stephen Moore. If and when Tatafu Polata-Nau returns, they possess superb hooker options but Robbie Deans' side will be physically dominated elsewhere and won't win a series of tough games at the World Cup.

* Who the heck are those golfers on the PGA leaderboard? The latest major, being played in Georgia, has turned into a battle of the no-names. The good news is that Kiwi Steve Williams is just five shots off the pace, in a tie for eighth, and well placed to add to his impressive list of major victories. Williams is partnered by the Australian Adam Scott.

* David Tua's bid for redemption against Monte Barrett didn't go well. I'm a big Tua fan and wish him well - in other words, it's time to give this damaging game away, David, and think about what is best for your health. This being boxing, don't rule out further bids for redemption, plus retirements and comebacks.

Weekend winner
Manawatu - the darlings of the ITM Cup.

What to watch
No guesses here - all eyes will be on Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.

- NZ Herald

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