Wayne Shelford: A tournament marked by gulf in quality

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Handful of top sides too far ahead, writes Wayne Shelford

The initial weeks will involve a lot of one-sided games with big teams whitewashing smaller ones. Photo / Richard Robinson
The initial weeks will involve a lot of one-sided games with big teams whitewashing smaller ones. Photo / Richard Robinson

I'm happy to join the World Cup fanfare, but let's not kid ourselves that we are about to witness a perfect tournament.

Drama awaits and our little country will take on a whole new spirit and atmosphere as we play host to a major sporting event.

But I'm afraid the initial weeks will involve a lot of one-sided games with big teams whitewashing smaller ones. I think the reality of this has been lost a little bit in the lead-up, but once the action begins it will become apparent.

There are better ways to organise the World Cup, which should be an elite competition.

The more honest we are about the current structure the more the chance that a much more competitive and thrilling tournament can be created, full of cliff-hangers between the top sides and those just below them.

I've long believed the World Cup should be split into two tournaments, perhaps run simultaneously - and maybe in different countries.

The top tier might be limited to, say, 12 teams with the bottom two from each tournament relegated. The top two teams from the pre-tournament qualifiers could replace them.

This is only one idea, but it gets across the sort of concept I am keen to promote.

The other factor to look at is using systems that will break down the defence and kick-oriented tournaments that have emerged, and will probably occur in the big games this time.

Teams also need to be encouraged away from protecting their best players by using second-string lineups in some games. Even minnows such as Japan will do this - why field your top players against the All Blacks when you are going to lose anyway? Their coach, John Kirwan, has learnt his lesson on that score.

The gulf between the handful of leading sides and the rest is huge, and the IRB needs to start accepting that, instead of pretending they have a powerful world game.

They might look at an NRL-style finals system, which gives advantages to the top team. By using this, they could encourage teams to score tries by using the points differential to help find the seedings.

The boot has dominated too many previous World Cup games. The pinnacle of rugby should not be dominated by defence and kicking gurus.

As for this tournament, I'm picking the All Blacks, even though they are making it harder on themselves by mucking around with the team selections. They could be so much stronger if they put their best side out all the time.

Of the other contenders, Australia will move the ball around and they have got the backs to threaten. England and South Africa will be physically strong and I'm picking England to meet the All Blacks in the final. France have lost their flair, and I don't see them as a major threat.

- NZ Herald

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