Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby World Cup shapes as north-south battle

Ireland hooker Rory Best in action against Australia. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Ireland hooker Rory Best in action against Australia. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The World Cup is shaping up as a battle of the hemispheres.

That scenario would suit Ireland, who upset the pundits and put the Wallabies' campaign into shudder mode with their 15-6 success at Eden Park.

Irish coach Declan Kidney liked the idea of a Tri-Nations-Six Nations conclusion to the tournament.

"It's probably good for it, isn't it," he suggested after the Eden Park upset.

"You know, you guys can play against one another so we'll let you sort out one half and the Six Nations can sort out the other."

A third Bledisloe Cup joust was canned this year, but that may occur in the semifinals after the Wallabies fell to their ineptitude and accurate Irish fervour. That of course relies on a range of other results and the All Blacks overcoming France this weekend in a rematch of their last tournament failure.

Centre Conrad Smith missed that dark day but is sure it will form part of the team's motivation bank.

"It's a good thing for me personally because I won't go into the game with that scarring some of the other boys have," he added.

France had gained a decent win against Japan to open their tournament and this match was the pivotal pool match for both sides.

"Their ability to attack will put us to the test. It's enjoyable to play against but it'll be a challenge for us and something we haven't faced in the past few weeks," Smith said.

The All Blacks are in Christchurch where they're mixing charity events and public appearances in the earthquake-affected city with training for their next match.

Good humour accompanied their work, while the Wallabies were a downcast group after their defeat. "The dressing room is not a happy place," captain James Horwill confessed.

That mood had barely lifted yesterday as the team relocated to Wellington, and they may need visas and police protection to return to Australia if they don't defeat the United States and Russia in their final pool matches.

"The Irish played more intelligently and profited from that, particularly at our end of the ground. We were outplayed, that's it, simply," coach Robbie Deans said.

The Wallabies needed considerable repairs to their game and their frames after their physical tussle. It was a similar tale in Hamilton after a ferocious physical contest between Wales and Samoa, victory to Wales a huge boost in their work to qualify out of the Pool of Death.

"We're not that happy with the performance, but we're very, very happy with the result," coach Warren Gatland said.

Meanwhile the All Blacks took some confidence and opportunities to test their attacking ideas from their match with Japan. There were no fresh reports on the injured All Blacks quintet - Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Dan Carter, Mils Muliaina and Israel Dagg.

There's been all sorts of conjecture about next rivals, the French, and their increasingly fractious relationship with coach Marc Lievremont. He's leaving his post after this tournament, although the French union will play him through to next June.

Lievremont came to the job promising his side would play a wide game but as their results wavered, their game plan withered and the coach earned a "Rollercoaster" nickname. Some senior players who've not made this trip did not agree with his narrowing strategies.

Possible paths to the final
Quarter-final 1 - Ireland v Wales, Wellington, October 8
Quarter-final 2 - England v France, Auckland, October 8
Quarter-final 3 - South Africa v Australia, Wellington, October 9
Quarter-final 4 - New Zealand v Argentina, Auckland, October 9

Semifinal 1 - Ireland v England, Auckland, October 15
Semifinal 2 - New Zealand v South Africa, Auckland, October 16

- NZ Herald

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