Nick Farr-Jones: Wallabies will be too good for fading Springboks

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Berrick Barnes. Photo / Getty Images
Berrick Barnes. Photo / Getty Images

The Wallabies predictably ran amok against the Russians yesterday in Nelson at the Rugby World Cup. But what would have been particularly pleasing to coach Robbie Deans was the sensational comeback of arguably the world's best loose forward in David Pocock. (I didn't say best captain!)

He was wrapped in cotton wool after the first half but his strength and dynamic play makes a huge difference at the breakdown and his ball carrying yesterday was immense.

Pocock's ability to steal possession at the breakdown will be critical. With knockout matches potentially to be decided by converting penalties, his technique and capacity to remain on his feet and in play will put tackled opponents under enormous pressure to release possession within the rules of the game.

I trust also that coach Deans will be fully satisfied that Berrick Barnes is the obvious choice at No 12 next weekend. He adds so many options to the backline, being an excellent decision maker, and has the capacity from phase play to substitute in multiple positions.

With goalkicking being so critical in future matches, what I found surprising was Deans' choice of handing kicking duties to James O'Connor. The only rationale I can see is that Barnes is not yet considered a certainty to start in the quarter-final. But there is a hell of a difference between kicking at training or against Russia and having to slot a kick in sudden death matches.

What would have greatly disappointed Deans was poor ball security in the second half. Winning World Cups is all about minimising errors and structuring play. The All Blacks are head and shoulders above the pack in this regard.

A repeat of that sloppiness will see them on the plane home on Monday week.

Looking forward to next week's quarter-finals, in all likelihood the Wallabies will lock horns with the Springboks. That said, I expect Italy to push Ireland in the final pool match today to the wire.

Ireland have a history of getting up for big clashes such as their disposal of the limp Wallabies at Eden Park. But they also have a history of playing well below expectation against lesser opposition.

The risk for Ireland is that they become desperate to win and hence scoreboard-focused.

Italian coach Nick Mallet will no doubt have his team emotionally up for the battle which should see them compete in the deep, dark places. I expect an arm wrestle that could well go down to the final stages before quarter-final opponents are known.

But assuming the Wallabies meet the Boks on Sunday in Wellington, I believe the Aussies will win.

Crucially, the Wallaby pack know they can compete and, dare I say it, gain the upper hand at scrum time.

Some punters have claimed the Springboks are the real danger to the thus far clear dominance of the All Blacks but the second half on Friday against the Samoans confirmed to me that the Boks are not the team of yesteryear and are beatable by a Wallaby team that surely will not come second in the intensity stakes.

But perhaps this does a disservice to the Samoans, who were magnificent. Their passion and determination - especially in their final 40 minutes of the tournament - were matched by their fluency and execution, as multi-phased plays saw a great interchange between forwards and backs. It was damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, and they deserved to go further in this event.

Finally, on the boycott threats to the eighth Rugby World Cup by NZRU CEO Steve Tew and supported by his ARU counterpart John O'Neill: Sadly, it requires a gun at the head before the IRB will be forced to consider the valid claims of the Southern Hemisphere super-powers' about funding the development of their games.

Downunder, we don't have the same access to the many millions of potential fans and consequent lucrative TV and sponsorship deals.

I sit on the board of the New South Wales Rugby Union and am privy to the black holes in the budgets.

The IRB might be ignorant about the constant threats in Australia to maintain our best players and our emerging talent - but they need to take heed of Tew's valid claims.

- Herald on Sunday

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