Wallabies, Boks placed best to be challengers

David Pocock of the Wallabies. Photo / Getty Images
David Pocock of the Wallabies. Photo / Getty Images

Seedings and draws are fickle sporting components.

It feels the Rugby World Cup draw is completed way too early but organisers explain that away as necessary for the tournament planning.

If the draw and results for the 2011 event follow some sort of predictive order, the All Blacks will meet arch foes the Springboks in the semifinals, and if the hosts continue to prosper, perhaps the Wallabies in the final.

Many would see a transtasman showdown as vindication for the style of rugby played in the Southern Hemisphere. It would also reignite rampant discussion about the merits of and preferences for Graham Henry or Robbie Deans.

At this stage, the All Blacks are rated first in the world rankings by some distance from the Springboks, with the Wallabies just tucked in behind them and France the highest ranked, at fourth, of the nations on the other side of the equator.

On that basis, you figure the Boks and Wallabies are the best-equipped sides to challenge for the title.

The Boks are defending champions and two-time winners while the Wallabies have also claimed honours in two tournaments.

Each has a couple of awkward opponents in pool play.

In Pool C, the Wallabies meet Italy, Russia and USA and should have their toughest match against Ireland at Eden Park on September 17.

In Pool D, the Springboks tangle with Fiji, Namibia and Samoa with their hardest test probably their opening game on September 11 against Wales in Wellington.

All that's in the melting pot, of course, while grievously late kickoff times for the final matches at Eden Park (to accommodate northern television audiences) may reduce results to something of a lottery.

Sudden-death matches tend to discourage adventure or encourage low-risk rugby while conditions at night, underfoot and overhead next October, may persuade teams they are better without the ball.

Kick'n'chase, up and unders, punting for territory - that sort of rugby may come more into vogue the deeper the tournament goes.

Ireland and Wales were the last sides from the northern hemisphere to travel Downunder this season to experience conditions, travel, crowds, opponents and the country before they return next year.

The Wallabies and Springboks are annual visitors for internationals and their players also spend time in various parts of New Zealand during the Super rugby seasons.

That familiarity with the country, the lifestyle and the rugby pulse in the Land of the Long White Cloud will be another invaluable factor in their kitbag for next year's World Cup.

The Wallabies have Robbie Deans whose rugby foundation at all levels was formed in this country. He also coached at the 2003 World Cup and must have stacked away plenty of information from that experience.

If Australia can maintain a fit squad and get players like Wycliff Palu, Dan Vickerman, James Horwill, Ben Alexander, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Greg Holmes, Matt Hodgson, Peter Hynes, Cameron Shepherd, Rob Horne, Rod Davies, Digby Ioane, perhaps even Stirling Mortlock back from the casualty ward, they will have much greater depth to work from.

South Africa have some work to do. There's little doubt they have the players. Sift through their sides and there's a great deal of quality.

But they have much to do to make themselves a cohesive bunch. They looked better against the All Blacks at Soweto but still didn't appear as sustained or sharp as they'll need to be.

That's nothing new for the Boks who, like the Wallabies, can point to two replica global crowns in their trophy cabinets unlike the single lonely trophy at the NZRU headquarters.

- NZ Herald

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