Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

It's showtime for the Rugby World Cup stars

The All Blacks will take on Argentina. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The All Blacks will take on Argentina. Photo / Mark Mitchell

All the frivolous games are gone - the seventh Rugby World Cup moves into showtime tonight.

This is the stage for the leading acts to unfold their star performers, the men with five-star blood who are supposed to deliver comparable sporting harvests.

The seventh global tournament began 29 days ago when referee George Clancy whistled the beginning for 20 teams as they set off in search of their collective goals. A dozen have been dispatched, worn down or out of their depth in their pool. Eight sides remain - Wales, Ireland, England, France, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina - but four will fly home next week.

Fans will have a stack of reasons for supporting a particular side and debating how their men will achieve victory. Those in the capital will argue their quarter-final contests are prime viewing while those visiting Eden Park will talk up their matches.

Picking the four favoured winners will give any punter about $5 for a $1 investment. Ireland, England and the All Blacks hold the preferred line for their matches while the TAB cannot split the Springboks and Wallabies.

Everywhere you roam, someone has a theory about a particular game, they have some feeling about a result. Those theories are always offered with some passion, often with some rationale and sometimes with blind faith.

Much like those who set the odds at the TAB and cannot split the Sanzar clash in Wellington, it is hard to pick a victor in the Clash of the Celts and the cross-channel stoush. They have all had their moments.

Ireland and Wales have played particularly well, England and France have been fairly turgid, while the Boks have bashed on and the Wallabies have now repaired most of their infantry.

The All Blacks and the nation have reeled from the injury loss of Daniel Carter but should be too complete for the best Argentina can throw at them.

All Black blindside flanker Jerome Kaino leads the individuals who will have a big say in the outcome of the quarter-finals. He has brought new meaning to relentless and with skipper Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Adam Thomson in rehab clinics for varying times and ailments, Kaino has got better and better.

He delivers pain with his defence and causes grief with his running while slipping in a variety of other lineout, scrum and breakdown skills.

Welsh skipper Sam Warburton has been a vibrant leader with his dynamic fetching, gathering and carrying for his team. He is only just 23 and may have a short career if his body keeps getting pounded as it has at this tournament. But he is gold for Wales and a player with great awareness of the laws and how best to serve his team. France have been awful and the players have decided to ignore coach Marc Lievremont for large patches of their tour of duty. But halfback Dimitri Yachvili has been a nifty player when his mind is attuned to the footy. He can do any of the pass, kick, run routines and his goalkicking has been one of the rare features of the Tricolores' play. His shootout with another leftie, Jonny Wilkinson, might decide tonight's duel at Eden Park.

The Tri-Nations combat should be a classic. One side with their bludgeoning mentality allied to Morne Steyn's kicking, the other looking for the dangerous rapier thrusts to take the test away from the musclemen. Core to that Wallaby hope is Will Genia, the man who must have taken the best halfback mantle away from Fourie du Preez.

Genia has that knack, timing and presence which du Preez had at the last tournament and subsequently, until he was injured. If Genia rules, the Wallabies will survive.

- NZ Herald

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