Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Eight great Rugby World Cup men with a single purpose on their minds

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Wales captain Sam Warburton is only 23. Photo / Christine Cornege
Wales captain Sam Warburton is only 23. Photo / Christine Cornege

They lead their men into the last eight, an octet of blokes with (c) next to their names in the Rugby World Cup match programmes.

Six are forwards, four loose forwards, while Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Argentina's Felipe Contepomi play with double-digits on their jerseys.

They range from the youth of Wales' Sam Warburton who turned 23 this week to Contepomi who has already blown out 34 candles. You wonder what impact these men have on their groups, how much they are driving the direction and planning for the World Cup quarter-finals compared to the commands from the coach.

Even if only half the scuttlebutt is right, there is a serious disconnect between the players and France's coach Marc Lievremont and there has been a dramatic fall-off in their performance. Perhaps they think this tournament is a cinch after losing two games and making the quarters.

Thierry Dusautoir, a loose forward of intellect, pride and honour, captains his men and their response to his example and commands will set the tone for their response to England's powerful but narrow game.

Lewis Moody is another of those fearless men who inhabit loose-forward zones, a follow-me type of leader whose contribution mirrors the work of his England side which is earnest and willing but lacks a bit of the X-factor.

Richie McCaw and Warburton also hammer away in the contact zones wearing No7 on their national uniforms. The up-and-comer and the seasoned pro, two men whose search for the pig's bladder, tackling numbers and relentless drive dominates their quality CVs.

Senior backs O'Driscoll and Contepomi have been around the block a few times. In their own way they are talismans for their sides. O'Driscoll's class and timing have beamed more in this tournament than he has produced in previous visits wearing the emerald green jersey or the red on the ill-fated 2005 Lions trip.

Two men remain. John Smit has led the Springboks since 2004, took them to the 2007 World Cup title and is going around again at this tournament. He is past his best as a player but coach Peter de Villiers and the bulk of the squad revere the man as their leader.

Somehow the Boks have to balance Smit's game management and effectiveness against the bristling power of Bismarck du Plessis.

The rookie leader is James Horwill, the man who climbed the Wallaby ladder as Rocky Elsom slipped down a peg or seven the day their World Cup squad was announced. Horwill has felt the cold horror of failure when Ireland dealt to his mob, now he sets off on a different journey.

In a fortnight one of these men will hoist the Webb Ellis Cup, while seven others and their teammates will be left to dwell on the whatifs.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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