Hang around enough World Cups and it becomes easier to see there is a rhythm and energy to them.

The ultimate winner often goes through the pool rounds incognito. Certainly there have been finalists - France last time, England in 2007 and France again in 1999 - who have been total basket cases in making it to the last eight. That's how it goes, though - there are two distinct phases and while it's always reassuring to see a side play cohesive, energised, organised rugby on the way through, it matters not a jot if they don't.

The pool rounds are about one thing - making it out. Look at South Africa, a subject of global humiliation in their opening game and now an ominous looking beast. It's like the Japan loss didn't happen and it's a good bet that in a couple of weeks, the angst that has developed following two scrappy wins for the All Blacks against Namibia and Georgia will also be long forgotten.

It hasn't been part of the masterplan for the All Blacks to be so off with their skill execution. They didn't set out to drop the ball as much as they did against Georgia or become as obviously frustrated as they did against Namibia.


But what has been part of the plan is to sharpen component parts of their game. Their defence has been strong - close to outstanding against Georgia. Their lineout is functioning well. Their set piece strike moves off scrums have been accurate and their scrummaging itself has delivered the platform they need.

It takes a bit of faith to believe them when they say they are building nicely. But they have earned the right for everyone to be patient and to keep the faith.

Their record over the last four years has been too good for everyone to jump off the train so quickly. And those willing to give up on what they have seen so far should just pause for thought: what's becoming apparent is that the All Blacks have been training like they never have.

They've been able to train entirely off the grid since they arrived in England - behind giant fences and in this last week, at an impregnable stadium.

They haven't revealed any detail but its obvious they have been knocking each other about: running through all sorts of scenarios and practising for every imaginable possibility. With all due respect to Namibia and Georgia, playing them was probably light relief compared with the build-up.

The toughness and completeness of their work behind closed doors is what is fuelling their confidence. They know they have built the weaponry they think they will need.
They feel they have developed answers to all sorts of questions and while they haven't yet shown everyone else, that time will come.

The gamblers might be best advised to keep their money on black for now. Everything changes after this week and so too will the All Blacks. All the hard work, the tricks and ideas that endless hours have been spent on - the that's the time to play them.

The rhythm of the World Cup will change in the quarterfinals and the likely winner will start to look more obvious. The picture will become clearer because not all teams will cope with the pressure; not all teams will look like they did in the pool rounds.

Suddenly it will become clear that the big scorelines and swan dives that come with them, aren't really what wins this tournament. It will suddenly be clear that some teams, most notably the All Blacks, may have another gear, maybe another two.

- Gregor Paul in Newcastle