With the Rugby World Cup fast approaching John Steele looks at the top rugby teams in the world, their tactics and the men who are key to success in Rugby World Cup 2011 starting tomorrow in New Zealand.
Rugby World Cup 2011 is about to kick off in New Zealand and early impressions suggest that punters across the world have been impressed with what thay’ve seen in Auckland, New zealand so far.
Here is the detailed analysis from our sports expert John Steele on top 11 team in the rugby world standingsand rankings.
When guys like coach Wayne Smith say the beating by Australia was good for the Blacks, they mean it. The last thing New Zealand desired was an easy ride in the Tri-Nations and the pool stages before coming upon teams who want it in the knockout stages. Remember how the idea ended up in 2007 and 2003? However, the No8 Kieran Read is a big loss for New Zealand early on.
Tactics The All Blacks, via Dan Carter, aren’t afraid to launch themselves with attacking kicks from inside their own half or even 22. Watch for the Carter bomb, chip or grubber which one of his back three chases. If they regain the ball the benefits are clear to see: the Blacks are over the gain line and behind the defence. But even if the opposition gets the ball the onrushing Blacks are in a decent position at the breakdown and their opponents will probably have to commit numbers to recycle the ball.
New Zealand’s key man is going to be Dan Carter. The World Cup has a history of being won by kickers.
The most exciting team in the competition without a doubt. They are the Brazil of rugby. But it’s not just the Quade Coopers, Will Genias and Kurtley Beales who have brought about the improvement. Sekope Kepu, a former New Zealand junior representative at loosehead prop, gives the scrum stability, the new captain James Horwill is a find in the second row and in a tournament where loose forwards could be the key, they have David Pocock at No7 in a beautifully balanced back row.
Tactics Cooper is unpredictable, but there is one move he keeps going back to, largely because it gets results. From the breakdown Genia goes left and passes to Cooper, taking the guards and cover away with the ball. Cooper then switches direction, pulling Beale into the hole he hopes has been created. Failing that, he takes the ball on himself and is big enough to be a handful.
Australia’s key man is going to be Will Genia. The two recent games against the All Blacks suggest that when the scrum-half is on the front foot, Cooper and Australia flourish.
The very opposite of Australia and proof that rugby tends to reflect the nation. The Boks are big and confrontational. However, it’s one thing to know what’s coming, it’s something entirely different stopping it. Forget the early Tri-Nations results. When it mattered – in terms of the defending their World Cup – the coach Peter de Villiers turned to the warhorses of 2007 and they looked close to being as good as the 2009 squad which beat the Lions and then won the Tri-Nations.
Tactics You don’t have such a good lineout without making the best use of it. In defence they nick opponent’s ball, but in attack they have developed their shift drive. More often than not, Victor Matfield takes the ball in the middle of the lineout and offloads short to one of the back-row men closer to the tail. Acting as a pivot, Matfield then pulls the loose head, either Gurthro Steenkamp or The Beast, Tendai Mtawarira, on to the ball; supported by another front-rower, they trundle for the line. Even if they don’t score, they usually suck in enough defenders to create gaps nearby.
South Africa’s key man is going to be Fourie du Preez. The scrum-half looks to be returning to something like the compelling form of 2007.
If they play as they did for the first 20 minutes against Ireland in Bordeaux or as in the middle of the return warm-up game in Dublin, they could win it. It’s amazing that they never have. However the team that makes a habit of putting out the All Blacks could, on their day, lose to almost anyone. They represent everything that warms me about the Rugby World Cup; they’re totally unpredictable and great to watch.
Tactics Some days they’ll rumble, others they’ll run. However it’s in the return of kicks that the French reveal their heritage. Rarely is the ball simply hoofed into touch. More often the receiver runs at the approaching opposition, looking for the mismatch in the line. If he spots a forward, the idea is to run across the face of the opposition, hoping to pull a big man out of position, so creating a hole for one of the wings to scoot through.
France’s key man is going to be Maxime Mermoz. While the centre was on the field in Bordeaux the French were buzzing. Without him their game went flat.
Dark horses to win it. They have a settled team and with Jonny Wilkinson at fly-half there is no one better at keeping the board ticking over, something he did to Wales at Twickenham in the warm-ups. Until someone realises that drop goals aren’t worth three points, he’ll keep banging them over. They’ll benefit from their win in Australia last summer and they have a relatively simple group.
Tactics Back around 2003, Clive Woodward complained vociferously about the All Blacks using the rugby league tactic of passing behind a dummy runner, who shields the intended receiver. Now England are doing it. Ben Youngs, or whoever starts at scrum-half, goes short to a forward who passes behind another big man to the fly-half, who orchestrates the rest of the move. If it works it fixes the defence or at least reduces their line speed. The difficulty is getting a forward who has the skill to make that second pass late enough for defences not to be able to adjust.
England’s key man is going to be Lewis Moody. If games are to be won on the floor, then England have just one openside in their squad. Even then, some say he’s more of a No6 1/2 than a No7.
There is no covering that we’ve been hit by injuries. Losing your captain (Matthew Rees) hurts and when his understudy as hooker (Richard Hibbard) goes as well it doesn’t help. The good news is that the young guys have stepped up and the good thing about young guys is that they know no fear. I’m told this is the youngest Wales World Cup squad.
Tactics If the Webb Ellis Cup is to be won on the ground, then we’re well placed with the likes of Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate, Jonathan Davies, Toby Faletau and Gethin Jenkins all great at the breakdown. Unlike the Irish, we want the big men down on the ground as fast as possible, so our “jackals” can do their work. To that end there will be a concentration on leg tackling, snapping the knees together.
Wales’s key man is going to be who? Well, that’s asking too much.
Scotland have made at least the quarter-finals of every World Cup so far and they’ll be confident of doing the same this time. They’ve had a quiet build-up, winning their warm-up matches against Ireland and Italy, and they have escaped lightly on the injury front. Obviously the interesting game is against England and if you study the tapes of the last Six Nations game, there wasn’t that much between the sides.
Tactics Or, how do Scotland score tries against tight defences. Andy Robinson seems to think the path to glory will come via Max Evans’s pace and footwork. Getting the ball to him and in space has been the trouble, so the Scots have turned to their banker lineout and the big men who regularly give the thrower five targets. From there the next step is to get the ball to the midfield as quick as possible, from where Graeme Morrison decides whether to bash or pass to Evans.
Scotland’s key men is going to be either Dan Parks or Ruaridh Jackson. Identify your No10 and you know if Scotland will kick or run.
Ireland may have slipped down the rankings but I don’t put a lot of faith in results from the warm-ups. My feeling is that there may be some long faces now, but they’ll go into their second match, against Australia, buoyed by a comfortable win against the US Eagles and their former coach, Eddie O’Sullivan.
Tactics Irish thinking is totally different to Welsh when it comes to the breakdown and it will be interesting to see how the referees react. The Irish idea is to hold the ball carrier off the ground after the tackle and then rob him. However, should just one knee touch the ground, they have to release that player. There have been splendid successes for the method, but there are risks. More players are needed to keep the maul going, denuding the defence if they don’t steal the ball.
Ireland’s key man is going to be surely Brian O’Driscoll. The centre is genuinely world class and he was badly missed when England and Manu Tuilagi were in Dublin last time out.
I was not overly impressed by what I saw in Cardiff last month and age seems to have caught up with one or two Pumas. Juan Martin Hernández, the full-back-cum fly-half who was such a star in France four years ago, is a big loss and there does not appear to be such a depth of talent running through the side. But then again, who thought they’d come third last time?
Tactics Argentina have always been pretty good on the counter attack and it appears that not much has changed. They either go from deep, running hard rather than kicking, or leave it to the forwards to rumble or pick and go. Eventually a big ball carrier is embraced by another 17-stone forward and together they make a 34-stone assault on the line. It’s called latching on.
Argentina’s key man is going to be Felipe Contepomi. He has to be because he takes so much upon himself as fly-half, kicker and captain.
Their coach, Nick Mallett, has made it pretty obvious that he is upset at not having his first-choice fly-half, Craig Gower, in New Zealand and has pointed the finger at the Treviso and Aironi clubs for letting the Australian slip back to rugby league. After beating France in the Six Nations, Mallet must also be pretty bitter at not being offered a contract extension beyond this World Cup.
Italy graphic Italy graphic Photograph: Graphic
Tactics There are a few homegrown talents coming through – the wing Tommaso Benvenuti and scrum-half Fabio Semenzato stand out – but the main Italian weapon is still the pack. They are starting to use it more creatively. Look for the work done by the Leicester tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni, wheeling the scrum to give Sergio Parisse more time to decide between going himself from No8 or, more inventively, offloading to one of his wings running an angle, which hopefully has the opposition flat-footed.
Italy’s key man is Sergio Parisse. Still a world-class No8, even if Italy have learned to depend on him slightly less.
John Steele for NationalTurk sports