Wallabies losing RWC finalists
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
With the 2011 Rugby World Cup fast approaching, Alan Solomons runs the rule over the competing nations in a Sport24 exclusive. In our penultimate instalment, he previews Pool C…AUSTRALIA
The Wallabies are a very good side, but the questions mark remains over their pack of forwards. They lack a real grunt in their pack and it is an area of vulnerability. They don’t quite boast the physicality of the other big nations. However, I think Dan Vickerman will make a big difference to the tight five and will add balance. They have some good loose forwards - David Pocock is a great openside flank. The Aussies have one hell of a backline. Quade Cooper is a fantastic footballer, but questions remain whether he can manage a match well enough at Test level. For me the jury is still out. When Berrick Barnes returns to the fold, I assume he will play at 12 and that will help Cooper no end. Barnes will also make a difference in terms of their kicking. Genia is a top class international scrumhalf. Ashley Cooper is a great playmaker. I feel they are going to have a very good World Cup. It’s almost on home soil and I don’t think anybody including Ireland; will beat them in the pool. All round I think they have too much strength. Their scrum – an area teams have targeted in the past - has improved dramatically since the last World Cup. The Irish scrum is certainly not one that will to give them a problem.
Best result: Champions (1991, 1999)
Prediction: Pool winners. Will reach the final - ultimately losing to New Zealand.
The prevailing feeling in Ireland is that they have hung on to a few senior players for too long.
They will advance past the pool stage, and will come second shading Italy. I think they have a little too much firepower for the Azzurri. That said, I think the age factor is going to be difficult for them - they are a team just on the wrong side of it when it comes to age. The legs just aren’t there any more. However, Ireland have traditionally travelled well and they haven’t done badly at World Cups overall, barring the last couple. They are a very settled side and Declan Kidney has done a good job as national coach assembling a strong coaching staff. Alan Gaffney coaches the backs, Gert Smal is in charge of the forwards and Les Kiss is their defence coach. A plus side is that many of the senior players will be determined to go out with a bang. I believe they will certainly give a much better account of themselves this time. I certainly wouldn’t underestimate them. Their key players are Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, those two are fundamental to their cause. Without that pair, they are not the same side.
Best result: Quarter-finalists (2003)
Prediction: Will finish second in pool. Losing quarter-finalists. I don’t see them beating any of the top sides.ITALY
Nick Mallett has done a brilliant job with Italy and I think they are really going to miss him post World Cup. With Mallett at the helm, the Italians have improved dramatically year on year. They did incredibly to beat France and they should have beaten Ireland in the Six Nations. They are very well organised, their forwards can compete with anyone and they have improved at the set pieces. However, they just don’t have the backs with the necessary strike power. Their skipper Sergio Parisse is arguably the best Eighthman in world rugby. He is a fantastic player and leader and is key to their campaign. They have a strong front row, they are solid in the middle, but outside in the backs there’s not a helluva lot going on there. Fullback Andrea Masi is a reasonable player, but I don’t think they have game breakers of note. If they get injuries, I think they are going to have a problem depth wise. They are something of a dark horse in their pool, but when a side like Australia maintains possession and ups the tempo against them, the going will get tough for them. I don’t see them beating Australia, there is an outside chance they could upset Ireland and I see them disposing of USA.
Best result: Semi-finals (1991)
Prediction: Third in pool.USA
The Eagles have been struggling of late. They performed poorly in the recent Churchill Cup albeit they beat Russia. I think Canada have moved ahead of them and believe they will battle at the World Cup and won’t trouble any of Australia, Ireland or Italy. If Australia and Ireland play to their full potential, they will put big scores past them. They have organised some international games between World Cups, but it’s their domestic game that hurts them – as there is no top-flight competition. A few of their players are playing at a decent level overseas, but the majority are not up to international standards. My understanding is that their Irish coach Eddie O’Sullivan is only in the country a few months a year, and I don’t believe you can coach a national side like that. I think he has found it difficult. USA did a good job at the 2007 World Cup, but they themselves would agree that they have not made the progress they would have hope for since. They lack firepower to match the big sides. Their skipper Todd Clever has played a lot of rugby around the world and he is one of their more experienced players I would single out. Wings Chris Wyles and Takudzwa Ngwenya are both very accomplished players. They have some experience there, but overall they are light.
Best result: Fourth in pool (2007)
Prediction: They will beat Russia and finish fourth.RUSSIA
I think Russia have suffered a great deal since the departure of head coach Steve Diamond. Early in the year, he took up the job of director of Rugby at Sale Sharks. Steve was there for a while and had done an excellent job. When he left, they lost that thread of continuity. Welshman Kingsley Jones has been doing a good job alongside his Russian colleague Nikolay Nerush, but he has come in quite late in the piece and changing the guard late on, especially in a country like theirs, makes things very tough from a World Cup perspective. They have taken a few steps backwards, and they struggled at the Churchill Cup. The Russians have two decent locks that play in Europe. Andrey Ostrikov has recently signed for Sale Sharks. They are a side that doesn’t play Eastern European style rugby. They try to move the ball around at pace, a lot more than Georgia and Romania do. But the latter sides have the edge on them upfront, and the stronger teams will put them to the sword in the front row. Their flyhalf is not a bad player, and they have the odd back that’s a reasonable talent, but I just think feel they will be out of their depth. I believe just being at the World Cup is a triumph for Russian rugby.
Best result: RWC debut
Prediction: Last in pool.*Next week, Alan Solomons will preview Pool D…Alan Solomons's Pool A preview
Alan Solomons's Pool B preview
Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.
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