NZ to emulate class of '87

2011-10-19 09:32
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Alan Solomons

When Rugby World Cup history is recounted, one will read of the Houdini-like qualities of the French class of 2011. It is an unbelievable story that they had made it into the final. They were dreadful in the pool stages; hammered by the All Blacks, defeated by Tonga and not convincing in the other two games.

I think the French have had unbelievably good fortune. The sadness is that I believe that the final will not be the contest it would have been had Wales progressed. I think Wales would have given a better account of themselves.

There is no doubt that losing Sam Warburton to a red card handed France the game. I don’t think inexperience got the better of Wales. Had they not lost their captain, I think they would have walked that game. They were far better than France in most facets. I don’t think Wales bowed to the pressure - I think they were struck down by misfortune.

While Warburton tipped Vincent Clerc over the 90, one could see he didn’t try to spear him. I understand that the law states you have to view such incidents very seriously, but perhaps Alain Rolland could have consulted the TMO. I would have given a yellow card, as there was no malicious intent.

I think that if there is not malicious intent there should be discretion between a red and a yellow card and it would be worthwhile going to the TMO, because such an incident is game changing and the consequences are massive.

I thought Craig Joubert was superb in the semi-final. I believe he is currently the No 1 referee in the world and the IRB have recognised this by giving him the final. It’s a wonderful honour for him and South Africa and he will do a great job.

I agree with Graham Henry when he says the All Blacks have learnt from their past World Cup failures. Despite all the hype, I think they will keep their feet firmly on the ground this week.

There is not one notable rugby expert that gives the French a hope in hell. However, former French prop Pieter de Villiers summed it up succinctly. He said when the French are underdogs they are at their best. They will play without any pressure on them and that is their greatest advantage. They have underperformed, but they have a rogue quality and are always capable of a one-off incredible performance.

However, if the All Black pack puts the same heat on the French as they did the Australians, I think French resistance will crumble. If you revisit New Zealand’s 37-17 pool win, the French were never in the contest. The All Blacks dominated the breakdown and bossed the set-pieces. I see the All Blacks controlling possession and the tempo of the game.

France will base their game on a strong defensive effort, solid pack and will attempt to get into a position to kick penalties. They will target Aaron Cruden, but he is behind a stellar pack of forwards and sandwiched between Piri Weepu and Ma’a Nonu, so I don’t think he will be exposed. He showed maturity against Australia.

Morgan Parra is a good footballer and is competent at flyhalf, but I feel Francois Trinh-Duc is a more natural No 10 and would be a better bet. The fact that he is a right sided player would also be an advantage as Dimitri Yachvili and Parra are both left sided. I don’t think Parra offers much from an attacking perspective.

In spite of a persistent foot injury, Richie McCaw has been quite exceptional as a player and captain this tournament. He has worked hard for this, will be up for the game and to be honest a player of his calibre fully deserves to lift the trophy.

The All Blacks have been the most consistent team over the last four years, have held the No 1 ranking the longest, and fully deserve the title. It is quite unbelievable that it’s the same the final as in 1987 - and in a repeat, I see the All Blacks winning comfortably.

The bronze medal match is going to be a battle, with both sides talking of ending on a high. It is however, a very difficult game to play in as the teams usually have one foot on the plane. That said, I think Wales will be more up for the game mentally, as it would mean a lot for them to finish third.

When I was Springbok assistant coach at the 1999 World Cup, for us it was an important game to win. New Zealand just weren’t up for the clash mentally.

I have a feeling the Wallabies will struggle after their semi-final disappointment. I think Wales will be more determined to win and prove they have made progress - since coming third back in 1987.

There will be plenty of movement in the game, as both sides have an attacking intent. While Warburton and Adam Jones will be missed, Wales will have just enough to overcome Australia.

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.

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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