Cape Town - The sweeter news first: I believe Rassie Erasmus’s clearly re-emerging Springboks are destined for their first World Cup final appearance since 2007. (We also know that they have never lost a World Cup final!)
But here’s the gut-feel thing: I simply can’t deny a suspicion that even if those dastardly All Blacks are soon enough envisaged to become a “corpse” of sorts … well, that body-bag may have one last, discernible wriggle in it.
Enough, I’m afraid, to ensure by a short head that they pull off the quite unprecedented incentive of a hat-trick of Webb Ellis Cup triumphs since 2011.
They’ll see off the gallant Boks in a critical second meeting between them of RWC 2019: the November 2 final at Yokohama, also scene of Saturday’s Pool B-opening sizzler.
We have a whiteboard up at the office, asking staff from across our departments to nail to the mast, as it were, their expected finalists.
Normally confident and at least acceptably well-prepared for these exercises, I have to admit to standing before it and having a gamut of confusing thoughts weirdly paralyse me, delaying my own scribble for the sweepstake (alleged to involve a couple of Gatsbys and some bubbly, not a million miles away from being up my taste-bud alley).
So there was a slight shakiness to my hold on the koki as I eventually took the plunge: an All Blacks v Boks showpiece … with the defending champions squeezing it out, alas, by two points.
Am I crazy to have largely banished the likelihood of Eddie Jones’s England winning it? Ireland? Wales? An Australia playing out of their skins at key times, even?
All these questions had swirled devilishly, only confirming to myself to what many of you believe anyway: this World Cup really is up for grabs.
But I remain among that wary school somehow believing that New Zealand’s race, at least until they undergo a considerable break-up of both gnarly playing and coaching personnel post-Japan, isn’t quite run yet.
For sure, the gap on them from the pack has narrowed - substantially. Their fear factor is dwindling. There are positional frailties to exploit (the Boks have already shown in Erasmus’s tenure that they know this better than most).
Actually leapfrog them yet, though?
Hmm, my sense is that they’ve been shrewdly been holding something in reserve in 2019; saving their revered energies for when it truly counts.
Yes, for a furiously-focused final fling.
I still feel that, even if their pack goes into retreat a bit more than they would like at times at the World Cup, New Zealand remain best equipped of any nation for polished salvoes of “total rugby” … including an ability to suddenly strike for, say, three game-altering tries in a dozen whirlwind minutes. And yes, against just about anyone.
We saw some evidence of that when they did, briefly, rise from their relative 2019 slumber a few weeks ago to trample the Wallabies 36-0 in Auckland … a statement-making, 57-point swing from the 47-26 reverse to the same foes in Perth just a week earlier. Could any other side strike back so devastatingly?
That All Black goose … it’s not quite cooked.
There will be no rub-outs, despite the ever-flickering temptation, by yours truly on the 15th floor whiteboard.
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