ABs' RWC pool draw a blessing and a curse
OPINION: Tinny buggers. Once again the All Blacks have drawn a soft pool for the Rugby World Cup as they embark on their real mission of redemption at the global tournament.
What's that? Yes, yes, I know they ended their RWC drought with that epic - if not entertaining - victory in the final against France at Eden Park last year. Finally returned the Webb Ellis Cup to its rightful home, and all that jazz.
But last time I checked the world's No 1 team still hasn't won a World Cup away from the cosy confines of home soil. And until they do that, as far as I'm concerned that monkey still resides on their backs.
It may not be King Kong any more, but the hairy, long-armed beast is still there until the All Blacks prove they can win a World Cup on foreign soil. Sorry, that's just the way it is.
Which brings us back to the pool draw in London. Incredibly, the All Blacks have once again had a charmed run with the ping pong balls.
They have Argentina, Tonga and a couple of lowly-ranked qualifiers, which is really the same thing as saying they can start planning for their quarterfinal now.
Now there's positives and negatives about a soft pool like this - and I say soft with all due respect to the Argentineans who will have three more Rugby Championships under their belts before then.
But the fact of the matter is the Pumas have never beaten the All Blacks and for all their improvements still went down by 16 (away) and 39 (at home) in their two games against the New Zealanders this year.
Tonga will hit big and play hard but we all know there's as much chance of the Kingdom knocking over the All Blacks as there is snow in Auckland this Christmas. The rest - someone like Georgia or Romania and someone like Namibia - you can just forget about. Cannon-fodder.
The positive is the All Blacks should progress with a degree of comfort to a quarterfinal matchup against probably Ireland or Italy. But the downside is there is such a thing as too easy at a World Cup, and it's a phenomena we've seen before.
Remember 2007? The All Blacks breezed past the might of Italy, Portugal, Romania and a poor Scotland side and arrived at a quarterfinal against France seriously underdone. And paid the price.
They also had soft pools in 2003 and 1999 and on both occasions fell over at the semifinal stage as soon as they encountered some serious opposition.
In fact the only time the All Blacks have had anything resembling a tough pool was in 1995 in South Africa when they had to get past Ireland and Wales, which did them no harm at all as they steamrolled through to the final, adding the scalps of Scotland and England for a World Cup grand slam.
Sure, the pool wasn't too tough last year and it didn't seem to do any harm. But again, folks, it was at home, and that factor supplants all others when it comes to the All Blacks and World Cups.
So, on the surface a "good" draw in terms of avoiding ugly moments early, but I'm not so sure that Steve Hansen will be that pleased.
Undoubtedly the group of death is Pool A which will see Australia, England, Wales and almost certainly Fiji scrap it out for two quarterfinal spots. That should be fun.
The next most competitive of the groups appears to be in Pool B where South Africa should meet some resistance from Samoa and Scotland, if not Japan and the second Americas qualifier.
One other thing on this subject: why on earth the draw has to be done three years out is a mystery to all but the IRB and its bizarre workings.
The folk at mission control say it's got to be done for logistical reasons. Absolute bollocks. Football does theirs six or seven months out when all the qualifying is done. And it's a thousand times bigger than rugby's showpiece event.
Seedings now could be all but irrelevant come 2015 and this antiquated process is simply yet another aspect where the IRB gets it seriously wrong. Perhaps new chairman Brett Gosper should spend more time considering the best way to have the most relevant World Cup rather than cosying up to the British media via Twitter and long luncheons.
POOLS FOR 2015 RWC
Pool A: Australia, England, Wales, Oceania 1, Repechage winner.
Pool B: South Africa, Samoa, Scotland, Asia 1, Americas 2.
Pool C: New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Europe 1, Africa 1.
Pool D: France, Ireland, Italy, Americas 1, Europe 2.
- Fairfax Media
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