DURBAN – A press release from World Rugby yesterday trumpeted that ticket sales are flying ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup after the November international season, with a surge of purchases emanating from Ireland.
Well there is a surprise.
Paddy Power was a highlight of the 2015 World Cup, when the Irish were hardly as good as they are now, and half of Ireland now wants to be at next year’s tournament in Japan. It would be pushing it to say that the Irish are on a winning streak against the world champion All Blacks, having won in Chicago against them last year and more recently in Dublin, but there is not a Guinness-guzzler in the Emerald Isle that doesn’t believe their team can continue their winning ways in Japan, when it truly counts.
That match two weeks ago was played in cauldron of noise. Every time an Irishman touched the ball or launched himself into a tackle, he was willed on by an ear-shattering, 52 000-roar.
The Irish players were carried on a collective voice that made them 10-foot tall and six-foot wide. By comparison the New Zealanders just about resembled Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels. Seriously, the All Blacks just looked so human and beatable.
And that is probably the most salient point to take out of the international arena as we look ahead to the World Cup next year the aura of All Blacks’ invincibility has been eroded, plus a number of teams that in previous World Cups were predetermined also-rans, are now contenders for at least a place in the semi-finals.
In previous World Cups, you could look at the four pools and put money on the identity of the semi-finalists, and then with assurity you could predict the finalists, and indeed the winners. Good luck in doing that at Japan 2019.
Looking at the form guide, it really is about who can realistically beat the All Blacks, because we can rest assured that the Kiwis will pitch in Japan a very different proposition to the tired entity that laboured through their end-of-year tour. They remain the yardstick against which the rest must be measured.
The Kiwis were tired before they even made it to the northern hemisphere after a meaningless, but money-spinning third Bledisloe Cup encounter with the Wallabies in Tokyo.
Besides Ireland, who else can realistically expect to dethrone the All Blacks? Let’s start with England... should have beaten the All Blacks at Twickenham, but for an offside call that could easily have gone their way. Eddie Jones is a master planner and he will love the fact that next year he will have back in service half a dozen key players who missed the November internationals.
Scotland? The Scots should have beaten the All Blacks two years ago. They have since put together a record run of eight wins from 10 games this year, and were not far off from beating the Springboks a few weeks ago.
And that is a Bok team that was beaten by a Wales side that have gone nine matches without defeat.
Under British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland, there is an awakening in the coal-mining valleys of Wales not witnessed since the Principality’s glory era of the 1960s and 70s. Wales have quietly climbed to third on the world rankings and will fear no one in Japan.
Australia? They have a knack of peaking at World Cups, and after losing heavily to England last week coach Michael Cheika made the kiss-of-death comment “Judge me on the World Cup.” Fair enough, but Cheika is buying time before the axe because the Australians just don’t have the players to do the business.
France will trouble a few teams but having lost to Fiji in Paris last week, this World Cup is coming too soon for a rebuilding France.
And that brings us to the Boks.
They are dark horse at this stage but given they were deadbeats this time last year, there is plenty of room for optimism. In the Boks’ last three matches against the All Blacks,there hasn’t been more than two points between the teams.
Not a lot of folk in the international arena will be backing the Boks for a third crown, but you be rest assured that the All Blacks will be taking the Boks seriously...@MikeGreenaway67