|Hopefully the Aus-NZ semi final is a bit more exciting than the three-point borefests thus far.|
The Rugby World Cup is typically just an excuse for Northerm Hemisphere players, fans, referees and commentators to get moist panties over an endless slew of scrum penalties, rolling mauls and drop goals. While this year's tournament has been no different thus far, Sunday's 1v2 Semi Final blockbuster between the trans-Tasman rivals should offer an alternate form of excitement for those who prefer regular showers and refrigerated beer. Allow me to tear apart this matchup like it's one of those annoying air-tight plastic packages surrounding electrical goods...
The Wallabies have the successful Super 15 and Tri Nations combo of Will Genia and Quade Cooper, and while Cooper had a shocker against the Boks in last week's Did-We-Seriously-Just-Win-That-Game quarter final, I am taking some solace in the hope that he physically can't play that poorly again (don't make me look silly here Quade). He should also lift for his inexplicable argy-bargy rivalry with All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw, despite the fact McCaw is about 20kgs heavier and is one of the most intimidating men on the planet. Cooper's irrational confidence reminds me of that scene in every Vin Diesel movie where a proven murderer is holding a gun at Vin's head and Vin just mumbles in that stunted English "you don't got the guts". That's Quade in the face of McCaw.
As for the All Blacks, they will line up with Piri Weepu and Aaron Cruden, a bloke so forgettable I just had to look up what Super Rugby team he plays for. While Weepu is a class act who always seems to kill the Wallabies, a firing Genia-Cooper combo is close to unstoppable.
Let's assume Kurtley Beale either won't play, or will be severely hampered by that hamstring injury. This is a massive blow for the Wallabies, as Beale provides that third spark in attack and can also defend at fly half to allow Cooper to hide at the back. I have massive doubts about the presence of Adam Ashley-Cooper and the effeminate James "Brand" O'Connor in the backline, as they have seemingly been involved in every All Blacks thrashing over the past few years, and are about as reliable in big moments as John Terry in a penalty shootout. Pat McCabe is playing with a busted shoulder, and while Digby Ioane is a devastating ballrunner, his impact is nullified somewhat by the more conservative style of tournament rugby.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks have the flair and creativity of Israel Dagg and Conrad Smith, two great finishers in Richard Kahui and Cory Jane, and Number #1 on the Guys I Would Never, Ever, Ever Want To Try And Tackle List: Ma'a Nonu. While veteran fullback Mills Muliani is injured, Dagg is arguably a better all-round player whereas Beale is far more irreplacable.
Slight Edge: All Blacks
Tony Woodcock, Kevin Mealamu and the immortal Brad Thorn are proven Wallaby killers (Woodcock is always worth a sneaky $5 for first try scorer - he has done it three times against the Wallabies), but the Australian combination of Vickerman, Moore and fearless leader Horwill should keep this contest fairly even. That is until we get to any set pieces...
Openside Flanker: McCaw is by far the best rugby player I have ever seen, but is finally showing signs of slowing down and is possibly playing hurt. Meanwhile, David Pocock is carrying the Aussie squad like CT carried (the real) Johnny Bananas in the Cutthroat Gulag. If Pocock asked me to drop everything and run away to Zihuatanejo with him, I would seriously consider burning my thesis and going.
Blindside Flanker: While I am still waiting for Rocky Elsom to reproduce his 2009 Heineken Cup form with Leinster, he is still a far better player than Kaino.
Number Eight: Cult hero Radike Samo has a great running and passing game AND used to play for the Brumbies, but Keiran Read is the best Number Eight in the world.
Slight Edge: Wallabies
Time for a rant, proudly brought to you by Redfish Marketing Promotional Stressballs: Behind Genia, Cooper and Beale, Scott Higginbotham is the most threatening attacking player in the entire Wallabies Squad. He also happens to be 6'4, 115kgs, can jump in lineouts and ruck effectively. He has won a Super Rugby title and the All Blacks HATE playing against him. In every Test he has played in this year he has made an immediate impact. Yet he is completely left out of the side for Australia's biggest Test Match in eight years?! Why did the ARU give Robbie Deans a contract extension? Does Deans have the same agent as John Lackey? I don't even care who else is on either bench, I just want to repeatedly jam kebab skewers into my eye sockets.
Edge: All Blacks
(For the record, I would play Berrick Barnes at inside centre for his tactical kicking and field generalship, with the hard tackling Faingaa at #13 and Higginbotham on the bench. But that makes too much sense.)
The All Blacks have a solid, not spectacular scrum, however watching a Wallabies scrum is like having open heart surgery with Dr. Nick.
Edge: All Blacks
The Wallabies lineout was atrocious against the Springboks last week, but fortunately Victor Matfield can't play for the All Blacks as well.
I haven't seen all that much of Cruden, but it can't be too difficult to be better than
Jane James O'Connor.
Presumed Edge: All Blacks
Australia haven't beaten New Zealand at Eden Park since 1986. I would feel more confident wearing a "Hillary for President" T-shirt in the Deep South than a Wallabies Jersey in Auckland.
Major Edge: All Blacks
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Australia have won two World Cups, New Zealand have won one. Australia won the last head-to-head against New Zealand, the Semi Final of the 2003 World Cup. New Zealand have been favourite in every single Rugby World Cup and hasn't won one since 1987. In fact, they haven't made the final for 16 years. I don't want to say the C word, but we are all thinking it.
Major Edge: Wallabies
Will Beale play? How bad is McCaw's injury? Will Robbie Deans win anything other than the praise of John O'Neil? Can Quade Cooper bounce back from his quarter final Betty Crocker? Will I angrily switch the game off at half time and YouTube Higginbotham highlights? Will O'Connor get some more blonde highlights before the game?
Verdict: I don't want to go on record with any predictions, but I actually think the Wallabies match up better with the All Blacks than the Springboks. Both teams should play a similar style of attractive rugby as opposed to the relentless field position pressure applied by the Boks. Dan Carter is a massive loss for the Kiwis and Cruden hasn't been training with the squad throuhgout both this campaign and the Tri Nations. If Cooper has a blinder and Pocock can control the breakdown against McCaw, the Wallabies win by 1-12. That said, not even the Parramatta Eels drought is as long as the Wallabies' at Eden Park...