Here’s BBMLive.com’s Rugby World Cup 2011 Group A Preview…
New Zealand (World Ranking 1st)
History – Despite the obvious tag that they seem to choke when it comes to Rugby World Cup, New Zealand’s record in home tournaments is 100%. I really can’t see that changing too much this time around. A star studded squad that has been working towards this tournament for four years.
Players to Watch – Apart from the obvious world class draws that are Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, they have also rugby league convert Sonny Bill Williams. Using his overloading skills from league, this man mountain along with Nonu makes for a forward sized back line with serious speed outside it.
Predictions – Champions. Might even be worth sticking an outside bet on that they don’t concede a try in doing so as well.
France (World Ranking 4th)
History – The enigmatic French who you never know what you are getting from one day to the next. Last tournament at home they were able to derail the All Blacks but I don’t see that happening again. The Gallic mystery of yesterday is gone and the Blancos, the Saint-Andres no longer exist.
Players to Watch – Imanol Harinordoquy is the team’s talisman and the man to lead from the front. With an aging squad overall, players like Lionel Nallet and captain Thierry Dusautoir will need to have big tournaments. The back line doesn’t possess the cut and thrust of old
Predictions – A Quarter Final clash with England awaits. Probably ending in defeat.
Canada (World Ranking 14th)
History – Canada have seemed to take a backwards step in rugby terms and once a threat to the top nations, now they seem to be left with annual Churchill Cup bashings by England’s second string.
Players to Watch – Chauncey O’Toole and Jamie Cudmore are top that ply their trade at the top level and may catch the eye. A young backline might have the chance to show some European clubs their worth and gain a big move.
Predictions – 3rd in the group. Wins over Tonga and Japan will be a good tournament for them.
Tonga (World Ranking 12th)
History – Big, physical side that along with the other South Sea islands have to pick squads that the New Zealanders don’t want to cherry pick for themselves. Last time out, ran a reserve Springbok side close in a group game and caused England some problems. As close to a home tournament as they will get.
Players to Watch – Fullback Viliami Iongi might be one to keep an eye on for the future. The Brumbies already have him in their squad. Finau Maka will lead a bruising pack and will make some big bone crunching hits.
Predictions – 4th in the group. At least the flight home won’t be too long!
Japan (World Ranking 13th)
History – Once the minnows in all sizes of the word, Japan have become regulars at the Rugby World Cup and the hosts for the next tournament will want to put on a good showing here to prove that the decision to award the 2015 edition is not just a marketing exercise by the IRB
Players to Watch – As young boys growing up, Luke Thompson, James Arlidge and Ryan Nicholas probably always dreamed of playing for the Cherry Blossoms. What’s that? New Zealand? Australia? No boys – they must be some mistake. Japan surely? Oh never mind.
Predictions – 5th in the group. Any type of win from this tough group will be welcomed.
By Conan Jal