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Rugby World Cup 2011 - A celebration of the pernicious oval ball

Author: Sebastian Boyle Comments

And if we make it all the way through, there we'll be where we last were in 1995: the World Cup final. Our projection is All Blacks v France, just because it would give us the opportunity to make up for past failures – and surely third time's a charm, right?


The Rugby World Cup, the world’s third largest sporting tournament, kicks off in Auckland this Friday night with a match between the All Blacks and Tonga. New Zealand has spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars preparing for the Cup, and as we count down to the final hours before the players finally take to the field, we take a look at what lies ahead for the All Blacks, and just what the team - and the Cup - means to the country.

How We Stack Up

There are four pools of five teams in the Rugby World Cup round robin stages. The winner and runner up of each pool each goes to one of the four quarter finals; the winners of the quarter finals go to one of two semi finals; the winners of the semi-finals go to the final.

The All Blacks are in Pool A of the Rugby World Cup round robin stages, along with Tonga, Japan, France, and Canada. If (when) we come out on top of Pool A, we'll play the runner up of Pool B in the fourth quarterfinal. If we're the runner up of Pool A, then we'll play the winner of Pool B in the second quarterfinal.

New Zealand

Odds of winning the World Cup: 1.6 to 1
Odds of emerging the winner of Pool A: 1.1 to 1
World Ranking: 1

Test Match History
Played: 477
Won: 357
Win Rate: 74.84%

Tonga

Friday September 9th
8:30pm
Eden Park, Auckland

Odds of winning the World Cup: 2000 to 1
Odds of emerging the winner of Pool A: 200 to 1
World Ranking: 12

Test Match History - against the world
Played: 204
Won: 78
Win Rate: 38.24%

All Blacks' Record Against Them
Played: 3
Won: 3
Win Rate: 100%

The All Blacks' short history against Tonga has been one of staggeringly decisive wins. At the 1999 World Cup, we triumphed 45-9. A good solid win, but that was eclipsed the next year when we beat them 102-0 at North Harbour. At the 2003 World Cup, we won 91-7 in Brisbane. Bottom line, our odds are fairly good in coming out on top in our opening match of this year's tournament.

But Tonga has been marginally more successful against the other teams in Pool A, having chalked up wins against all of them at some point. They've won two of their five games against Canada, five of twelve games against Japan, and even one against France (albeit in 1973). They're long odds to win the pool, and are unlikely to overcome the All Blacks, but they might manage to snatch one win out of it.

Japan

Friday September 16th
8:00pm
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

Odds of winning the World Cup: 10,000 to 1
Odds of emerging the winner of Pool A: 1000 to 1
World Ranking: 13

Test Match History - against the world
Played: 188
Won: 96
Win Rate:51.06%

All Blacks' Record Against Them
Played: 1
Won: 1
Win Rate: 100%

The All Blacks' one test match against Japan represented a fairly decisive win, the ABs taking it away 145-17. It wasn't even the All Blacks' A-team, with significant players such as Andrew Mehrtens, captain Sean Fitzpatrick, and the big star of the 1995 World Cup, Jonah Lomu, sitting it out. Marc Ellis scored six tries during the game, and first-five Simon Culhane set a world record with a personal points tally of 45, consisting of 20 conversions (out of 21 attempts) and a try. The game represented a world record for points scored in a match. So, really, Japan will probably be happy with anything that builds on that record.
Japan has appeared in every World Cup since the beginning, but has only so far managed one win (against Zimbabwe in 1991) and one draw (with fellow Pool A contender Canada in 2007). Out of the top ten ranked world sides, they've only ever scored wins against the 8th and 9th ranked sides (Argentina and Samoa). We probably ought not to expect much out of the side this time, but here's hoping they at least have a good time.

France

Saturday September 24th
8:30pm
Eden Park, Auckland

Odds of winning the World Cup: 20 to 1
Odds of emerging the winner of Pool A: 6.5 to 1
World Ranking: 4

Test Match History - against the world
Played: 672
Won: 375
Win Rate: 55.8%

All Blacks' Record Against Them
Played: 49
Won: 36
Drew: 1
Win Rate: 73.47%

At last, some worthy(ish) opponents! While the All Blacks have traditionally had no trouble dispatching the noble frogs - having beaten them by 51 points as recently as 2007 - the French are responsible for the All Blacks' most painful defeat of recent years. It was, of course, the quarter-final of the 2007 World Cup, a match which saw New Zealand end up with its worst World Cup outcome. Despite leading 13-3 at halftime, some good play from the French, some bad play from the ABs, and some questionable refereeing saw a final score of 20-18 – to the French.

It wasn't even the first time the All Blacks saw their World Cup hopes dashed by the Gallic marauders. The All Blacks had made it to the semi-finals in 1999, with the French opposition at only 15-2 odds of winning. As would happen again 8 years later, a solid half time lead for New Zealand was lost in the second half, with the French triumphing 43-31.

The French statistics are unusual in that their win rate against the rest of the world is lower than it is against the All Blacks, the top-ranked side in the world. Given the crushing defeats of 1999 and 2007, this is a game through which many kiwi fans will be on the edge of their seats. There is just no way that the All Blacks can be sent out of contention at the round robin stage. No way at all.

Canada

Sunday October 2nd
3:30pm
Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Odds of winning the World Cup: 2000 to 1
Odds of emerging the winner of Pool A: 200 to 1
World Ranking: 14

Test Match History - against the world
Played: 175
Won: 77
Win Rate: 44%

All Blacks' Record Against Them
Played: 4
Won: 4
Win Rate: 100%

Unlike their French cousins, the Canadians have never been much of a threat to the All Blacks, having come out on the wrong side of all four of the test matches they've played. Of those four, in only one game did the All Blacks fail to rack up less than 60 points and a winning margin of less than 50. Although Canada has racked up wins against all other teams in Pool A at some point, they're unlikely to make it to either of the top two positions, but they might just have a shot at getting a third or fourth place slot over the slightly higher-ranked Japan and/or Tonga.

Quarter Finals

Saturday October 8 & Sunday October 9
8:30pm
Eden Park, Auckland

Once the pool matches have wrapped up, the winner and runner up of Pool A will play the runner up and winner of Pool B respectively. If the All Blacks get through, this means they could be going up against Argentina, England, Scotland, Georgia, or Romania. Looking at the past playing history and current rankings, there's a high probability we'll be facing off against England or Scotland, but Argentina remains a solid contender as well.

Semi Finals

Saturday October 15 & Sunday October 16
9:00pm
Eden Park, Auckland

Assuming victory in one of those matches, we'd face off against the winner of quarter final 1 or quarter final 3, consisting of teams from Pool D and Pool C. It's a long way off, but Australia and South Africa seem the likely champions of those – if we were to put money on it, we'd go with a New Zealand/South Africa semi, with Australia and France or England in the other.

Final

Sunday October 23
9:00pm
Eden Park, Auckland

And if we make it all the way through, there we'll be where we last were in 1995: the World Cup final. Our projection is All Blacks v France, just because it would give us the opportunity to make up for past failures – and surely third time's a charm, right?


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