SO many things to muse about sports-wise this week … the US Open tennis, the world's top cyclists in La Vuelta a España … but of course I'm lying.
There is probably only one game that will really matter for the next seven weeks and it is called rugby. It's World Cup time. And the Boks are hot. If it's lousy at the office, this will help a little bit:
I hate predictions. Previews are the lowest form of sports writing, my boss Johann Holzapfel rightly taught me at the time. If this one does that and that one does this, then A or B can happen, but if that one does this and this one does that, it's another matter altogether. C or D can even come into play.
Tournaments usually only make sense in hindsight, as beforehand there are too many variables, but here goes:
- Quarterfinals: South Africa vs New Zealand; France vs Ireland; Australia vs England; Argentina vs Fiji.
- Semifinals: South Africa vs Argentina; France vs Australia.
- Final: The Boks beat an emotionally overwhelmed France. Everyone's gonna hate us, but we're not gonna care.
But you see: South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and France, in that order, are my favourite international rugby teams and my prediction is therefore just as much wishful thinking as every other guy's balderdash.
Of course my predictions are possible, but to lie that they are based on my superior insight into the sport would be ridiculous. The dumbest guy out there could quite possibly predict a similar outcome.
Everyone is arguing about how many teams have a chance of winning the tournament this year, but let's be honest: it's only France, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa that stand a chance and the final will most likely be decided between two of them. The other two will be eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Now it's great to go wild about the event, but the facts are that the Rugby World Cup is in its 10th incarnation and hasn't exactly attracted that many new lights. I mean to say: Chile, Portugal, Romania, Uruguay and Namibia are on the programme and of these, only Uruguay and Namibia stand any chance of winning a match. And that's only because they were drawn in the same group. The rest are simply cannon fodder.
Fiji already reached the quarterfinals in 1987. And who on earth doesn't want to see these big guys from the South Sea causing havoc?
Answer: the Australians, New Zealanders and French, because they harvest richly from that field. The Scots and Welsh, because they are mostly dismal and fear that yet another team will emerge to beat them every year.
That we have been keeping our fingers crossed for Fiji to repeat this feat for nine tournaments in a row now (admittedly twice with success), tells us everything about World Rugby boss Bill Beaumont, his predecessors and their colleagues. Piss and vinegar and musty old club ties, the whole lot.
How about a Polynesian team?
Samoa and Tonga have 226,000 and 108,000 inhabitants respectively. With that, they won't get past the quarter-finals easily, but another thing I'm keeping fingers crossed for is a Polynesian team modelled on cricket's Windies. However, the assistant coach will have to be a good mediator because they care less for each other than Pretorians and Capetonians.
Georgia knocking on the door in vain
Georgia have huge forwards, great goalkickers and these days even three-quarters who will attract your attention. Given a proper chance, they will regularly trounce Italy, and every now and then Scotland and Wales, and that is of course why they should not expect a proper chance any time soon.
The club is full for now. New members are not allowed unless they have money: Japan's Brave Blossoms have gone as far as they can, and after years and millions America still can't play rugby because sports that require rhythm don't leave room for television commercials. Their soccer is, therefore, even worse.
American rugby will continue to hurt our eyes for the foreseeable future, but World Rugby will continue to try to get blood from that stone, while Fiji and Georgia's real promise is ignored.
Expect fireworks from the get-go
While everyone is complaining about the lopsided draw, in which the five most highly regarded teams find themselves in the same half, I believe that this time the tournament might just produce fireworks from the outset.
Tonight it's a slightly depleted France against a slightly punch-drunk New Zealand; the winners will finish at the top of Group A and the losers will be second. Unless Italy, Namibia or Uru… Okay, never mind.
Tomorrow it's Argentina against England, with the latter so dismal these days they're funny and fun to watch. The Pumas can no longer scrum for some reason, but against England in their current format it may not matter that much.
A grilling for the Scots
And the day after tomorrow is the day after tomorrow, when I'll mostly be hoping Fiji can show Wales a thing or two. But the Boks are going to trounce Scotland; I'm 100% sure of that. The chops will be grilling in the background; the poor ref's mother will be cursed; I'm going to scream with laughter when Eben Etzebeth hands off Richie Gray.
This is one of the best Springbok sides I have seen in action and there are really only three teams on earth that can properly test them, but my money says the jackpot for us; Scotland are not one of them.
Victory as sweet as honey, or...
So, yes, I'm 99% sure we're going to trounce the Scots, but that 1% is sometimes a bugger.
The Scottish Anthem, Flower of Scotland.
The South African Anthem, with Zolani Mahola.
NICK MALLETT believes the Springboks would prefer to play against the All Blacks in the quarterfinals rather than France. He predicts that France will win against the All Blacks tonight (Friday).
Mallett writes in his book about the World Cup, Insights into the Rugby World Cup, that he believes the Springboks will just narrowly beat Scotland on Sunday. He singles out fly half Finn Russell and the backline players Duhan van der Merwe, Kyle Steyn (both former South Africans), Huw Jones and Sione Tuipuloto as stars.
Argentina might shock England tomorrow (Saturday), and Fiji might just be too physical for Wales.
On September 23, the Springboks will play Ireland. Mallett thinks the outcome could go either way, but even if the Springboks lose, they will still finish second in the group and advance to the quarterfinals.
Here is Mallett's complete prediction:
Group A: France first, New Zealand second.
Group B: South Africa, Ireland.
Group C: Australia, Wales.
Group D: Argentina, England.
Quarterfinals: France vs. Ireland, South Africa vs. New Zealand, Australia vs. England, Argentina vs. Wales.
Semifinals: France vs. Argentina, South Africa vs. Australia.
Final: France vs. South Africa.
Winner of the 2023 Rugby World Cup: South Africa.
♦ VWB ♦
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