12 Oct 2015

World Cup bluffer's guide: So long, pool play

7:28 am on 12 October 2015

We watch the Rugby World Cup, so you don't have to - here's how to convince rugby-mad friends you've been getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the latest games.

Dan Carter takes a shot at goal in the Rugby World Cup match against Tonga.

Dan Carter takes a shot at goal in the Rugby World Cup match against Tonga. Photo: AFP

It really is a game of two halves, isn't it?

The All Blacks have played their last pool game in this tournament, beating Tonga by 47-9. That scoreline doesn't reflect the game particularly well though. At 14-6 at half-time, with the All Blacks lucky not to have conceded a penalty try, even the most hardcore fan had to be worried.

Spare a thought for Tonga, who, like Fiji and Samoa will now have to qualify for the 2019 World Cup, having not finished in the top three of their pools.

In moments, the All Blacks have shown they can play, and play well. But it's hard to tell against opposition like Georgia, what is going to happen against the bigger, tougher, better sides. We only have a week to wait and see.

In the games we've seen so far, they've made mistakes, from not catching the ball - especially under pressure on the high ball - to two captains conceding yellow cards. And it's not going to get easier from here.

They'll take on France (oh God please no), after Ireland won their Pool D decider on Monday morning.

One of those better sides is Australia, who knocked England out of the Cup, making them the first tournament hosts to fail to make the quarter-finals.

Say what you like about that (and oh, how the internet has), but Australia were impressive in than game, and many are now picking them to take the thing home.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen thought so too.

"I haven't taken too much notice of them, to be honest. How you're playing at the moment means nothing," he said.

"What's happening now is irrelevant. What happens next week will be. It's about maintaining performances from here on in and winning."

Then he added, with a slight smile: "Yeah, they played pretty good against England."

And if there's one thing New Zealand sports fans don't like, it's a confident Aussie.

Having said that, it was interesting to see how many New Zealanders wanted Australia to beat England, suggesting the old saying "I support the All Blacks, and anyone playing Australia" isn't true:

When fans saw that Tony Woodcock was injured - with a hamstring tear that ended his tournament, and his career - many might have thought 'and so it begins'.

Woodcock is the first serious injury of this tournament, though captain Richie McCaw did sit out the game against Tonga. Back in 2011 - when New Zealand was hosting no less - the injury toll was much worse.

First, it was Southbridge's own Dan Carter, tearing a tendon is his groin, and sending much of the nation into sleepless nights. Carter's kicking - both on goal and for field position - was seen as vital to the All Blacks' chances.

His replacement Colin Slade then suffered a groin injury too, and in the same game veteran Mils Muliaina fractured his shoulder.

Piri Weepu would take over the kicking and play out of position, becoming something of a new national hero, before missing several kicks in the final after also going down in the groin injury curse that afflicted the All Blacks back then. The third choice kicker Aaron Cruden was also injured in the final, and was replaced by Stephen Donald.

Joe Moody has flown to the UK to cover for Woodcock.

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