France v New Zealand, 11 November 2006, Lyon
Ireland v South Africa, 11 November 2006, DublinI should be embarrassed to admit this but I am getting up for the second of these matches!
Italy v Australia
Who really cares how many points we score against Italy, except the Italians I guess. The interest for me will come from reading the team sheet and seeing the substitutions made. I think that will reveal a lot about how Connolly sees this team if he is quite as confident as he claims to be, he will select three or four new faces and use a lot of subs from, at the latest, the sixty minute mark. Past experience, however, suggests that he is reluctant to do this for me this means either that:
he only really trusts his ‘core’ players
although this is contradicted by his willingness to rotate from game to game and drop even George Smith
he feels that since players are susceptible to be rotated game-to-game they deserve a full run
but since some players don’t get dropped, this brings us back to wondering if he only really trusts his core players!
he simply does not like rotating players
The last possibility would be the worst case, because it seems pretty clear that New Zealand are showing us all the best practice in this regard. Of course, one can retort that they have the means! I am neither convinced nor impressed by that, mainly because there is an equally obvious that ones works with what one has. If we want to win the world cup, it will be with the players we have now, and so there has to be a squad of players whom you are comfortable putting on the pitch.
It is from that perspective that I am pretty happy to see Mitchell Chapman called up. I think the priority must be making sure that McMeniman gets gametime, but if someone like Chapman can at least get in the midweek matches (which he will) then that is fantastic from a squad development angle, especially now when hopefully he will be able to a lot away from his time on the tour and build that into his Super 14 campaign, as opposed to an end-of-season call-up when I suspect that the continuity and follow-up from the Wallaby squad to the Super 14 development strategies is much weaker. Also, I still think our backrow could be revised, mainly because I am not convinced we actually need Palu’s weight and not convinced that we can do without Smith’s skills or, eg, McMeniman’s (or equally Chapman’s) height, and maybe Chapman could play into that.
I am also (very) happy to see Stephen Moore selected on the bench (if he is) and to hear that Blake might be substituted, since whilst I think it is great that Blake can contribute so much around the field, and wonderful, and I am very happy for him, and everyone else, especially the loosehead prop for the other team, I think I wrote in comments on this site a longish time ago that I would happily select two piles of bricks to be wheeled from scrum to scrum if they would stand still in the scrums. Little has changed! I do not think we should even be considering the additional contributions of a prop given our scrummaging for the moment!
Perhaps the most embarrassing part is that they will probably out-scrum us, but that should be it. Our scrum should really use this as valuable training since they can be confident that even if they fall apart the backs will carry this one. For the record I expect we won’t concede a try and we will put half-a-dozen past them. 50 points would not surprise me.
France v New Zealand
From every perspective this is the match of the week by a mile. I don’t normally rate France that highly over here but at home, 10 months from a home world cup, early in their domestic season, against the best team, etc, they are a real threat. They might get torn apart but much more likely is that they will make the All Blacks bleed, probably literally, at the breakdowns and scrums, which will make life much harder for their backs in both defence and attack. But of course consistency is the highlight of this New Zealand team and whatever I might hope and even think, the odds are in their favour. So although I would not bet a cent on it, I do think France should get up by a point or two, and every viewer should get his money, time and foregone sleep’s worth.
Ireland v South Africa
Only really interesting to see how the Boks perform logic, venue and form dictate an Irish win by some 15 points, but if the Bok pack can hit those classic notes things might be different.