People are praying for Daniel Carter, but I think we could win the thing without him, especially after Nick Evans' swift, skilful perfomance over the weekend. You'd be deprived of Carter's defensive qualities, and his frequently useful contribution as a spare loose forward, but you'd still be sending a bloody good first-five onto the field.
It's not that I'd want to lose Carter, but I don't think any of the All Blacks' most vital players are backs. There are no players, not even Carter, who are irreplaceable. Up front, it's a different story. Heading into the knockout rounds without Carl Hayman would be a nightmare, and losing Woodcock wouldn't be much better. Ditto for the loose trio: you wouldn't want to lose any of them, but It would be hard to contemplate a really big match without McCaw playing.
I'm struggling to separate Hayman and McCaw at the top of the list of Players to Pray For, but I guess you'd have to go with the captain. Next tier on the list: Collins, Woodcock and So'oialo. We're flush at hooker, where any of the three could credibly run on for a test match, and with Robinson fit, we could lose a lock without it being a complete disaster.
Anyway, Ted's calm, so I guess I should be too.
By contrast, the Australians are likely to be severely caught short without Latham (and now Lyons), and it's terribly bad luck for the Fijians that Nicky Little is gone for the tournament, after his capable and mature display in that cracking match against Wales. I would expect them to bruise, but not best, South Africa.
Argentina, on the other hand, should beat Scotland and progress to the semi-finals. They were far too strong and structured for Ireland this morning, and Scotland didn't show anything much in qualifying over Italy in their Six nations borefest. Can we call the Six Nations a second-tier competition yet? Well, actually, I wouldn't be completely astonished to see England creep pat Australia in the quarters: mildly surprised, but not astonished.
And yes, I think the All Blacks will run right over France in Cardiff. It won't even be close. Apart from the relative merits of the two teams on the field, there will be the crowd. The winner of Pool C was always goingto proceed to Cardiff, and that team was always going to be the All Blacks, as I'm sure many fans worked out long ago. The French on the other hand, never even considered the possibility that they'd finish second in their pool. It's an away game for France, and they're not that flash at those.
Meanwhile, over at Sport Review NZ, Richard Irvine has some humour. Oh brave, brave England …
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PS: Congratulation to Auckland for the way they wrenched the Ranfurly Shield out of Canterbury's grasp and took it home. I do feel bound to observe that the carried-back call against Ward was possibly the worst TMO decision I have ever seen.