The warm-ups are over, the real games begin
31 August 2011
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August should be a quiet month preparing for the season ahead but in World Cup year it’s about the competing countries trying to sort out the best combinations before culling the squad down to the 30 that will try to win the Webb Ellis Trophy.
Overall, England should be happy with their pre-tournament campaign, winning two and losing one. The new midfield of Wilkinson, Tindall and Tuilagi proved to be very effective against a lacklustre Irish side who in turn had a poor run of form and results during August.
The difference between the games played in March and August was stark. In the Six Nations decider the English had no answer to the Irish’s passion both on or off the field, but this month that passion was missing from the players and the crowd. Delon Armitage’s second half try was met with almost complete silence, the Irish supporters only galvanised into a chorus of whistles and boos when the small England crowd celebrated by singing Sweet Low!
The French have looked like they have recovered some of their joie de vivre and the Australians put in a great performance to beat an almost full-strength All Blacks to win the Tri-Nations so there are a number of sides beginning to hit their peak. My prediction, for what it’s worth, is that England will beat Argentina and a dour Scottish side in the pool stages and go on to beat the enterprising French in the quarter-final through superior forward play.
Recent wins over Australia has seen their aura of invincibility disappear and England’s defence will be the key factor in beating them in the semi-final. My prediction is for a New Zealand v England final with the All Blacks hot favourites to win for the first time since 1987, but there is always a chance that Jonny and others could produce a bit of magic to upset the odds.
I am writing this on a plane bound for New Zealand where I’ll be touring for a couple of weeks around different cities and seeing rugby at grass roots, golden oldies and international levels. I’ll be on Twitter and Facebook regularly while writing the occasional article for the blog. I hope you can take some time to have a read.