The discussions in most corporate board rooms were on the RWC prior to and after the usual agenda. Directors who normally sport a stiff upper lip appeared relaxed, yet very enthusiastic about their side’s chances at the World Cup. Old yarns of games gone by were recalled with poignant nostalgia. The merits of having to make the long trip to New Zealand to watch the games from the Quarter finals onwards was discussed and debated with the majority finally agreeing that watching the games in the comfort of your own home with a glass of frosted brew was a sensible option. Hopefully the cable service provider will not let us down and show some Davis cup games as done a few weeks ago. One of the directors was planning to cancel his golf game on Saturday and Sunday, after all the RWC comes around once in four years and some of us may even hit the turf before the next event.
Loads of people would have loved to see a Wallabies / All Blacks Final, but that will not come to pass thanks to some of the earlier games that the big guns goofed up. The only certainty this week appears to be that the All Blacks will win through. France on their day can be devastating – if any one has any doubts – ask the All Blacks. Thus it will be a wary England team that takes the field on Saturday. Whilst Australia will draw comfort from the fact that they have beaten the Boks in the last few outings, past form cannot guarantee the same result in this game. It’s a pity that Ireland and Wales are meeting as early as the Quarter Finals as the quality of rugby that they have played to date should have warranted a semi final berth for both of them.
In terms of team news Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood will both start for England. The under-fire Wilkinson retains the # 10 shirt while rival fly-half Flood earns a surprising promotion into the starting line-up as a replacement for inside centre Mike Tindall who is still battling back from injury.
Wales coach Warren Gatland has made four changes to his side with Winger Shane Williams, centre Jonathan Davies, flanker Dan Lydiate and lock Alun Wyn Jones are all recalled to the starting line-up. My favourite Toby Faletau is also retained in the back row alongside Captain Sam Warburton. Unfortunately James Hook will be on the bench.
Hooker John Smit has returned to the South Africa line-up. Smit gets the nod ahead of Bismarck du Plessis in one of three changes to the side that got past Samoa. Gurthro Steenkamp packs down at loose-head in the place of Tendai Mtawarira while Jean de Villiers fills the berth at inside centre left by Frans Steyn who suffered a shoulder injury in the game against Samoa. Unfortunately lock Bakkies Botha, who was sidelined for the early games in the tournament due to Achilles and hamstring injuries, misses out once again after suffering a fresh Achilles injury that has ended his tournament. Danie Rossouw and Victor Matfield will forge the second-row partnership this weekend.
After a few weeks the Wallabies should be at full strength with Radike Samo shifting to # 8, Beale at full back and James O’Conor and Digby Ioane back on the wing.
Incidentally the former Springbok Braam van Straaten has joined the Australian camp in New Zealand to provide hands-on tutelage, courtesy of technology, most of his work with the Wallaby kickers has been done without him leaving the comfort of his home in South Africa. We are ready for the games and there will a few swollen eyes by Sunday evening. I hope that mine won’t be on the list.