For the rugby fanatic who would stop to watch an Under 11 Bs match in the local park, or the 12,000 who turned up just to see the Wallabies train in Montpellier, these are the very best of times with 40 Rugby World Cup pool games crammed into the next three weeks. Who needs sleep?
For everyone else though, only five of those 40 games matter – and that’s being a little generous by including Australia v Wales.
It is a little unfair that three of those five matches are in one pool, Group D, where three quarter-finals prospects – France, Ireland and Argentina – fight for two spots. Meanwhile nothing happens in Group C where the All Blacks have a few semi-opposed training runs.
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To stay informed around the Rugby water-cooler, you should get up at 5am tomorrow AEST as the very first game is one that counts, France v Argentina. France should win comfortably but it will be a contest and could provide a bit of a form guide for how those two teams will go against Ireland.
Then you can stay in bed for a week until South Africa plays England at 5am next Saturday. It’s a rematch of the 2003 pool game in Perth when the Poms were a little fortunate to win. This time the result should be reversed, meaning the Wallabies play the loser (England) in our quarter final.
That of course depends on Australia defeating Wales the same night at 11pm. Yes, a Welsh B side gave an unfocussed Wallaby outfit a fright during their tour here earlier this year, but if we’re not confident of cleaning up in Cardiff, we should have saved the airfare.
Then it’s back to sleep for another week, until 5am Saturday, September 22 for France v Ireland. In all 40 pool games, this is the best chance of an upset. The host nation is favourite, but if Ireland can put its first-string on the pitch fully fit and the French think their croissants are a little stale that morning or the coffee isn’t up to scratch, well, set the alarm to find out.
A week after that, 1am October 1 our time, it’s Ireland v Argentina. The Irish have been cursed to be in “the Pool of death” with Argentina for three RWCs in a row. The Pumas won 28-24 in 1999, Ireland grubbed out a hard win here in 2003.
The consensus forecast is for the winner of Group D (probably France) to have an easy quarter final before meeting South Africa in one semi, while Australia has to beat England in its quarter for the right to play the All Blacks in the other semi.
What makes the Group D matches important is that an Irish upset over France would mean NZ would have to play the hosts in the quarter final, a real game for the Kiwis after nothing in the pools and France at home in a must-win match can summon up the doggedness of Verdun.
Nonetheless, the All Blacks deservedly remain favourites to go all the way. New Zealand could send two teams to France capable of making the final. Yet it is a curious thing that, if they are going to lose to anyone, it would most likely be Australia. Just like Ireland, that’s only if our best 15 remain uninjured and the wind blows a certain way and the planets align in a particularly defensive pattern.
Enough of this commentary for the disinterested. There are 40 test matches being played in three weeks. I want to see Samoa whack England, Fiji dazzle Canada, Scotland v Italy, Romania v Portugal could be interesting. Hell, is anyone playing across the park this arvo?