Rugby World Cup Previews
World Cup preview - Pool C: Australia, Ireland, Italy, Russia and USA
As the World Cup beckons in New Zealand we look at the contenders; their squads, chances, odds ... and which pop star they might resemble.
How far will they go?
You can’t possibly call the second favourites and current Tri-Nations champions dark horses, but the emergence of Australia of late has led many people to revise their opinions that the All-Blacks will walk to their second World Cup title on home turf.
Not long ago, a meeting with Ireland in the group stages was, as Stan might say, a potential banana skin, but not anymore. Unfortunately for us, the Wallabies look as if they could breeze through that one, as they are likely to do in the quarter-finals when Wales will probably be their opponents.
Unless England or France can upset the odds in the last four, then a mouth-watering final against the All-Blacks awaits. The triumph of Queensland Reds in the Super XV and of the national side in the Tri-Nations has given the Aussies an air of confidence, and confidence is an emotion that has always sat well (a little too well for some people) with the Australian people and not just their sports stars.
They could go all the way.
Backs: Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor, Drew Mitchell, Digby Ioane, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Pat McCabe, Anthony Faingaa, Berrick Barnes, Quade Cooper, Nick Phipps, Luke Burgess, Will Genia.
Forwards: Ben McCalman, Radike Samo, Wycliff Palu, David Pocock, Rocky Elsom, Scott Higginbotham, James Horwill (capt), Rob Simmons, Nathan Sharpe, Dan Vickerman, Ben Alexander, Sekope Kepu, James Slipper, Salesi Ma'afu, Stephen Moore, Saia Faingaa, Tatafu Polota-Nau.
Key man: Quade Cooper. On a good day, the out-half is phenomenal, on a bad day he’s nearly a liability. Cooper has lightning feet, good hands and an oddly effective kicking technique and if the Wallabies are going to go all the way, they’ll need him at his best.
If they were a popstar, they would be... Katy Perry. Really on top of their game right now and not far away from becoming the best in the world.
How far will they go?
Well, at least we’re not going into a World Cup harbouring realistic thoughts of winning the thing like Eddie O’Sullivan’s charges were four years ago. In fairness, how could we be after the disastrous warm up we’ve just gone through?
The insipid and mediocre performances of Declan Kidney’s side in the last month means that instead of viewing a defeat of Australia and topping the pool as a realistic goal as they may have been a while back, Irish supporters are now positively sh*tting themselves about the prospect of being beaten by Italy and being dumped out of the competition altogether.
But before we lose the run of ourselves and predict another disaster for our boys, let’s get a grip. The August internationals were, after all, only warm-ups and Declan Kidney even hinted at the fact that there was something being kept in reserve for the tournament itself.
Despite their bad form, Ireland should take Italy and although Australia is likely to be a step too far, an encouraging performance in that game is likely to give us heart heading into the quarter-finals.
Should we make it that far, South Africa await and if you could play any of the southern hemisphere sides at the moment, it would be the Springboks. That, however, is tantamount to saying you’d prefer death by lethal injection rather than the electric chair; it’s not going to end well, but it will be a little less painful than the alternative.
Ireland to bow out at the quarter-final stage.
Backs: Isaac Boss, Tommy Bowe, Gordon D'Arcy, Keith Earls, Robert Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Geordan Murphy, Conor Murray, Brian O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Andrew Trimble, Paddy Wallace.
Forwards: Rory Best, Tony Buckley, Tom Court, Sean Cronin, Leo Cullen, Stephen Ferris, Jerry Flannery, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings, Denis Leamy, Sean O'Brien, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell, Michael Ross, Donnacha Ryan.
Key man: Sean O’Brien. Let’s hope that his injury is only a minor one and that he’ll be flying fit to face Australia on 17 September. The injury to David Wallace will probably necessitate a move away from his preferred blindside position, but we need the Tullow tank at his rampaging best if we are to make any sort of impression in the tournament.
If they were a popstar, they would be... Pete Doherty. Everyone’s willing them to get better, but nobody’s holding their breath.
How far will they go?
While everyone in Ireland is fretting about our poor form of late, Nick Mallett and the Italian rugby squad are rubbing their hands in anticipation of causing a major upset.
In Rome back in February, Italy could and should have inflicted a first Six Nations defeat on Ireland, but they went one better a month later when they beat France in a sensational game at the Stadio Flaminio.
That leaves only England and Ireland out of the Six Nations sides that Italy have yet to beat and it would be no surprise if that day happens sooner rather than later.
Sean O'Brien brushes Sergio Parisse aside in Rome back in February. More of the same will be welcome when Ireland face Italy in Dunedin on 2 October
The Azzurri still lack the little bit of cuteness, experience and know-how required to compete on a consistent basis, however, and still suffer from the occasional heavy beating, as occurred when England racked up nearly 60 points against them in the Six Nations.
Ireland should be worried about their capacity to cause an upset, but third place in the group is the most likely outcome for the Italians.
Backs: Pablo Canavosio, Edoardo Gori, Fabio Semenzato, Ricardo Bocchino, Luciano Orquera, Tommaso Benvenuti, Mirco Bergamasco, Gonzalo Canale, Gonzalo Garcia, Andrea Masi, Luke McLean, Matteo Pratichetti, Alberto Sgarbi, Giulio Toniolatti.
Forwards: Martin Castrogiovanni, Lorenzo Cittadini, Andrea Lo Cicero, Salvatore Perugini, Tommaso D’Apice, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Fabio Ongaro, Marco Bortolami, Carlo Antonio del Fava, Quintin Geldenhuys, Cornelius van Zyl, Robert Barbieri, Mauro Bergamasco, Paul Derbyshire, Sergio Parisse (Captain), Alessandro Zanni.
Key man: Sergio Parisse. Probably the best number eight in the Six Nations, and certainly one of the best in world rugby. Parisse has it all; power, pace, great hands, a good footballing brain, and his height means that he’s a viable option in the lineout. Incidentally, he also has a very hot wife.
If they were a popstar, they would be... The Stereophonics. Proud, passionate and patriotic, but lacking the quality of their more high-profile counterparts.
How far will they go?
Like the USA, the Bears’ World Cup will depend on their match with the USA in New Plymouth on 15 September. Considering they have lost their last two encounters against the Eagles, the portents are not good, but the last clash between the pair, a 32-25 Churchill Cup victory for the Eagles was a fiercely fought encounter, and the stakes will be raised in a couple of weeks time.
Still, they’ll be going in as underdogs and look destined to finish bottom of the pool.
Squad: Denis Antonov, Andrei Bykanov, Mikhail Sidorov, Sergei Popov, Vasily Artemiev, Vladimir Botvinnikov, Vladimir Ostroushko, Denis Simplikevich, Igor Galinovsky, Aleksei Makovetsky, Andrei Garbuzov, Ivan Prishchepenko, Mikhail Babayev, Alexander Shakirov, Artem Fatakhov, Alexander Voitov, Alexander Yanyushkin, Alexander Khrokin, Alexei Travkin, Igor Klyuchnikov, Vladislav Korshunov, Andrei Kuzin, Yury Kushnarev, Viktor Gresev, Yevgeny Matveyev, Vyacheslav Grachev, Konstantin Rachkov, Andei Ostrikov, Valery Tsnobiladze, Adam Berns
Key man: Vasily Artemiev. Plenty of the Irish players will be familiar with Artemiev, who went to school in Blackrock College, played for Leinster under-age and also for UCD and the Irish Universities side. A pacey winger, he will become the first Russian to ever play in the Aviva Premiership next season after signing on with Heineken Cup finalists Northampton.
If they were a popstar, they would be... Crystal Swing. They occupy the same amount of significance in Russia as the Cork trio do in Ireland and outside of that, nobody knows or cares about them.
How far will they go?
As much as people want to read into the emotional significance of the opening game against Ireland – Eddie O’Sullivan is the coach of the Eagles and the game will be played on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 – O’Sullivan has already admitted that their World Cup is geared around their meeting with Russia a few days later.
USA have beaten Russia in the last two Churchill Cup meetings between the sides and lead their Cold War rivals by a significant margin in the world rankings, so fourth place in the group should be well within their grasp.
Forwards: Inaki Basauri, Chris Biller, Todd Clever, Pat Danahy, Eric Fry, JJ Gagiano, Nic Johnson, Scott LaValla, Mike MacDonald, Brian McClenahan, Mate Moeakiola, Shawn Pittman, Hayden Smith, Louis Stanfill, Phil Thiel, John van der Giessen.
Backs: Paul Emerick, Tai Enosa, Colin Hawley, Nese Malife, Takudzwa Ngwenya, James Paterson, Mike Petri, Blaine Scully, Junior Sifa, Andrew Suniula, Roland Suniula, Kevin Swiryn, Tim Usasz, Chris Wyles.
Key man: Takudzwa Ngwenya. Biarritz winger Ngwenya is one of the fastest men in world rugby, and if you have any doubt, check out his try of the tournament against South Africa in 2007, when he burned no less of a man than Bryan Habana to touch down under the posts.
If they were a popstar, they would be... Johnny Logan. Better known outside of their country than in their homeland.