1. Mike Tindall is in some serious trouble when he gets home to England
It’s going to take a lot of flowers, chocolates and if possible, a World Cup winners’ medal for Mike Tindall to be welcomed home with a warm embrace from his wife of all of two months. And if a World Cup winners’ medal was enough to sate Zara’s rage you’d seriously have to wonder upon what foundations this marriage has been built. As it happens, Zara has flown out to New Zealand ostensibly for showdown talks with her husband. “Take an MI6 agent and a drunken French driver with you,” she probably wasn’t encouraged to do by someone in Buckingham Palace. It’s a distraction the team don’t need and if Tindall is spending his time trying to avoid divorce and a suspicious demise in a French tunnel, England will lose one of their most experienced performers and reliable defenders. Plus they’ll have to play Shontayne Hape and no-one wants that.
2. He may not be the only one
If England continue to stutter, Tindall may not be the only one facing some awkward questions upon returning to Blighty. Partially because of the off-field antics of his players and mostly due to on-field antics, Martin Johnson is on shaky ground. His decision to take a leaf out of the Brian Clough book by letting his players to relax in stressful situations with a few beers was somewhat undermined by (a) the fact he’s not Brian Clough and (b) it’s not the 1970s anymore.
In fairness to Johnson, after a uncertain start he has made progress, but already the fearsome team that Nike seem to think won the Grand Slam looks to be a distant memory. The evolution of the last year or so is danger of evaporating and if Argentina had one player capable of kicking the ball between the posts, then the Sweet Chariot would already be hanging on to their place in the tournament by their fingernails. They weren’t really ever in danger of losing to Georgia, but the performance was well below the standard required. A quarter-final probably won’t be enough to save Jonno’s job and he’ll have to revert to looking on menacingly from the stands as a civilian rather than the manager. He’s going to need to coax major improvement out of his team to make it past the last 8. His reputation as a legendary player will terrify his players into a certain amount of development, but at some point he’ll need to show some coaching innovation and that may be beyond him.
SHAMELESS PLUG OF OUR POOL STAGE MONEY-BACK SPECIAL
3. Rugby sports equipment manufacturers have finally copped on to the ‘new ball’ marketing shtick
Marketing genius #1: “You know the way Adidas say they’ve done something vague to their footballs ahead of football World Cups and get loads of free publicity when everyone starts talking about it?”
Marketing genius #2 [probably eating caviar and knocking back free Bollinger]: “Yeah. No. What? Are you actually doing some work?”
Marketing genius #1: Well we could do exactly that same thing. We could say we’ve done something vague to the ball and get loads of free publicity.”
Marketing genius #2: “But we haven’t actually done anything to the ball.”
Marketing genius #1: “Exactly.”
Somewhere in the corridors of Gilbert we imagine how the conversation unfolded in the not too distant past. What exactly can you do with a rugby ball – increase it’s eggy-ness? And it works, because right now most people want to get their hands on this wonderful piece of oval-shaped technology to prove it’s still just a bag of air that will go in the general direction of where it’s kicked. Place-kickers have complained about it being more difficult to kick over the crossbar than other balls, but it simply proves the old adage ‘give a man a fish and he’ll feed himself for a day, give a professional sportsman an excuse and he’ll flog it relentlessly for the rest of his career.’ Could the ball really explain the low ratio of successful kicks? Well no, frankly but what coach is going to tell his place-kicker ‘shut up, it’s not the ball, you’re just a bit crap’ so we should probably get used to it for the next few weeks.
4. New Zealand are … meh
The All Blacks have racked up the maximum tally and scored 107 points more than they conceded from their two games to date, but given their superiority, it’s generally greeted with an indifferent shrug and comments ‘like, whupty do – you’re only doing what’s expected of you.’
It was always going to be like this for the All Blacks on home soil and making too many conclusions based on their pool performances is dangerous. Certainly they look to have real strength in depth and the ferocity normally associated with All Blacks, but equally their victories to date were rugby’s equivalent of beating up a Hare Krishna. The showdown with France will require a performance closer to their true selves, but as the likely list of opponents Les Bleus will face in the quarter-final looks unthreatening regardless of their winning the pool or cosying up neatly in second place, the attritional battle they need ahead of the knockout phase may yet elude them leaving them a little undercooked by the time they play a team that’s (a) half decent and (b) motivated. They’re still the overwhelming favourites, but as yet we haven’t learned a whole lot about them that we didn’t already know. Remarkably, they’re still on course to both choke in their familiar fashion and win the whole thing with ease.
5. The Springboks are dark horses
Yes that headline is zoologically incorrect (the springbok is in fact a light-coloured type of gazelle) but in rugby terms it’s spot on. Things didn’t start particularly brightly when they made Wales look like the Harlem globetrotters on amphetamines, but they ground out the win before giving Fiji and Namibia a couple of far more comprehensive thumpings. Ireland’s combination of heroic play and terrible place-kicking against Australia means South Africa are likely to get a less handy quarter-final than they had been expecting, but judging by how the Wallabies performed against the Irish, it’s not likely to inspire too much fear in the Boks. The team hasn’t changed a whole lot since 2007 so the players know what’s required to go all the way and won’t be to concerned about the quality of performances as long as they get the right result. Oh the Springboks may not impress you, but there’s a decent chance they’ll not impress you all the way to the final.