Through no fault of the organisers, the least interesting of the quarter-finals has suddenly become far more interesting. It’s still hands down the least interesting of the quarter-finals but with Dan Carter hobbling his way out of the tournament, the game assumes huge importance as the All Blacks need to convince themselves Colin Slade is even half as good as Carter. He’s not, but if he can do even a passable impression of the main man, the All Blacks juggernaut can continue rolling to their first World Cup since 1987.
New Zealand aren’t exactly a one-man band and can cover for the absence of Carter. To further the band analogy however, they are a sort of U2 with a couple of key men basically dictating the standard of performance. The others in the background provide the solid base, but without the Bono and the Edge pulling the strings out front, it all basically sounds like Where The Streets Have No Name. Carter and McCaw make the difference and with the fly-half watching on from the sidelines, the All Blacks aren’t the same.
The loss of Carter isn’t likely to be felt until the semi-final and by then it may not be the biggest concern. Aside from about 10 minutes at the start of the game with France, the All Blacks haven’t had much of a test so far and this game is essentially an extension of the leisurely pool stages. Argentina will hit hard and make life unpleasant for them, but New Zealand have more than enough fire-power to ease away from them over the course of the game. Ideally, Graham Henry would have preferred a more substantial test and if they book their place in the last four with the minimum of fuss, they’ll have an element of ‘sitting duck’ about them. Whoever comes through the game between the Wallabies and the Boks will be far more battle-hardened and far less intimidated by the prospect of taking on the All Blacks than their European cousins.
It would simply be the biggest upset in the history of World Cup rugby if Argentina were to beat New Zealand on home soil and quite simply they won’t. The crumb of comfort the Pumas will cling to on the way home is the fact they’ve now reached at least a quarter-final in three of the last four World Cups and what makes this achievement all the more commendable is the fact they’ve achieved it with more injuries and a less talented squad at their disposal than in other years. Had they been able to kick straight against England they could have topped the group and landed a more winnable quarter-final, but they didn’t and they’ll be heading home. At least they’re not Scotland.