This may be a little premature, but I was looking at the World Cup pools the other day and a nasty question raised itself in my mind. Assuming we play well enough to get out of the group stages, is it worth considering exactly where we come (position wise) in the group? There is one team you want to avoid at all costs if you are not Aussie or France (and we are certainly not): the All Blacks. Warning: contains squiffy fan logic, hypothetical situations and a total dismissal of Argentina as a factor.
The winner and runner-up from our Pool B will face the runner-up and winner of Pool A, containing France, New Zealand, Tonga, Japan and Canada.
If we can somehow bypass New Zealand, there will be no-one left in the tournament we have not beaten or come close to in recent years. If we could beat France (and that would still have to be a very good day) the semi would be against the winner of Pool C (most likely Aussie) or Runner Up Pool D (most likely Wales, but could easily be Fiji or Samoa). All beatable, in theory. On the other route lies New Zealand followed by most likely South Africa or Ireland.
But forget “South Africa or Ireland”, if Scotland play New Zealand in New Zealand, we will lose. It’s almost a certainty. Nothing is ever truly certain when it comes to the All Blacks and World Cups, but they have a hoodoo over us, and in recent years it has never even come close to being overturned.
So the only target for us should be top of the pool, beating England, and a match against whoever is the runner up behind New Zealand in the other pool. That’ll do nicely thanks.
But then that got me thinking: what if the unthinkable happens, like say France beating the All Blacks in their group game on the 24th September? Wayne Barnes let it happen once, and it could again. Assuming all has gone to plan for Scotland in the previous group games, then we could face a quandary going into the final match with England on the 3rd October, similar to the one Frank Hadden faced in the last World Cup but possibly even more divisive. On that day he fielded a weakened Scotland safe in the knowledge that the game against Italy was more important and any strength of Scotland team would get humped by NZ. He was slated for it, but right. Anyway, back to this year.
Win the England game and we put one over on the Auld Enemy and top the group. But after partying for a day or two, we face New Zealand, who would now be the runners up, get humped and go no further. In that situation, lose Calcutta Cup 2.0 and we might get a game against France which we would fancy a lot more.
The old Frank Hadden Crapteamgate issues would pop up as they did in Rugby World Cup ’07. Would it be disrespectful to the wider game to fail manfully in the Quarter Finals, or fail wilfully in the group stages with the aim of ultimately progressing further in the tournament – and as a by product probably increasing awareness of the game back home? Probably.
Might it work? If it did, England would almost certainly end up beating the All Blacks in the next round. That’s the way karma works.
More to the point, would it even cross Robbo’s mind?