It’s not the RaboDirect PRO12 on a week where BBC Alba has deserted you, or even the LV Cup (although that is on this weekend). Nope, no matter how hard you look, there is no Scottish involvement in the Rugby World Cup Semi-finals this weekend. Not even a touch judge to root for. So who are you going for? Here’s a little help.
Unless France perform miracles, it’s a fair bet the Webb-Ellis trophy will go somewhere with a lot of sheep. That said, it seems to me, clever person that I am, that there are 4 clear choices for you, the neutral, to throw your weight behind:
This lot could be quite Scottish, if recent experience of the country is anything to go by. Sadly though, Stephen Donald aside, Richie McCaw is the most Scottish name on display and with the amount of Williamses and an Ellis on the bench could have you thinking you were watching Wales.
Can the All Blacks finally lay their hoodoo to rest and claim the World Cup that has eluded them for, um, a while? I don’t know why they get so worked up about it, it’s only been going since 1987. The Lions haven’t won a test series in New Zealand since the 1970s. Scotland haven’t beaten New Zealand, ever. International Rugby’s been on the go since the 1870s, so what is there to get worked up about, really? Still, you can’t tell that to the Kiwis, who get nervier with each star player they lose. Now that the Aussies stand in the way of them and their shot at glory it gets even tougher to predict. They definitely have the form, but lost a bit of class with DC’s injury.
Pick them if: you think they “deserve it” after having failed to win it 5 times before, or for hosting it or something (total nonsense by the way) / you want the team that has played the best throughout the tournament to win / you like Piri Weepu’s beard.
If there’s one thing Quade Cooper likes more than a ridiculous side-step followed by a no-look pass behind his head it seems to be winding up New Zealanders (nation of his birth lest we forget). I suspect we’ll see the nasty throat-slitty Haka on Sunday like we did against France, most of it aimed at Cooper. Still, he hasn’t really backed it up so far on the field in the tournament, and Australia have got as far as they have by way of dogged defending rather than the mesmerising attack we were all expecting from their youthful back division – now ragged with injuries following a series of tough matches.You suspect though they would fancy a final victory if they could just polish off those pesky All Blacks. Look for one last big push.
Pick them if: you like dodgy haircuts paired with quality moustaches / you like showboating and not scrummaging / you don’t want the All Blacks to win.
Maxime Medard has more attacking spirit in his left sideburn than the England back division but so far the French backs have been shuffled by their coach or shackled by poor performances and failed to inspire much other than in the quarters. I’m not even sure the French believe that they are within midget-throwing distance of a World Cup final having lost to Tonga, but now that they are here and they have put their England hoodoo to bed I suspect they might come out to play. Wales like to throw the ball about too, and this could be an even better match than the Ireland one on paper if the French turn up like they mostly did against England.
Pick them if: you like free-spririted attacking rugby at it’s best – if they decide to do any of that / you like scrummaging, if they don’t / you want to see Mark Lievremont go out as befits his coaching tenure (bewildering) / you think they might show up against the All Blacks this time in the final and provide the greatest challenge.
After having lost a match to South Africa that they probably shouldn’t have but will now be glad they did, Wales are left carrying the torch for the Celts/The UK in the knockout stages. Second to the All Blacks, the Welsh are the team playing balanced rugby with a mixture of grunt up front, set-piece and attacking flair; all the elements in harmony. James Hook is their Quade Cooper and has been thrown in at fly-half to weave some magic, having been largely sidelined thus far following Priestland’s run of form. Luckily outside him Jamie Roberts has refound his Lions ’09 form and could offer a steadying hand. Might be worth cheering him on if only to see a Roberts/Nonu match-up in the final – two of the players of the tournament by some margin. Another mouthwatering matchup would be Warburton vs McCaw, but Wales’ young captain has got to get past Dusautoir first, also no slouch in the “Worlds’ Best Flanker” stakes.
Pick them if: you like underdogs / you want to show some celtic solidarity and want someone you can really get behind in the final / you don’t mind putting up with BBC 2 Wales commentators and Welsh internet pundits going on about it for the next, oh, eternity / you want Scotland to beat the World Champions in the Six Nations so we can have “unofficial World Champions” banners like the football Tartan Army do.
The Australia vs New Zealand match – which I reckon New Zealand will edge – may turn out to be the real final as all four sides may well exhaust themselves trying to go through, but try telling that to the Northern hemisphere teams.