Second Phase

Road to the play-offs

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 00:00
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While England are squirming (or laughing up their collective sleeves) after escaping serious sanction in their ball-tampering saga, 10 other teams have focussed their undivided attention on the final round of World Cup pool matches.

For the record, England escaped with no more than a mild slap on the wrist after admitting to 'ball tampering' in their during World Cup Pool B win over Romania last week.

The team's management on Thursday suspended two assistant coaches for this weekend's decisive pool match against Scotland, after they illegally swapped balls used for conversions by ace kicker Jonny Wilkinson. (To see the clip of this transgression, scroll down, or read the article here!)

However, in this daily wrap we are going to focus on what teams need to do to reach the play-offs, those who have been ruled out and the one team that is already through to the quarterfinals.

With just eight matches in the round robin stages left, the only team assured of a spot in the quarterfinals is New Zealand.

There is an interesting aside to the teams' struggles to advance - with a major shake-up in the world rankings in the offing.

Samoa, one of several teams in a last chance saloon when they face defending champions South Africa on Friday, could cause the biggest upset in the tournament's history - with the very real prospect of the Springboks not making the play-offs at all.

Eight places separate the Pool D rivals in the IRB world rankings, with a win for second ranked South Africa having no impact on either side's rating.

However, if Samoa can hand South Africa their first RWC defeat since the 2003 quarterfinals, then the Springboks could slump to as low as eighth, by far their lowest standing since the IRB World Rankings were introduced in October 2003.

Samoa, never previously higher than ninth, could climb to sixth depending on the margin of victory and other results. Even in defeat, a bonus point could be enough to see them reach the last eight if their Pacific Islands rivals Fiji can beat Wales and deny the Dragons a bonus point.

Here is a glance at the teams' road to the play-offs:

Pool A:

New Zealand - ranked first; likely to remain first; can finish second (but then France need to make up 94 points).
Remaining fixture: v Canada, Wellington, Sunday.

France - ranked second; likely to remain second; can finish third (if Canada beat NZ and the French lose to Tonga)
Remaining fixture: v Tonga, Wellington, Saturday

Canada - ranked third; likely to remain third; can finish second (if Canada beat NZ and the French lose to Tonga) or fourth (if Tonga beat France and Canada lose to NZ)
Remining fixture: v New Zealand, Wellington, Sunday

Tonga (to finish third or fourth) and Japan (to finish fifth) have been ruled out of the play-offs)

Pool B:

England - ranked first; can finish anywhere from first to third in a very unpredictable round of matches. Must beat Scotland to be sure.
Remaining fixture: v Scotland, Auckland, Saturday

Argentina - ranked second; can finish anywhere from first to third in a very unpredictable round of matches. Must score a bonus-point win over Georgia to be sure, or hope Scotland lose.
Remaining fixture: v Georgia, Palmerston North, Sunday

Scotland - ranked third; can finish anywhere from first to third in a very unpredictable round of matches. Must score a bonus-point win over England and prevent England from getting any points, or hope Argentina lose.
Remaining fixture: v England, Auckland, Saturday.

Georgia (to finish fourth) and Romania (to finish fifth) have been ruled out of the play-offs.

Pool C:

Ireland - ranked first; could finish anywhere from first to third in a very tight pool; must beat Italy to be sure, or hope Australia lose to Russia.
Remaining fixture: v Italy, Dunedin, Sunday.

Australia - ranked second; could finish anywhere from first to third in a very tight pool; must beat Russia or hope Ireland beat Italy.
Remaining fixture: v Russia, Nelson, Saturday

Italy - ranked third; could finish anywhere from first to third in a very tight pool; must beat Ireland or hope Australia lose and collect no points while Italy get at least one point.
Remaining fixture: v Ireland, Dunedin, Sunday

United States (who could finish fourth or fifth) and Russia  (who could finish fourth or fifth) have been ruled out of the play-offs.

Pool D:

South Africa - ranked first; likely to finish first, but could still finish second or third; must beat Samoa, get a bonus point or hope Wales lose to Fiji.
Remaining fixture: v Samoa, Albany, Friday

Wales - ranked second; likely to remain second, but could still finish first or third; must beat Fiji with a bonus point or hope Samoa lose to South Africa without getting a bonus point.
Remaining fixture: v Fiji, Hamilton, Sunday

Samoa - ranked third; likely to remain third, but can finish anywhere from first to fourth; must beat SA and collect a bonus point, or get at least one point and hope Wales lose to Fiji and don't get any points.
Remaining fixture: v South Africa, Albany, Friday

Fiji (who will finish third or fourth) and Namibia (who will finish fifth) have been ruled out of the play-offs.

The funny side of the game:

Ian Robertson, Martin Bayfield and Eric Rush are esteemed names in international rugby. However, they will enter a scrum of an entirely different nature.

As Auckland gears up for the final game of World Cup 2011, some of the world's funniest rugby raconteurs will be in town for a night of tall tales, true tales, high hilarity and superb entertainment for those whose hearts beat to the rugby rhythm.

Hosted by Kiwi funny man Oscar Kightley, the line-up includes the most popular rugby comics from around the world:
* Scotsman Ian Robertson - former international and current commentator for BBC Radio.
* Englishman Martin Bayfield - a giant on the field, in front of the camera (he appeared in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and a giant on stage as the reining king of British rugby comedy.
* New Zealand's Eric Rush - All Black and Sevens legend and one of the funniest rugby jokesters.

In memoriam:

While some players are becoming legends, or at least working their way towards becoming household names, at NZ 2011, we pause for a moment to remember some names from the past that are no longer with us!

Spare a thought for the legendary Springbok team of 1995: Coach Kitch Christie died within three years of the 1995 Final victory, finally succumbing to cancer after battling the disease for almost 20 years. Star flank Ruben Kruger died last year after a protracted battle with cancer; another player, lock Krynauw Otto, was forced into premature retirement in 2000 after suffering bleeding on the brain; and scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen was given between two and five years to live by doctors recently after it was announced he was battling motor neurone disease.

We also remember Max Brito, who was a dashing young dreadlocked wing who arrived at the 1995 World Cup with his Côte d'Ivoire teammates with stars in their eyes. But after just three minutes of the side's final pool match against Tonga, Brito was crushed beneath an avalanche of bodies after being tackled (legally) by flank Inoke Afeaki. While the rest of the other players got up off the ground, the then 24-year-old lay motionless on the Rustenburg turf. Having shattered two of his vertebrae, the Senegal-born former electrician was left a quadriplegic.

Scorers by numbers:

- 14: Juan de Jongh (South Africa) needs on average only 14 minutes to produce a try, making him the most effective try scorer at RWC 2011. He has not been selected to face Samoa on Friday.
- 48: South Africa lead RWC 2011 in off-loads. They have made twice as many as Friday's opponents Samoa (24).
- 138: Ruan Pienaar (South Africa) needs, on average, just 138 seconds to produce a point, making him the most effective points-scorer at the 2011 RWC. He has not been selected to face Samoa on Friday.

He said it...

"There is a lot of emotion around it. I actually said to the players that they need to do whatever they need to do to get themselves ready for this game - and if it means taking it out on me and my English roots then they could do that."
- Scotland coach Andy Robinson, born and bred in England, puts personal pride aside for the sake of the Scots' future at RWC 2011.

Digby's riding high:

Australian wing Digby Ioane put the thumb he broke during his side's opening 32-6 win over Italy through an unusual fitness test this week.

The Wallabies' three-quarter ace and teammate Will Genia went horse riding in Hanmer Springs and he looks like he is back on the trail headed for the last eight.

Just call me Al:

Alastair Kellock, back at the helm of the Scotland XV after missing the past two RWC games, must have thought he had been away too long when he appeared at a press conference to announce the team to face England.

A journalist mistook him for Richie Vernon, who is also returning to the line-up, at number 8. "No, I'm Al," he said, before realising that he had let slip a good chance to have some fun with the hack.

Kellock, who will captain Scotland for the 10th time, will be hoping everyone at Eden Park will know him after 80 minutes against the "auld enemy" on Saturday.

Brutal rugby incites riots:

It's been a long road to the World Cup for newcomers Russia who began playing rugby in the 1880s, long before football arrived in their country.

A glance through the team's media guide shows the consequences of a turbulent political history on the sport.

Rugby's initial popularity was short-lived as the Tsarist police banned it in 1886 on the grounds that it was "brutal in nature and likely to incite demonstrations and riots".

It took off again in 1923, growing steadily until 1949, when Soviet authorities announced rugby was "a game not relevant to the principles of the Soviet people", effectively banning it again.

Rugby was revived again after Stalin's death in the 1950s and in 1973 the USSR played its first Test, a 26-6 loss to Romania.

Lost in translation:

Volunteers who collected autographs from members of the French World Cup squad in Auckland would be well advised not to show their prizes to any francophone friends they might have.

Among the names inscribed were those of two dead French comedians - Fernandel and Coluche - and that of retired football striker Jean-Pierre Papin.

The French played the All Blacks in the pool stages losing 36-17, but could meet them again in the final if results go their way.

England's ball-tampeting technique:

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