Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Peter Bills' World Cup blog: New Zealand must wait for proper test

William Servat has been left out of the France team for their match against New Zealand

Big Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads always knew something about the game.

No British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand was ever complete without an image of Meads with half a Lion’s leg hanging out of his mouth after some tough Test match.



These days, Meads calls it from the side lines the way he played it out in the middle: without fuss. And he said something this week which struck a chord with all of us down here in New Zealand for this Rugby World Cup.



“So who is New Zealand’s biggest threat at this tournament” he asked? “Well, watching over the past week, it keeps changing. Right now, I have to say South Africa.”



As ever, Meads is pretty close to the mark in his judgement. The South Africans’ performance against Fiji was outstanding, in a different class to anything else they have produced in the last 12 months.



It was only Fiji but even sothe sweeping, all-consuming waves of attacking movements which swept down on the hapless islanders were simply superb. By anyone’s standards it was a brilliant exhibition and it sent a shock wave through the whole tournament. Even the All Blacks might struggle to contain that level of technical excellence.



But can the ‘Boks do it consistently? The chances are, they will have to beat Australia and New Zealand even to reach the World Cup final and that isn’t going to be easy.



The All Blacks remain favourites to win the trophy but one of the dangers to them is that now the French have chosen largely a second string pack of forwards against them here in Auckland on Saturday, they may not get a really full-on test of their abilities until the semi-final next month.



That is a long way into the tournament to wait for your first major examination and could prey on their nerves and self belief. That is one clever side effect of France’s decision to leave out players like William Servat, Fabien Barcella, Imanol Harinordoquy and Francois Trinh-Duc against New Zealand this weekend. Chances are, they will all be back for a quarter or semi-final. If, for example, French coach Marc Lievremont chooses back-up Dimitri Szarzewski ahead of Servat for a knock-out stage match, I would be amazed.



I’ve picked up plenty of stick from some people down here for daring to suggest the last thing the French want is to beat New Zealand this weekend and finish as pool winners. It would put them into the far harder southern hemisphere dominated half of the draw for the knock-out stages.



But at least some people have seen the funny side of it. The cartoon in this morning’s ‘New Zealand Herald’ has a drawing of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key with a colleague standing on a rugby touch line under an umbrella.



Key says “The new French head of the IMF reckons the global economy isn’t playing like a winning team’.



His colleague replies ‘I’d be keen for a second opinion. Try that rugby writer Peter Bills. He seems to have his finger on the French pulse’.

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