THE FERRIE FILES
Whether they are in the same condition come the quarter-finals may be a different matter after another match of similar intensity when they meet a Wales side that will have had nine days of desperately needed recuperation the following week.
Again that seems to favour the Pool B qualifiers and only at our most pessimistic would we now fear that Scotland will not be among them. Since both quarter-finals are at Twickenham it also hardly matters whether they do so as pool winners – for the first time in 24 years – or as runners-up since there is no way of knowing which of the teams that have been ranked among the world’s top three in the world rankings since this tournament began, will finish first or second in Pool A.
By contrast progress has been relatively serene for the bottom half’s big guns with the All Blacks certain to finish top of Pool C since beating Argentina in their opening match and those Pumas all but ensuring they will join them after beating a Georgia side that had in turn upset Tonga, while all that is left to decide in Pool D is which of Ireland and France will finish top.
Yet for all that the pool outcomes are ultimately going to be very much in line with expectations and form there have been major developments in the course of this tournament.
This may yet be disproved as some of the part-timers representing the emerging nations run out of steam, but it seems that the days of teams conceding 145 points, or celebrating keeping the opposition below 100 points are gone with World Rugby’s development programmes having borne fruit.
However what also seems clear is how quickly the better resourced teams have absorbed first weekend’s lessons and, for once, Scotland seem to have led the way in that as the only team to have matched Ireland in acquiring maximum points.
What the Springboks got horribly wrong against Japan but Scotland and others including the South Africans have since got right when faced with similar half-time scorelines, is the need to be patient and controlled throughout rather than chasing big scores early or seeking quick solutions when under pressure.
There will be some jockeying for position yet, then, but eight from 10 of Australia, England, Wales, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, Ireland and France were always going to go through. There seems to be a lack of star quality so far. Plenty fine play... but noone has imposed himself as Michael Jones, Serge Blanco, Grant Fox, Tim Horan, Michael Lynagh, Gary Armstrong, Jonah Lomu, Joost van der Westhuizen, Pat Lam, Christophe Dominici, John Eales, Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson, Shane Williams, John Smit, Juan Martin Hernandez, Thierry Dusautoir or Richie McCaw have previously. There is a telling omission on that list, not even Brian O’Driscoll or Paul O’Connell having inspired a truly special Irish effort at a World Cup. Could this, though, be the stage on which a new Scottish superstar establishes himself at last. Mark Bennett and Stuart Hogg have made promising starts?
Taylor scores against Namibia as New Zealand cruise towards the Pool C line