The Herald - Sport - - RUGBY WORLD CUP -

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

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