IT’S hard to pick a World Cup winner out in Brazil at the moment; how rugby would love such uncertainty next year.
New Zealand will probably retain their crown at Twickenham in October, 2015 but hopefully the tournament will feature some shocks in the preceding six weeks of action.
While Costa Rica and Uruguay can dump out England and Italy in football, rugby can be disappointingly predictable with the quarter-finalists all too easy to call.
What a boost to the game it would be if that wasn’t the case next year.
There will be plenty of naval-gazing in Wales, England or Australia after failure to make it out of Pool One and it would be great if Ireland, France, Scotland (for a second successive tournament) and Argentina are also sweating on a last-eight spot.
Rugby often seems like a closed shop but the usual suspects could be given a bloody nose.
Samoa, Tonga, Georgia and Canada will all fancy their chances of claiming scalps but it is 2019 hosts Japan that are the intriguing package.
When the draw was made Scotland were left to contemplate a St James Park showdown with Samoa for the right to be runner-up to South Africa. Now they will be take on Japan at Kingsholm with a spot of trepidation.
The Brave Blossoms, who hammered Wales’ second string 23-8 in Tokyo last year, climbed into the top 10 of the IRB world rankings after beating Italy for a tenth victory on the spin.
It will still be a monumental surprise if Japan, whose 1991 win against Zimbabwe in Belfast is their only World Cup success in 24 fixtures, turn the Scots over but it’d be nice if they continue their improvement.
Eddie Jones’ aren’t the only ones to have done well in June – Canada, ranked 17th, were denied a famous win against Scotland by a dodgy late call. They, along with Romania, will be eyeing up the spluttering Italians and the basket case that is Philippe Saint-Andre’s France.
It gives hope of there being fewer mismatches in the tournament and the establishment need to encourage and aid in the development of the smaller nations.
Much is rightly made of the All Blacks’ failure to tour the Pacific Islands but too many people get high and mighty; have we really done all we can to help Georgia since they pushed Ireland so hard in Bordeaux in 2007?
Rugby desperately needs 16 out of 20 nations to be competitive if it is to have a tournament that thrives from day one to the final.