This weekend two of the most talked about games of the group stage are contested, as hosts, New Zealand take on their World Cup bogey team, France and Scotland face a stern test against a strong Argentinian side.
New Zealand have twice been knocked out of the World cup, by the French, in 1999 and 2007. However, an upset looks unlikely this time, as France have yet to impress in the tournament. Marc Lievremont the French coach has continued to court controversy with his selections by playing Morgan Parra, at fly-half, despite Parra’s usual position as a scrum-half. Despite this unusual selection he shouldn’t be underestimated, as he has played in the position before, although not regularly, so playing opposite Dan Carter, arguably the world’s best number 10, will be a challenge.
New Zealand will try to get the ball to their backs and run at the French and it is hard to see France stopping them all game despite some excellent players. France’s real weakness is their potential lack of unity, as a result of too many changes to the starting XV over the last year. They may find it difficult to gel. France do have the upper hand in one crucial area of the pitch, the pack. New Zealand have shown weaknesses during recent tri-nations tournaments when both South Africa and Australia have dominated the All Blacks forwards and this is probably France’s only way of getting a result against New Zealand who I expect to win comfortably.
In the other crunch match of the weekend Scotland face Argentina in a potential World Cup ending match. If Scotland lose this will mean they will have to beat their greatest rivals, England to get through and if Argentina lose they will not make it through to the knock-out stages.
Argentina will want to continue their excellent display up-front and grind out a hard-earned victory against the Scots. This may be an uphill struggle if key-man Contepomi is not fully fit, as he is Argentina’s captain, goal kicker and play maker, so risking him if he is not 100% could prove fatal.
Scotland have made a couple of changes ahead of the match. The first of these is because the game is played on a Sunday and Euan Murray, a devout Christian refuses to play on a Sunday. The other change is to drop captain Alastair Kellock in an attempt to beef up the pack.
Andy Robinson has made it clear he has selected a team to handle the ball and score tries. He will be keen to avoid getting dragged into an attritional game like England did a week ago. Dan Patterson will be the key man for Scotland, as three points could be the difference in a game this closely matched. With all things considered I back Scotland to win, as I think they are the most likely to get a try.