Let’s put aside all the mathematical permutations and make some assumptions. Which I hate to do, generally, because as I have told the LittleDavy’s time and time again: “Assumption is the enemy of success.”
(For example: Ned – “What time is your flight tomorrow?” LittleDavy – “I think it’s 7am.” Ned – “Think or know?” LittleDavy – silence. Ned – eye roll™.)
So, MrsDavy, let’s assume that the All Blacks make it out of Pool C as either the 1st or 2nd place team.
(And whoa, how many assumptions just happened there? We could finish first in the Pool by winning all matches, or even by dropping one. We could also, in theory, finish third by losing just one match. This is why anxious matters, MrsDavy.)
Anyway, if we get out of the Pool, what’s the route through to the Cup?
Our quarter-final would be played in Cardiff at the Millennium Stadium (boo, hiss, weep), against a team from Pool D. That is likely to be either France or Ireland. Both teams are major road bumps: France because they’re France and have kicked us out of a Cup twice before, and Ireland because they’re playing good footy.
Say it with me: there is no such thing as an easy quarter-final.
Again, for the sake of argument and assuming we won that match (turn around three times and spit), who might we face in a semi-final?
It will be a team from either Pool A or Pool B. It could be any one of Australia, England, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa or Wales. If you go by the current World Rankings, the most likely opponent would be South Africa.
Yes, I know MrsDavy, how is it that the top two teams in the World Rankings are more likely than not going to meet in a semi-final? Is it because the Evil Overlords pulled a swifty to ensure England would only have to beat either South Africa or New Zealand to win the Cup, but not both?
Not really. The draw for the Pools, which determines the route through the knock-out stage, introduced an element of chance that precludes outright shenanigans. Even so, I’m sure Darth Vader is smiling grimly beneath his mask.
The more important point is this: so what?
Teams, coaches, managers, fans who get fixated on wanting an easy route to glory are fooling themselves.
If you go into this tournament with a desire to win the whole shebang, you don’t give a damn about the identity of who you play or the order in which you play them. You never look beyond the next opponent. In this sense, world cups are like old-style prize fighting: you have to back yourself to deal with whoever steps in to the ring. You might be getting tired, you might be hurt, but you just get on with it.