Former All Black legend Colin Meads recently caused a stir when he said that he thought England would beat New Zealand in the final of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. For a New Zealander to admit such a thing was considered by some in the land of the silver fern to be treasonous!
However, most observers agree with Meads that the final will be a north-south clash between the “Poms” and the “Kiwis.”
The Japan Times recently asked a variety of rugby players in Japan for their tips as to who would win the Webb Ellis Cup and their thoughts on how Japan would do.
From the professionals who have played in (and won) past tournaments to the weekend warriors, here are the views from the trenches.
Viliami Ofahengue (In his last season with the Kubota Spears, “Willie O” played in both the 1991 and 1995 tournaments for Australia, helping the Wallabies to win the Webb Ellis Cup in 1991.)
“Of course I would love to see Australia win it but I think the final will be between New Zealand and England. England are the form team and played very well last season, and I would like to see them win, but I think the All Blacks will take it. They were very good in the Tri-Nations and I think their speed will be too much for England. I don’t think the age of the England pack will come into it — I just think New Zealand will be too good for them on the day.
“As far as Japan are concerned. I think it would be good if they can win one game. The U.S. are the team they are most likely to beat but Japan were hammered by them earlier this year.
Alama Ieremia (Center with Suntory Sungoliath, Ieremia played in both the 1995 and 1999 tournaments for New Zealand, having previously been capped by Samoa.)
“I think the final will be between New Zealand and England. They are the form teams at the moment and I think England will have a lot of momentum going for them. Having said that, the fast pitches in Australia will suit the All Blacks. The final will be a close game and will probably come down to a kicking duel. The English pack have the experience but the All Blacks have the enthusiasm. I think New Zealand will win it by five to 10 points.
“I think Japan are in a very difficult group. They might have a shot against the U.S. but I have a horrible feeling they have been together too long and may be mentally burnt out.”
Glen Osborne (Currently playing for the Ricoh Black Bulls, the fullback played in both the 1995 and 1999 tournaments for New Zealand.)
“I’m hoping that the All Blacks will beat England in the final. The reason is I am a Kiwi — loyal to the end!
“It’s difficult to say how Japan will go as they have had a rocky road leading up to the tournament. Their performance in pre-World Cup matches have been inconsistent but they have some good players and I hope they do well.”
Derek Simmons (Prop forward with the Tokyo Crusaders, Simmons will be flying to Perth to watch one of the most anticipated games of the tournament — England vs. South Africa)
“Looking at their performances over the last six months, England and New Zealand are clearly the world’s strongest sides, and will meet in an epic final. South Africa are imploding, Australia have injury worries and, while France can’t be discounted, I can’t see them beating the ‘big two.’
“I hope Japan learns and enjoys from their trip to Australia, because their trip is likely to be a short one. If the Japanese players are fully committed the Scotland and U.S. games should be respectable losses, but I can’t see the Cherry Blossoms winning a game given their form of late.”
Kyle Podziewski (The only former U.S. Marine to have captained the Cambod- ian national team, the No. 8 is captain of the Tsunami Teetotallers.)
“Providing England wins its group then it will play New Zealand in the final. However, I think the English pack is a little long in the tooth and the younger legs of the All Blacks will see them through.
“Japan will suffer hugely for it’s lack of defense. At nearly every level of Japanese rugby there is a disregard for defense in favor of attack. One doesn’t need to go any further than the Top League and watch the one-sided matches there. I just hope Japanese coaches learn from the lesson. Japan’s lack of success in the build-up to the World Cup is also down to the fact that they are so used to playing to Japanese referees who interpret the laws in a different way to the rest of the world.”
Fraser Jamieson (Veteran of the Tokyo rugby scene, the Scotsman plays fullback for the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club and will be watching all 48 games with interest — as will his bookmaker.)
“My heart wants me to say it will be a Scotland vs. New Zealand final but seeing as I have money on it I hope it will be England against New Zealand. If it is cold and wet for the final then England could win but if it is hot and the pitch hard then the All Blacks will prevail.
“Japan have been pretty dreadful of late but I think they will beat Fiji and possibly the U.S. But they will definitely not beat Scotland.”
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