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Last Updated: Friday, 7 September 2007, 06:29 GMT 07:29 UK
Zinzan Brooke column
Ex-New Zealand rugby great Zinzan Brooke
By Zinzan Brooke
All Blacks legend

I honestly think this New Zealand team can win the World Cup.

New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw is in heavy demand in France
The All Blacks need to keep the distractions to a minimum

I do not want to put the curse on them again, because everyone says the All Blacks peak between World Cups and then bottle it when they get to them, but that is just nonsense, a media perception.

The current side have set the benchmark for everyone else in world rugby over the last three years.

Graham Henry just needs to keep their feet on the ground now and make sure they forget about all the rubbish, go about their business, take it one game at a time, and do their talking on the field.

They have the ability to run teams ragged, and if the opposition is not in the box seat against the All Blacks after 60 minutes, then they will not win because New Zealand can bring powerful players off the bench and turn up the heat in the last quarter.

They have power and ball-carrying ability in the forwards and can vary their game because they have a strong defence and have certainly got the attacking game. They just need to minimise mistakes and approach the game in a positive way.

When you are centre stage in a World Cup the pressure mounts, and you might not do things in the knock-out stages that you did in the pool games, but they have to keep faith in their philosophy and not freeze up.

It would be nice if a World Cup was won with a bit more attacking flair but at the end of the day teams will play to their strengths.

I expect "the big four" - France, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa - to make the semi-finals

Australia have a basic game plan which goes through multiple phases, retaining the ball, waiting for the opposition to make a mistake or concede a penalty.

People might say it is boring but they will say: "How many World Cups have you won?"

If you looked at Australia 12 months ago, you would there is no way they are going to be competitive, but they beat the All Blacks in the Tri-Nations recently and seem to have got their timing right again.

South Africa were in a right mess at the last World Cup but now they have a good structure, good players and belief in themselves.

They have the nucleus of a very strong team and I think they could be the dark horses.

France are coming good at the right time as well. Despite a hard group they have a good draw if they get through it and will be in a good position to win a World Cup.

I expect "the big four" - France, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa - to make the semi-finals.

Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll
Ireland need to keep their best players fit to have a chance

Ireland could also be in the shake-up but the danger for them is losing one of their key men.

They can not afford to lose any of Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy or Paul O'Connell, because they do not have the same calibre of replacements.

There could be a few surprises along the way. I thought Samoa could possibly upset England but I see they have lost a couple of players to injury.

They will come under heavy fire in their opening game against South Africa, and have to play Tonga in between, so to beat England after that could be a tall order.

I feel Italy have got a big game in them too. Their coach Pierre Berbizier is a wily old dog and they are a battle-hardened team now, having been in the Six Nations a while.

Sometimes being smacked about in a few games is not always a bad thing.

They will want to be competitive against New Zealand in their opening game, and while I do not see them winning, I think they are capable of beating Scotland in their critical game and reaching the quarter-finals.

I can not see England beating South Africa in the crucial match in their group, especially now Jonny Wilkinson might not play.

Watching them in their recent warm-up Tests against France, I thought they would go in with the attitude of "let's soften these so-and-sos up and put ourselves in the mixer for the World Cup". But there was no penetration, no go-forward, and they just did not look like scoring.

I keep reading in the papers the England boys saying "we are ready for this" but who do they think they are kidding? I realise you have to be positive but this side just bears no comparison with the 2003 team.

A while back I thought Argentina would upset France in the opening game but I have a couple of reservations now.

The French have had a good preparation, raised the bar and they look battle-hardened and ready to go into the trenches.

France's forwards work on their scrummaging in training
France look to be peaking at just the right time

Sometimes when you have a tricky game first up you can be caught out, but they realise they have lost to Argentina four times out of the last five and physically, I think France are in the right frame of mind now.

Bernard Laporte would be deeply concerned if they lose on Friday because Ireland will not be there just to make up the numbers, so France really need to beat Argentina.

From New Zealand's point of view, I do not really want an upset because that could mean they would probably get France in the quarter-finals!

I am already expecting them to face Australia in the semis, and our track record in World Cup semi-finals against the Wallabies is not great - we lost in 1991 and 2003.

So if you assume the All Blacks will already have at least two big games where the opposition will fancy turning them over, you do not really want an extra one.

Meeting France in the quarters, Australia in the semis, and possibly the Springboks in the final could be a tall order!

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