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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 September 2007, 06:10 GMT 07:10 UK
Zinzan Brooke column
Ex-New Zealand rugby great Zinzan Brooke
By Zinzan Brooke
All Blacks legend

Everyone is saying the All Blacks are the team to beat at this World Cup, but you have got to ask why on the evidence of what we have seen so far.

They haven't done anything special, and I think there are three or four other teams well in the mix.

I could easily see New Zealand not getting to the final if they perform like they did against Scotland. It was a very poor performance.

The ball handling was awful at times and it wasn't just one individual, it was all the players.

It was a calamity of errors and if they end up facing France in the quarter-finals and playing like that, they are going to get absolutely pasted.

The All Blacks knew before this World Cup started that if they were going to be right for a quarter-final against Ireland, Argentina or France, they had to get two pool games spot-on.

I have seen nothing in any of the All Blacks' games to make me think they'll be world champions

Zinzan Brooke

They disposed of Italy easily enough and there were glimpses of what they could do in a good performance.

They would have wanted to build on that against what was pretty much a second-string Scotland side, but all I saw was an All Blacks team fumbling around.

You could say look at the scoreline but the quality of play just wasn't there and the poor handling is all about the players' attitude and how they respond to whatever is chucked at them.

The few errors we saw even against Portugal were magnified once they were actually challenged by the Scots, and if I was an All Blacks supporter, I'd be asking 'how are we going to win the World Cup if we perform like that?'

If you wind the clock back six months, all the main players were on conditioning programmes and had an eight-week break to prepare for the World Cup, but I don't see any benefits coming through from that.

New Zealand have set the benchmark for the last two or three years, but individually and collectively those standards are not there at the moment.

If they played with the passion they showed during the Haka they should have destroyed Scotland. But they used too much energy on that and didn't save any for the game.

People waking up early on Monday morning in New Zealand who have spent their life's fortunes on packages to come over for the semi-final and final might now be thinking 'where can I sell those tickets?'

Chris Masoe
Brooke feels the All Blacks need to improve their ball handling

New Zealand are in the quarter-finals but from there it is just a lottery.

Even England still have an outside chance if they deliver against Tonga on Friday, but this Tonga team has something about it.

It is more organised than usual and they probably played the best rugby of anyone against South Africa.

Their execution of most things was well drilled and yet they still had the essence of free-flowing rugby - when the opportunity to score was there they took it and made South Africa scramble hard to salvage the win.

The Tongans now have an opportunity to get to the quarter-finals for the first time in their history, which would be a dream for them.

It is right there in their hands, and for rugby reasons I would love to see Tonga beat England on Friday.

But from a selfish point of view I would like England to get through because they would be more of a threat against Australia in the quarter-finals.

I think that game would be a formality if Tonga get through, whereas I'd like to see the Wallabies given a harder work-out before a possible semi-final against New Zealand.

Australia only played in bits and pieces against Fiji, but the Fijians were absolutely appalling.


I thought they would come to the party but I was very disappointed with their performance - they just didn't look interested and chucked up the white flag early on.

They can be a handful if their minds are right but I think Wales will have too much for them in their decisive Pool B game on Saturday.

In Pool C I tipped Italy to cause an upset before the tournament and reach the quarter-finals after their performances in the Six Nations.

But after watching them so far, I've changed my mind. I don't think it is their time. It will be a hard struggle but I think Scotland will put them away in St Etienne.

As for Ireland, they haven't even been at this World Cup.

They have been out-played, out-muscled and out-gunned, and haven't fired a shot yet.

We know they are capable of playing well but it is a case of how they are allowed to play, and they have not shown any signs they are a quarter-finalist-in-waiting.

I'll be cheering on Ireland to beat Argentina so the All Blacks don't have to play France in the quarters, but I don't see it happening. The opportunity is there for the Pumas to get through in the easier half of the draw now.

It wouldn't worry me who New Zealand played if they had performed to the standards they can in the games so far, but I think they need to take any help they can get.

The only comforting factor is that their quarter-final will be in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and not in France.

But I have seen nothing yet in any of the All Blacks' games to make me think I am looking at the world champions.

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