Brendan Fanning's pool-by-pool guide
Pool A: New Zealand, Tonga, France, Japan, Canada
Of the minnows, Japan are the best prepared and John Kirwan, who is credited with doing a decent job there, is planning on two wins. Canada are less reliant on overseas players now and are solid all round -- but without stars -- and Tonga, who looked very good against the Eagles in the Churchill Cup despite being short overseas stars, hope coach Isitola Maka can compensate for bad press over their haywire governance issues. The question is which of the three can concede the lowest number of points against the big two, whose meeting in Hamilton needs to be a nail-biter.
Key Game: New Zealand v France, Sept 24, Eden Park
Landslide: New Zealand v Japan,
Sept 16, Hamilton
Uprising: Not in these parts
Prediction: New Zealand and France
England, Argentina, Georgia,
Mike Tindall was the picture of happiness leaving Dublin last weekend knowing the importance to morale of having throttled Ireland. They tend to get World Cup timing right, even as far as drawing the Pumas when they're over the hill. The game with Scotland should be good value but we can't wait to see what damage the Georgians might do to them. Scotland's Richie Dixon and Aussie defence coach John Muggleton will give them even more organisation than they had four years ago. Remember that? Romania were the tail-end charlies in qualifying here and are a threat to no one.
Key Game: England v Scotland, October 1, Auckland
Landslide: England v Romania, Sept 24
Uprising: Argentina v Georgia -- maybe not an overthrow but Argies will suffer
Prediction: England and Scotland
Australia, Ireland, USA, Russia,
The complexion of this pool has changed somewhat over the last month, from a face-off between Ireland and Australia to a scramble between Ireland and Italy to get on the coat-tails of the Wallabies as they leave through the front door. The Yanks fancy their chances of putting it up to Italy, on the basis that they will be three games into it by then, and beginning to gel, but that might be over-ambitious. Russia, making their debut, will be the whipping boys. Australia will be the masters.
Key Game: Australia v Ireland, Sept 17, Auckland
Landslide: Australia v Russia, October 1
Uprising: Ireland v Italy has an explosive look to it
Prediction: Australia and Ireland
South Africa, Samoa, Wales, Fiji, Namibia
Undertakers are jostling for position on this one. We are told the Namibians won't know which end is up compared to their passable impression of a decent team in '07, which leaves us with four teams all capable of suffering against each other -- and that's the theme of this pool. Samoa are the darlings of the developing world and a king hit from them would support the contention that high-performance initiatives in the islands is money well spent. Wales travelled with back-to-back wins in the locker but their first-up date with South Africa could demolish everything. Should be a cracking pool.
Key Game: Wales v Samoa, Sept 18
Landslide: South Africa v Namibia, Sept 22
Uprising: It would be an insult to the Pac Nats to suggest beating Wales would qualify as an upset
Prediction: South Africa and Samoa
Sunday Indo Sport