I have finalized my pool stage (and subsequent knockout round) predictions.
New Zealand at home. Need we ask any questions? No, we don't. If we don't win the group, heads will roll. I don't see us not winning it, in any case. France should come in second without too much trouble, though their final game against Tonga could be interesting, since if things go as I expect, Tonga could sneak into the quarterfinals if they upset France, and will know it. Japan will beat Canada, and both will get smashed by everyone else. Still, I don't see the Tongan upset happening:
1. New Zealand
As good as Argentina was in 2007, they're in kind of a mess at the moment. England will cruise to the top of this group easily, Scotland vs. Argentina should be about the only interesting match of the group. I see Scotland taking it to bump the Pumas out of the knockout places. Georgia will top Romania in the group's pillow fight to avoid last place and these two will be manhandled by the others.
Like the first two groups, it's difficult to see past one of the teams winning the group. This group's such team is Australia. Ireland may challenge Australia a little in their match but nothing will come of it. In addition, Italy might offer a challenge for Ireland in the last game of the group, but Ireland will escape, perhaps a bit less comfortably than they should. The group's "pillow fight" should actually be an interesting game, and I see the developing Americans coming out on top of Russia in a hard-fought, intriguing matchup, though I admit I know very little about Russian rugby. However, nothing will come of it as the Americans and Russians are even more hopeless against the other three teams than the minnows in groups A and B.
4. United States
This group is the most interesting group by a long shot. South Africa are the favorites to top the group, but have the most difficult draw as the three teams Fiji, Samoa, and Wales will all put up a really fantastic battle against each other. I can see any one of the three winding up in second place, and all three of them have a realistic (but still small) chance to sneak a win against the Springboks. I'm thinking simply because of the scheduling, Wales has the edge in the three-way battle for 2nd place behind the group favorite Springboks. In addition, the Welsh have the strongest team on paper of the three. Also because of scheduling, I see the Fijians slipping the most. Needless to say, Namibia will get obliterated by everyone. Of the four groups, this one is the one I'm the least sure of, so to say.
1. South Africa
Assuming my group stage predictions come true, I would create the following quarterfinals:
Australia vs. Wales
England vs. France
South Africa vs. Ireland
New Zealand vs. Scotland
3 of those 4 look like one team would be easily favored over the other, but England vs. France is an interesting match. I won't go against the grain on any of the other three, and in regards to the fourth, while I feel that the French have a slightly stronger team on paper, England will find a way past them, but only just. I would then have the following semi-finals:
Australia vs. England
South Africa vs. New Zealand
The three southern hemisphere teams into the semis along with England. It's pretty standard so far, without too many surprises, even if I've touched on possible surprises from the group stage. However, while hosts New Zealand and Australia would probably be clear favorites to meet in an epic showdown for the ages at Eden Park for the Webb Ellis Cup, I'm going to go against the rub of the green on this one, and say that England would find a way past Australia, the crafty bastards. It's hard to explain, but I just have that gut feeling that if they met in the semi-finals that England would just manage to scrape their way past the Wallabies. In the other one, the Boks may have beaten us 18-5, physically dominating us in Port Elizabeth and us never being in the game, I have two counterpoints. For one, the game is at home, second, we rested half our starters for the Port Elizabeth test anyway. We'll run the Springboks off the park and win by 30 or more points again like we did in our opener.
And we reach the final, New Zealand vs. England. The pressure will catch up to us in this game, but England will be exhausted from two brutal, difficult wins over the French and Australians. Add some rain that likes to fall on the North Island in late October and we'll get a match that's about as sloppy as 5 year olds chasing a Twinkie. However, the home crowd will be pleased and we'll end up on top in the ugliest final ever. Final score: 9-5.
Oh, and for the third place match, Australia smashes the stupid Springboks.
Edit: Yes, I'm arrogantly predicting my own team to win. Deal with it.