MELBOURNE: England coach Clive Woodward expressed a blunt but undeniable truth after 40 games and three weeks of World Cup rugby produced the quarter-final line-up any independent observer would have predicted before the tournament began.
“The phoney war is over,” Woodward said after the Cup co-favourites had routed Uruguay 111-13 on Sunday.
“I'm really looking forward to coming to Brisbane and getting on with what we have come here for, the knockout stages.”
England meet Wales in Brisbane on Sunday in the last quarter-final after France play Ireland in Melbourne earlier in the day.
New Zealand, equal in the betting with England, open the knockout round against South Africa in Melbourne on Saturday followed by defending champions Australia versus Scotland in Brisbane.
The tournament then shifts to Sydney for the semi-finals on November 15 and 16 ending with the final on November 22.
England's victory on Sunday did nothing to enhance the Cup and served only to confirm the old boxing axiom, just as applicable to rugby, that a good big fighter will always beat a good smaller opponent.
The quarter-finalists are all professional footballers; the majority of players representing the likes of Uruguay and Namibia (beaten 142-0 by Australia) are amateurs.
Disquiet among the smaller nations at the scheduling turned to anger when it became obvious that the timetable had been weighted for commercial considerations in favour of the richer nations.
International Rugby Board (IRB) chairman Syd Millar conceded yesterday that the schedule, which forced Italy and Tonga to play their four pool games in 14 days, had been unfair.
“We have to generate money for rugby and of course TV requires top matches at certain times and we have to be aware of this,” he said.
More worryingly, Millar refused to commit the IRB to any format changes for the 2007 tournament in France.
“If we felt there was something we could do then I'm sure we could do something but at this point in time it's not our intention,” he said.
The news was not all bad for the nations who will take no further part in the Cup, although for optimism it would be hard to beat Namibia coach Dave Waterston who said he had taken “positives” out of the loss to Australia.
Namibia looked nothing more than a club side while it is hard to justify placing Uruguay and Georgia in a tournament designed to find the best side in the world.
The same is true for Romania, who may never recapture the status they briefly enjoyed in the 1970s when their performances against France indicated they could step up to the elite level.
The position with the Pacific Islanders, natural rugby players and talented entertainers, is brighter provided they can find the money from somewhere to keep their best players.
A depleted Samoa side provided one of the displays of the tournament when they led England for an hour before eventually losing their group match.
Tonga were disappointing but Fiji were desperately unlucky to lose their final pool match to Scotland and provided one of the outstanding players in winger Rupeni Caucaunibuca.
Italy won two of their four matches but were another victim of the scheduling. Playing their second game in four days, they lost 27-15 to Wales and missed out on a quarter-final spot.
Japan once again entertained and were always immensely popular but, despite adding some height and muscle with their New Zealand imports, failed to win a match.
The United States and Canada played creditably, winning a game apiece, while Argentina's powerful and abrasive forwards almost took their team to victory over Ireland.
The Irish, who won by a point, lost by the same margin to Australia.
With still three weeks to go, the tournament has so far confirmed the current world order is much the same as it was at the inaugural 1987 World Cup. – Reuters