Key matches, picks and royalty at RWC

by Staff Writer

The Rugby World Cup passes the halfway point this weekend with key pool match-ups and continuing debate over questionable team selections.

And for good measure, a member of royalty has arrived to check on her husband's controversial first road trip since their wedding.

On Thursday, among four team announcements, New Zealand chose their squad to play a France line-up criticised as being weak, allowing the All Blacks to presumably win easily on Saturday at Eden Park and give the French an easier road through the finals.

Scotland decided to go without their captain, lock Alastair Kellock, for the second straight match, the Pool B encounter against Argentina.

And Mike Tindall, the royal marriage guy, returns at inside centre for England.

When Tindall runs onto the field at Dunedin's Otago Stadium for his side's match on Saturday against Romania, Zara Phillips, the 30-year-old granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II, is expected to be in the crowd.

Phillips, who married Tindall in a private ceremony at Edinburgh in July, arrived in Auckland on Wednesday for a charity function.

Ordinarily, that wouldn't have made much news in New Zealand or elsewhere but Tindall's actions in a Queenstown bar nearly two weeks ago did.

Tindall was caught on a hotel's security camera talking to a woman.

He briefly held her hand, and she kissed him on the top of his head.

It will be the first face-to-face meeting of the couple, who have been apart three weeks, since the episode.

The 32-year-old Tindall was rested from last week's win over Georgia.

Tindall faced the media for the first time on Thursday, with coach Martin Johnson on his flank, which was just as well - he deflected any questions about the bar incident.

"We've played since then ... we've put it to bed," Johnson said, refusing to allow Tindall to reply to anything but match queries.

Romania also named their team on Thursday for the Scotland match on Sunday at Wellington, which the Scots will have to win to keep up their record of having made the quarter-finals in all six previous World Cups.

Australia and Ireland held captain's runs for their Friday match at Wellington, with the Wallabies hoping to overcome their surprise loss to the Irish and the Americans looking to cause an upset of their own.

The day began early for New Zealand team officials when they announced their team at 7.30am local time in a crowded downtown hotel meeting room.

Captain Richie McCaw and Dan Carter were back from injuries and fullback Israel Dagg and scrumhalf Piri Weepu were preferred to start, the only four players different to the side which beat Japan 83-7 last Friday.

Asked if this was his No.1 team, coach Graham Henry said, "For this particular opposition, I think it's the best team."

France coach Marc Lievremont has had to defend accusations that his side is not.

If France were to lose to New Zealand, they could possibly finish in second place and likely in the draw's favourable side.

Lievremont has picked scrumhalf Morgan Parra at flyhalf - he has never started there before - and for leaving his best forward, hooker William Servat, on the bench.

The match will be the 50th between the teams, and their first at the World Cup since France shocked the All Blacks 20-18 in the 2007 quarter-finals. The French also knocked out New Zealand in 1999.

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