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My hopes and fears for the Rugby World Cup

Paul Ackford2/9/07

In no particular order but with heartfelt conviction, a list of wishes for France 2007:

That Wales and Scotland rediscover credibility on the world stage. Joint bottom in the Six Nations, hammered by England, France and South Africa in the run-in to the World Cup, matters are fast approaching crisis point. Australia make do with limited resources. Why can't they?

That coaches and players lose with dignity. Sir Clive Woodward's petulant reaction to the Lions defeat in New Zealand in 2005 still rankles. "I don't think there is a gulf between the two sides," he said at the time. "I'd ask all New Zealand to be reflective. The only tournament you can judge New Zealand at is a World Cup where everyone arrives with the same degree of preparation." Since that tour New Zealand have won 34 of their 39 matches. Still, you never know. Clive might yet be right. New Zealand might still bottle it.

That referees stop issuing a constant stream of instructions to the players. Game management is one thing, a series of coaching tips quite another. Officials shouldn't tell players to get onside, they should penalise them for being offside. They'll soon learn.

That the tournament has a French feel. With matches in Cardiff and Murrayfield diluting the Gallic flavour, we need more enigmatic observations along the lines of Eric Cantona's: "When the sea gulls follow the trawler it's because they think that sardines will be thrown into the sea." The nearest to that so far is French forward Sebastien Chabal's comment that France are "armed with 30 Zinedine Zidanes".

That today's global superstars are more media friendly. I once spent 20 long, uncomfortable minutes trying to coax more than a series of monosyllabic responses out of All Black prop Carl Hayman. Throughout the entire "interview" his gaze never wavered from my face. Very odd.

That something is done to stop the disgraceful time-wasting antics all teams adopt going into the last quarter of tight games. The laws are in place for referees to keep medical assistance to a minimum and for the match to continue. Also, any chance of water bottles not being brought on to the pitch in the opening minutes of games when players have barely started to sweat?

That France 2007 avoids a repetition of the incident which left Ivory Coast winger Max Brito a tetraplegic after breaking his neck in a ruck in a pool match against Tonga at the 1995 World Cup. "I will never forget the crack that I heard," Tongan forward Willie Lose recalled. "It was like the crack of a truck going over a glass bottle. It was just like that."

That Namibia, USA, Portugal and Japan, the weakest teams in each of the four pools, benefit from the experience. There are signs that the second-tier nations like Argentina and Italy are capable of challenging the better funded, more established countries, but those at the bottom of the pile are still miles behind despite efforts by the International Rugby Board to raise standards.

That England supporters don't take it out on their team. The truth is that World Cup-winning sides come along very rarely and the present bunch are simply a collection of fairly ordinary athletes leavened with some useful experience.



PAUL ACKFORD - Sunday Telegraph | Sunday, 2 September 2007 | Comment on this article

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