What an amazing start to the World Cup.
Argentina's stunning win against France was
not the prettiest of affairs but it was a
night of high drama and passion. France have
had the smoothest of warm-ups, Argentina an
uncomfortable and bitty few weeks but rugby,
like all sports, is not about the
preparation, but the performance.
On Friday night the combination of a simple
game plan and fearlessness was enough to
secure yet another win against a French team
who must dread the site of the Pumas. It now
makes Pool D one of the most exciting pools
Rugby World Cup has ever witnessed - or if
you are France or Ireland - endured.
It was a stunning win for Argentina and one
that set the trend for a weekend; not of
shock results, but of shocking northern
While New Zealand looked every inch the
thoroughbred favourites with the Springboks
and Australia behind them in that order, the
British and Irish contingent did their best
to make France look good.
England's crown, which has been wobbling on
its head for four years, is surely ready to
topple. And for a rugby world that must be
disappointed with its showings as world
champions, it will probably come as a
England need to start again and if Brian
Ashton is to produce a team that will at
least go down fighting, he needs to think
again before Friday's match. All this talk
of experience is starting to sound like so
much camouflage for selectorial cowardice.
It has been that way for too long and a new
broom is needed.
Ashton must sweep out the old guard and
install Olly Barkley as his first choice ten
or 12 dependent on whether he values Mike
Catt or Jonny Wilkinson as a more important
Barkley doesn't have the CV to match their
illustrious records but he has current form
and too few English players have that. If
Phil Vickery is not banned for a cynical
trip, he too would be lucky to escape being
left out for Matt Stevens.
Doubtless England will put up a fight but it
would be lovely to see some panache to go
with the slow, grinding grunt.
Wales were no better in the first half
against Canada and there is a suspicion that
their late surge was as much due to the
tiring North Americans as it was to their
own form. However, last World Cup Wales left
some average form behind them to scare New
Zealand and England and with home advantage
I expect them to find something exceptional,
which will be needed, against an Australian
team growing in confidence.
Neither Scotland nor Ireland impressed and
with Italy humiliated and overawed it was a
disappointing start for the Six Nations. It
is early days but it looks odds-on that the
Tri-Nations will dominate this tournament.
If that was to be expected, the gutsyness
and skill of the likes of Namibia, Portugal
and the USA was not. The World Cup is
inevitably about the one team that lifts the
trophy but that is not everything; it is
also about pride, performance and the
The so-called minnows of world rugby did
themselves proud on the first weekend.
English fans will be hoping that their
performance of minnow-like quality can be
left behind as they attempt to upset the
odds against the Springboks. Stranger things
have happened but an England win, you have
to admit, seems pretty weird right now.
STUART BARNES |
SKY Sports | Monday, 10 September 2007 |
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