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Minnows impress

Stuart Barnes10/9/07

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 hemisphere performances.

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 relief.

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 player.

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 surprise stories.

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 | Comment on this article

Articles
Stuart Barnes

Still fighting 15/10/07
Fiji accept Mission Impossible 2/10/07
No time for complacency 24/9/07
Step forward for Boks 16/9/07
Minnows impress 10/9/07
World Cup wonders 5/9/07
Stuart Barnes' dream XV 2/9/07
The gloom deepens 20/8/07
Backs to the wall 13/8/07
 





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