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48 hours: So far so predictable, bring on the upsets

Chris Rattue17/9/07

This Rugby World Cup needs something fierce and unpredictable to bring it alive. With luck, Samoa and Tonga might have sparked the tournament to life overnight.

To date, the only unexpected result was Argentina's opening win over France. Even there, the world No 6 team beating the world No 3 team is hardly momentous.

Georgia, who play with the elegance of the Russian tractors their scrum used to train against, were valiant and almost victorious against a badly over-rated Irish side yesterday.

Georgia were roared on by a brilliant crowd as they smashed at the Irish line in the final minutes. The Georgians also won hearts, with their hulking players speaking humbly in broken English afterwards.

But already much of the cup is leaving me numbed, as if slapped around endlessly by a feather. Great stadiums, great crowds and drab mismatches.

The TV3 commentary hasn't ruined the cup so far, but it hasn't lifted it either. As a unit, comments men Grant Fox and Alan Whetton are adequate but seem a little preoccupied with their own careers, with too many references to their days of "pies and chips".

Confession time. I'm missing Murray Mexted, and John Drake was always going to be missed. Sky leads Tony Johnson (when he's not blathering on about the rules) and Grant Nisbett are familiar purveyors of major rugby and it feels a little odd when they aren't there. I am missing Johnson and Nisbett's authority.

What of TV3's hired help? Frank Bunce is being Frank Bunce, stating the blindingly obvious or nothing at all. It's way too early in James Ryan's career, or life, for him to be a studio star. Andrew Mehrtens is not sure if he is clown or wise counsel and we are not familiar enough with his commentary work to accept the mixture.

Then again, the All Blacks versus Italy and Portugal are difficult games from which to bring World Cup drama into our lounges.

After watching the muscle-bound pensioners of England disgrace themselves against South Africa on Saturday morning, the thought immediately turned to Samoa's match against the fast-falling world champions in Nantes this Sunday.

If ever there was a momentous World Cup event in store, it is here. Imagine, just imagine, if Samoa could lower England's colourless game and progress at their expense into the quarterfinals. Will Samoa have the right balance of rough and ready?

Wouldn't a Samoan victory, and a similar serve a week later by Tonga, be brilliant, especially as England deserve to lose. Absolutely.

I'm not one to bag English rugby out of hand. I had a brief but highly enjoyable stint with a low-level club in north London many years ago which removed the notion that the English game is infested with nobs who can look down their noses and drink a port and brandy at the same time. The English rugby mob may have the odd unlovely trait and include a few nobs, but then again, so do we and on both scores.

But England deserve to be humiliated in this cup because they are a lumbering and mega-rich mess, an ill-prepared outfit who have stupidly rested on their laurels. Yes, a variance in styles make for good in all sport, but England offer nothing in entertainment. Their game isn't a style, it's a method of running up the white flag as slowly as possible.

The only thing that stops you wanting to kick them on the way down is the sight of their coach Brian Ashton, because he looks like a kindly old granddad whom you simply can't admonish, even though he keeps burning the dinner.

Let's hope Tonga and Samoa haven't knocked too many lumps off each other so that Michael Jones' side is left in good fettle for Nantes.

The Samoans have been absolutely betrayed by a draw designed to give England the edge in qualifying for the quarterfinals.

England versus Samoa was always the crucial game in Pool A. England will go into the Nantes game on eight days' rest, while Samoa get six. This IRB case of charity for the rich and disrespect for the poor, a belief almost that the world champions' progress to the playoffs is a fait accompli, is appalling.

Jones should use all of his standing in world rugby, and his name is still talked about with reverence in the highest halls, to savage this abomination. If the IRB wants to stage a respected and proper World Cup, this foul business must come to an end. The island nations, and many others, face enough other obstacles.

Samoa versus Tonga always reminds me of a sunny Auckland day at Carlaw Park many moons ago. The dilapidated stadium had an extraordinary atmosphere for what was a tough Pacific Cup league final which a heavily favoured Samoan team just won.

The woman next to me on the old concrete terraces was screaming so loudly for Samoa that I just had to ask if she was close to their team.

She was from Tokelau, she replied, before relaying a brief Pacific history lesson to explain why she was pro-Samoan, and anti-Tongan.

I won't say that my lack of understanding of Pacific Island history is embarrassing. That would be an overstatement, and patronising. But it is still perplexing, and I wonder why more hasn't filtered through over the years. Life in these isles might be enriched if we all knew at least a little more.

Our races are entwined, in Auckland especially, and no more so than in sport. It is important to retain cultural identities yet maybe we exist too much in parallel universes. From a media side of things, a European-dominated press pack struggles to really pierce through to the true identity of the many island-heritage players. Conversely, the island players are comfortable keeping it that way. Both camps often find a comfort in cliches.

Samoa and Tonga will have been at it hammer and tongs early today, fired perhaps by a history of which most of us know very little. Or is that a cliche? Maybe it is a simple sporting rivalry between neighbours.

Whatever, I just hope Samoa have enough left in the tank for a decent shot at England on Sunday.


CHRIS RATTUE | The NZ Herald | Monday, 17 September , 2007 | Comment on this article

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Chris Rattue

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