category: rugby news

World Cup wallowing but for ankle biters

Chris Rattue19/9/07

Hang on in there folks - the cavalry may be on the way. And God knows, we need it.

The rugby World Cup could come alive when Samoa takes on England in the early hours of Sunday. Please let it be so because it has been tough going so far, although mercifully not as tough as the last cricket World Cup.

The match in Nantes is a classic David versus Goliath in terms of resources at least, although one report from France actually suggested Samoa now wields the sword while England will be firing pebbles. Amazing.

The first stage of the 2007 World Cup has required spectators to dig deep when faced with a series of lopsided and uninspiring matches, but it has to be said that we have been well prepared for this dross.

Four years of watching half-baked test sides playing footsie with each other has set us up perfectly for the big event. As the adage goes in rock music, make sure the warm-up bands aren't too hot so the main act doesn't suffer by comparison.

So, in the name of hanging on for the good times, it seemed appropriate to dig deep and unearth a few World Cup highlights so far.

Georgia v Ireland

A ripping game and the tournament would be in great shape with a few more of these. It was a disappointment in one respect of course, because a Georgian victory here would have been mana from heaven for those seeking something out of the ordinary. Instead, this game will fade compared with, say, the Samoan humbling of Wales in 1991. A Georgian victory would have been an even greater boilover compared with that 1991 result. Georgia were so close to causing one of the biggest upsets in the history of sport. The IRB were true to form, making Georgia play the tough Argentinians just four days before while Ireland had six days' rest after facing the might of Namibia. But the stodgy Georgians responded brilliantly and the crowd went wild. I skipped this game initially believing - stupidly - that even a bad Irish team would cruise to victory. It became required replay viewing of course but a game like this is never as good when you already know the outcome. Still, An absolute classic - oh to have been at the ground in Bordeaux. This was a rare occasion in which an Irish sports team weren't the cute underdogs and they didn't appear to relish the role reversal. One problem however - it provided an unexpected hiccup for those who are, quite sensibly, promoting a reduction in the number of World Cup teams so as to create a shorter, more competitive tournament. Georgia's moral victory increases the chance that 20 teams will be retained in New Zealand come 2011. Ouch! Time will tell but as for now, note to self - look at the match schedule with a more discerning eye. For instance, Georgia versus France looks more tempting than it once did.

Portugal's players sing national anthem

The Portuguese team sang with such head-wrenching and vein-bursting gusto that this was the first case in which international sportsmen risked injury during a national anthem. Medics could be seen gathering on the sidelines in anticipation of a dreadful toll. The haka versus the Portuguese anthem was certainly a much closer contest than many of us predicted and in all honesty, the anthem looked more frightening. If Portugal has an actual war dance, then I for one am not brave enough to watch it. Teams who sing horribly usually mumble or even lip sync but not our Portuguese friends. They belted it out, and badly enough to sound like a man band in the Eurovision song contest. But did they care? Hell no. Portugal, the rugby team, played rather well at times and pulled out a few moves for an unexpected try. One can only assume that this led to even more over-vigorous singing in the showers.

England v Samoa and England v Tonga

These games always shaped as tantalising clashes between the cashed-up and the cash-strapped. They are now must-see attractions. England's plodding version of rugby not only deserves to be ripped apart by at least one of these two teams, it should also be chucked out of the tournament before the quarter-finals. Fingers crossed, but France versus Ireland on Saturday should also be a ripper. The importance of the clash and the presence of rival and passionate supporters ensures a great occasion. Warning: the rugby probably won't be flash.

Eddie Jones

You've got to love the man who TV3's Hamish McKay loves calling Jake White's new best friend. The former Wallaby coach turned Springbok technical adviser is a great story waiting to happen should this tournament become an Australia-South Africa showdown. Jones' one fingered salute to convention is a breath of fresh air in a staid rugby world. Here's a thought - the straight talking Jones would make a great TV commentator. If he's not trying to bring Australia to its knees at the 2011 World Cup, the New Zealand rights-holder should make a play for Eddie Jones. For now, the sight of Eddie sitting in the stands next to his new best friend Jake White adds spice to a tournament that badly needs great dollops of the stuff.

Tony Spreadbury

That really was a very good refereeing performance in the opening match between France and Argentina. If only rugby could always be played with such accurate and unobtrusive officiating. The Englishman has won plaudits for his display at Stade de France and rightly so. He did much more than simply add to a stirring opener to the tournament. Maybe there is hope for the old game yet.

Bryan Habana

Every World Cup needs a dead-set superstar and the South African wing is shaping as the man most likely. What pace and balance. And what a physique. Either Habana has been locked in a gymnasium for a couple of years or else he's still got a coathanger stuck in his shirt. Bryan Habana looks like Superman riding a greyhound. It's been a long time since South Africa had a candidate as the best wing in the game - if they ever did - but they've certainly got one now. It makes you wonder what other talent might be lying dormant in their land.

Jerry Collins

The All Blacks deserve a mention because, well, they are the All Blacks and this is New Zealand. Collins has always been a personal favourite because of the uncomplicated way he plays, which is the height of sophistication compared with the way he talks. It's the lack of airs and graces which are so appealing - Collins said he was out to give Portugal a beating and did his level best to do so.$ %@ yes. That's all folks.

CHRIS RATTUE | The NZ Herald | Wednesday, 19 September , 2007 | Comment on this article

Chris Rattue

Please Springboks end this nightmare 17/10/07
France pose absolutely no threat to the All Blacks 3/10/07
World Cup wallowing but for ankle biters 19/9/07
Bring on the upsets 17/9/07
Paris warms to RWC 8/9/07
Beating the bookies 29/8/07
Forward casualties 15/8/07
Village idiots part II 8/8/07

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