2 Oct

The Eight Emerge
by Tracey Nelson
2 Oct 2007

The final eight teams have been decided, with the boil over being Fiji’s win over Wales – thus knocking the Welsh out of the tournament with the conclusion of pool play. The three southern powers of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia had already booked their quarter final spots by finishing undisputed top of their respective pools before the final round, however Pool D remained an enigma right up to the final pool game as to which of Argentina, Ireland and France would miss out on going through to the quarter finals, and who would finish top of the pool and thus miss playing the All Blacks in that game.

As expected (well, by those of us who usually reside south of the equator anyway), Argentina put paid to Ireland’s hopes, beating them comprehensively in the end to emerge the overall winners of Pool D by virtue of having beaten France in the opening game of the tournament. That there are two sides in the quarter finals, neither of whom compete in either the Tri Nations or the Six Nations, should be making some of the fuddy duddies at the IRB sit up and take notice. Not that we shall hold our collective breath.

With Australia, New Zealand and France all now ending up on the same side of the draw, South Africa looks to have the easiest road through to the final meeting Fiji in the quarter finals, and then most likely Argentina in the semi (Argentina meeting a less than impressive looking Scotland in the other quarter final). The fly in the ointment for South Africa could well be Argentina though, who are looking more and more confident as the tournament progresses and they have both the forward pack and the kicking game that could quell the Boks.

Australia will play the unfancied England in their quarter final, and given the woeful state of English rugby you’d have to think that Australia would win that game unless it comes down to a swathe of scrums which is the one area England would certainly have the wood on them. Meanwhile New Zealand will take on host nation France – although this game will be played on the neutral territory of Millenium Stadium in Cardiff and it remains to be seen how France will cope with the lack of home ground advantage.

With the rapidly decaying state of rugby in the home unions, and France looking out of sorts other than when playing the minnows, there remains a high chance of the semi finals being an all southern hemisphere affair. One has to wonder what the interest will be like in France and the UK should that happen. Surely the tournament organisers would not have wanted a New Zealand-France clash this early in the tournament, and likewise I’m sure that France would have been expecting to play a quarter final in front of a partisan home crowd on their home turf in Paris.

To win the Webb Ellis Trophy, New Zealand now faces the sternest path having to beat France, Australia and most probably South Africa to be crowned world champions. And if they can beat those three teams in space of three weeks, then they surely will deserve that mantle.

2 Oct

Anyone for Tiddlywinks?
by Paul Waite
2 Oct 2007

Tana Umaga, who gave voice to that legendary remark "we’re
not playing tiddlywinks" after being pinged for a dangerous tackle by Australian ref Peter Marshall in
2003, is probably of a mind with us on this one.

The current clampdown at the Rugby World Cup is taking the game into dangerous waters.

Already we have players who are currently rugby icons voicing concerns over it. There is a great article by Grant Fox over on RugbyHeaven which cites Jerry Collins as saying he hopes that the game doesn’t become sanitised to the point he no longer wants to play it. That would be a sad indictment.

In the same article Fox reports that Samoan coach and All Black great Michael Jones is saying the current trend is legislating the physical tackling style of his Samoan players out of the game, a style lauded and loved by every rugby fan world-wide since the 1991 World Cup. Jones further adds "if this keeps up, I’ll tell my son to play rugby league". As Fox says, anyone who knows Michael would take his comments seriously; he isn’t one to give voice to such a strong opinion lightly.

At this World Cup we have seen things being taken to ridiculous extremes, given that rugby is a full contact sport which has, at its roots, a "warrior mentality". Players at a ruck are no longer even permitted to so much as rest a foot on a supine opposition player’s body, without being penalised for "using the feet in an inappropriate manner".

First of all they emasculate the game by legislating against genuine rucking (to the great detriment of the ruck itself) now they want to sanitize it still further. Surely it’s all a cruel joke. We’re already seeing the fruits of this. In the Argentina vs. Ireland test Geordan Murphy milked an easy penalty for a supposed obstruction by falling as if pole-axed. We will see more of this as the clampdown bites. Instead of being honestly physical the game will become like soccer – a play-acting competition for the referee’s whistle.

It isn’t clear either, who or what is really behind this misguided drive toward a supposed nirvana of a rugby purged clean of anything remotely resembling aggressive contact or interaction between players.

Who decided it needed to be done, and why? How come the main stake-holders in all of this – the fans themselves weren’t canvassed? Is it the moguls who control the purse-strings of the game who are behind it? Or is it just the IRB with a bee buzzing around up it’s stupid collective jacksie?

I have no idea of the answer to any of these questions. The tenet "if it aint broke, don’t fix it" comes to mind. That one, and the more famous (if a little less focussed) "fuck off".

Do I seem a bit over-wrought and frustrated?

Well blame it on seeing a bunch of morons who should know better, seemingly bent on destroying the ethos and qualities of a game I love and, like many, many fans around the World, have a huge emotional stake in.

I get the feeling that this might be related to ownership. In the days of yore (pre-1995) the game was, by and large, "owned" by you and me, Joe and Joanna Public, and the players. We created it from humble beginnings, forned teams and Unions, forged the likes of the All Blacks, the Silver Fern, The Lions, built the grounds up from simple paddocks to large stadia, and we loved it. Players played it, we watched them, it was uncomplicated.

Then, in 1995, without any of us realising it the "ownership" was somehow transferred out of our hands, and slipped discreetly into the hands of the moguls. Not a bad deal eh – ordinary folks do all the hard yakka for 100 years, and create a massive tradition, then they get it all handed to them on a plate. Anyway, what we’ve seen since then is a succession of changes to the game, most of which strangely enough, have been to suit the needs of TV and other revenue streams. Like the removal of all NZ tests to the bitterly cold damp nights, forcing us to become the vampires of the rugby World, never to play a test in daylight ever again, so that Poms can watch our team (and the ads) over their cornflakes. Like the stupid designer jerseys which change every year so that the apparel sponsor can turn more of them over, never mind if they subvert the traditions of a national jersey.

Then there are the laws of the game.

There has been a constant pressure to simplify and speed the game up, and produce more compelling rugby for the neutral and inexpert punter, that being the goal of TV so it can attract more viewers to ‘the product’ world-wide.

Possibly the latest sanitization moves have come as a result of this kind of pressure from the heavyweight moguls now controlling the game through money. I can easily see how they would want less "ugliness" to be seen on screen, so that a family of Peruvians watching it on Sunday afternoon TV won’t get too grossed out by the sight of blood.

Or maybe I’ve got it wrong, and it’s the IRB who think that they can encourage more mums to get their kids into the sport if it’s less rough. Hey, great idea, let’s get more people playing the sport by changing it into another different sport.

We already have Touch Rugby for that kind of sporting aspiration. Hell, even Sevens Rugby, played socially is pretty gentle on the bod compared with XV’s.

The bottom line is rugby union is now under serious threat, apparently from within. The IRB need to take a good hard look at what they are trying to do and why, and the effects that it will have on the game both in terms of the spectators and fans watching it, and the players playing it.

The very best thing the IRB could do for this game is to back right off from the ridiculous clampdown, and re-introduce rucking as a recognised and permitted facet of the game.

Not only would it protect the essential warrior ethos of the game – that traditional rugby ethic of good, honest physicality – it would help to clean up the breakdown/ruck area, which has become such a mess since rucking was banned.

Get it right IRB, and stop fucking things up.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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2 Oct

In the Valleys of Wales, boy-o
by Tracey Nelson
2 Oct 2007

Welsh_Dragon_CymruIt’s official. We are not the only rugby obsessed nation in the world. There’s one over this side of the world too. I’m in Wales for this next fortnight leading up to the semi-finals in Paris, and for the first few days I was here the main headlines in the papers and on TV were the crisis in Welsh rugby following their exit from the Rugby World Cup at the hands of Fiji.

It’s great to be somewhere you don’t have to hunt high and low to find newspaper articles featuring the Rugby World Cup, and to actually find those stories heading the sports news instead of being buried behind three pages of football results. Not to mention walking around the streets and seeing kids with rugby balls all heading off to practice in the late afternoon. I haven’t actually clapped eyes on a soccer ball since being here. It’s brilliant!

What has surprised me though, is that the Welsh didn’t see their demise coming. Seriously, they were convinced they were going to be playing in the quarter finals – to the point where there have been stories in the papers about fans complaining that they have forked out hundreds if not thousands of pounds for match tickets, airfares and accommodation in Marseille this weekend. Except that their team isn’t there, and they want a refund. Apparently those who bought tickets through the clubs can get a refund on the tickets, but there are no refund for flights or accommodation. Frankly, regardless of whether my team was playing, if I lived here permanently and had paid to go to the south of France for the weekend I wouldn’t be worrying about who was on the field. I’d just be heading for the sun. There ain’t much of that in Wales at the moment. And you could always sell your tickets outside the ground and get a bit of dosh back that way.

Meanwhile the other main story is who will coach Wales next? It’s kind of like the poisoned chalice really, but I guess someone needs to take the job on. The initial favourites have dipped out of contention with South Africa’s Nick Mallet all but signed on the dotted line to take over Italy after the World Cup, and Eddie Jones confirming he’ll be coaching club rugby in England. The names of Warren Gatland (who suspiciously pulled out of the assistant coaching position for the 2008 Chiefs’ season a few weeks ago – conspiracy theory #547) and Robbie Deans remain high on the list, but apparently poor old Steve Hansen isn’t wanted “by the people”. Mind you, those same people supposedly wanted Gareth Jenkins and look where that landed them.

I’m off to the Millenium Stadium on Saturday to watch the All Blacks take on France. It will be my first time at the stadium and I’m really looking forward to the atmosphere. It will not be my first time watching the All Blacks play France in a World Cup knock-out game however, as I was there at Twickenham in 1999 – and still have nightmares about it to this day. Back in 1999 people were only giving France a 10% chance of winning that game. Apparently this time round it’s about 20-25%. But I don’t think any New Zealander, whether they are coach, player or fan, will be taking any notice of what is being said off the field. It all comes down to 80 minutes this weekend. So it will be a case of butterflies, sweaty palms and racing pulse – and that’s just about hoping that the trains are actually running to time and I can get to the stadium!

 

 

2 Oct

Here, there and everywhere
by Tracey Nelson
2 Oct 2007

Phew, I must say my carbon footprint has been of rather large proportions this last week. Upon our return to London it was off to Rome the next day, where there wasn’t much sign of the Rugby World Cup – until we were standing in the Metro a few blocks from the Vatican. Just after one of the trains had gone I was sure I could hear the Haka, and sure enough playing on the information screen at the platform was the Adidas advertisement (you know, the one with the ABs drawing little figures on the glass wall and explaining what the Haka means to them). Of course, they had been voiced over in Italian but it was still pretty neat standing in Rome and hearing it. Word has it that there is a rather large billboard in Berlin sporting one D. Carter in his jocks too. It’s amazing where our All Blacks pop up.

Speaking of things Metro in Rome, I did run into the scariest Transvestite I’ve ever seen in my life – and I literally ran into him/her with my bags as I was trying to get on the train into the main station. I’m not sure if it was the 6ft-plus height, the very short red dress and red stiletto heels, the alarming makeup that looked like it had been done in the dark on a really rough boat trip, or the incredibly fake blonde wig capping the whole thing off that made my eyes pop open as wide as they did. Fantastic.

From Rome I had to take the overnight train to Nice, then connect through to Toulouse – which was, given my recent run of train dramas, just too good to be true. And so it was. The overnight train was late in, making me, several other Kiwis and quite a few Aussies miss the 10am connection. I did end up chatting with an Italian girl on the last leg of the journey into Nice and had told her where I was from, but it wasn’t until we stood up to get off the train and she spied the little All Blacks keyring hanging from my backpack that she suddenly cried "The All Blacks! You’re here for the the All Blacks? I love the All Blacks!". Somewhat startling, but very nice of her to be that excited.

Of course, all this missing of trains was taking place on the Friday, a night I had hoped to be meeting up with friends in Toulouse and sitting down to watch the England-Tonga game. But the SCNF train system yet again conspired against me and with two further delays I didn’t get to Toulouse until halftime in the match. At least I got to see the second half, which was more than all the Aussies did as they had a further 40 minutes travel through to Bordeaux. Mind you, there are worse places to be stuck waiting for trains than on the Mediterranean coast of France so I shan’t moan too much.

A good time, albeit a short time, was had in Toulouse and I must say the stadium was very good (other than the shenanigans of having to run around the entire outside of the stadium to get into gate 41 because they’d fenced off the openings between gate 1 and gate 41 to let all the suits and hobnobs into the lounges). It’s so refreshing to be in stadiums built for football so that you’re close to the sidelines instead of peering hopefully into the distance to make out the numbers on the shirts 100m away on the other side of the ground. That, and watching rugby in the daytime instead of the evening, although that will now change with all the quarter finals, semis and the final being played in the evening.

Sunday was another train trip back to Marseille to get my flight through to London, then it was off to Wales – not a good place to be now that their team has been knocked out of the competition. I grabbed a couple of papers at Paddington station this morning, I don’t know what it is about Brit newspapers but as soon as you start reading them the pages seem to dry out and go puffy and crinkly, so that what started out as a reasonably thinnish newspaper ends up the size of a large goosedown pillow. I gave up trying to fold them up again and further polluted the planet by chucking it in the bin on the train.

Here in Wales the knives are certainly out. Coach Gareth Jenkins has been sacked, and the rumour mill is rife as to who might be the next coach. A list as long as my arm is starting to form, with quite a few Kiwi names popping up (Gatland, Deans) along with Nick Mallet and Eddie Jones. Given the current state of the home unions I wouldn’t be surprised if there are plenty of coaching jobs for anyone from the Southern Hemisphere. The locals are not short of an opinion, and are all denying that Jenkins was ever "the people’s choice". As you do, of course.

I’ll finish this off with perhaps the funniest thing I’ve heard yet on my travels (and I’ve heard quite a few). While waiting for my train home at London Bridge last night an announcement came over the speakers, stating: "Professional beggars impersonating homeless people are operating on Platforms 4 and 5 of this station. Please be aware of this". You had to laugh.

 

 

 

1 Oct

The Phony War Is Over
by Paul Waite
1 Oct 2007

your_country_needs_youWe finally have an end to the ‘phony war’ of pool play, and the real battle lines have now been drawn. The four quarter-finals will be Austraiia v England, South Africa v Fiji, New Zealand v France, and Argentina v Scotland.

The ‘north versus south’ aspect of these tests will only add spice to an already tasty-looking start to the Rugby World Cup knockout stages, with big improvers England looking set to give the Wallabies a run for their money.

South Africa should dispose of Fiji easily enough in the one test which looks to be of lesser interest to the neutral spectator, but the quarter-final between France and the All Blacks could well produce the kind of fireworks that the event needs. New Zealand will obviously go in as favourites given the recent track record between the nations, and the fact France will be playing on foreign territory. Although at first sight it might appear to be a neutral venue, there is good reason to believe that the All Blacks might be able to regard Millenium Stadium as a kind of home ground especially if, as expected, a lot of Welsh fans switch their support to them on the night. At any rate, the very idea of the Welsh supporting the French is patently ridiculous!

But to write off the 2007 Rugby World Cup hosts in any sudden-death test match would be a grave mistake. They have the strength all-round, and the firepower out wide to pull a big one out of the bag, and the All Blacks will be very wary of that. The 1999 Rugby World Cup semi-final might be prominent in some minds – it certainly is in mine.

In the event that New Zealand win though to the semi-final in Paris it does raise the question of how the French fans would react. Knowing how the French generally love the All Blacks, and keeping in mind the reports of the huge numbers of locals turning out wearing Black Jerseys in the south, the All Blacks might arrive back in Paris to a huge boost in support if they make it through.

Argentina saw off the desperate challenge of the Irish to earn their place in the quarterfinals on merit, and look to be too strong for Scotland to contain. Having prepared thoroughly for the first time in a World Cup the Pumas are ticking over like a well-oiled machine, playing to their strengths both up front and in the backs. Their hard-driving pick and go, mauling and scrummaging is superb, and in the backs Gus Pichot runs the backline with confidence and panache. With Felipe Contepomi able to snap drop-kicks off both feet from No.10, and their power in the forwards close to the line, they are a formidable outfit. Scotland will have to do what Ireland couldn’t, and play creative rugby out wide from a solid forward platform which at least matches the Pumas, if they are to make the semi-finals.

Looking back at the first quarter-final Australia, much like the All Blacks, have yet to show their real hand. They have also had a fairly weak pool and have played some fairly ordinary rugby at times against the minnows, but their biggest problem has been that of the loss of Stephen Larkham exposing the lack of depth in their squad. With renewed belief, and an on-form Johnny Wilkinson, England look to have a real chance in this test if they can impose their stolid game-plan on the quicksilver Aussies. To do that they will have to suck the Wallaby forwards into close exchanges, shut down George Gregan, and nullify the threats out wide with committed defence – not an easy task, but one which is within their compass if they can read the plays.

So finally the real World Cup begins. No disrespect to the minnows – it’s been a blast watching them challenge the big guns, and duel it out with each other, however, the next few weeks should bring us some awesome rugby at the highest level and that is what everyone has been waiting for.

If form-books are any guide, then the probable winners of these quarterfinals would be Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina. This would represent a white-wash of the Northern hemisphere, with the semis contested by the South: New Zealand v Australia and South Africa v Argentina.

On current form South Africa would be favourites against Argentina, and New Zealand over Australia to make a probable New Zealand v South Africa final.

But on-the-day passion, refereeing, pure luck, and individual brilliance can often make a nonsense of the form-books.

Bring it on!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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30 Sep

All Blacks v Romania, Toulouse, 29 September 2007
by Tracey Nelson
30 Sep 2007

The All Blacks put Romania to the sword, beating them 85-8 in their final pool game played in Toulouse, although Romania managed to do what Scotland couldn’t last week- and that was to put points on the board against the All Blacks. This they did in emphatic style, on their sole foray anywhere near the All Blacks’ line, a driving maul splitting the All Blacks for the Romanian hooker, Marius Tincu, to crash over for their only try of the game. If there is any weakness in the All Blacks’ game, it is probably defending against a rolling maul and no doubt this will be not only on their minds but the minds of the French as they head to Cardiff to face off in the quarter final next weekend.

This was yet another emphatic win for the men in black, despite being punctuated by some stutters at the back of the scrum and at times a lack of fluidity in the sweeping moves attempted by both backs and forwards. There were times, especially in the first half, when the All Blacks were hassled into mistakes by a very committed Romanian pack, and a Romanian halfback who must surely have been testing the offside line to its very limit at scrum time. However, you were left feeling that the All Blacks only tried out a couple of moves and then for the most part simply used space and pace to submerge a gallant but totally outclassed Romanian side, preferring to keep their secrets firmly hidden until the knock-out stages of the quarter finals.

it was the first appearance at the RWC for Keith Robinson, and he performed well for the 60 or so minutes he was on the field. His soaring, two-handed lineout takes were at his trademark best, and it was pleasing to see he still had gas left in the tank when he jogged off the field, seemingly none the worse for wear in his first full contact game for some months.

Joe Rokocoko was in sizzling form scoring a hat-trick of tries, whilst on the other wing Sitiveni Sivivatu was brutally unstoppable close to the line. Doug Howlett chimed in when he came on as a replacement, showing impressive speed on attack and bagging another try to add to his record tally. With three world class wingers all in good form, the All Black selectors have some hard decisions to make when they pick their side for the Cardiff quarter final – but I’m sure it’s a dilemma other sides could only dream of having.

Nick Evans once again proved his versatility, playing at fullback for three quarters of the game before shifting into 1st 5 for the final 20 minutes. Indeed, his move into the pivot position was instrumental in the backline finally gaining some rythym, no better illustrated than by his break of the line and threading of his arms through in the tackle to offload the ball to Aaron Mauger. The ball was then fed through various hands in a perfect sequence of draw and pass for Toeava, having shifted from centre out to the wing in the final part of the game, to score the try that had begun in the All Blacks’ own 22. Evans also managed to kick the now revealed lemon of a ball between the sticks, seemingly with ease. With concerns over the fitness of Dan Carter it was a calming thought to know that Evans is ready and waiting in the wings should he be required.

There will be plenty for the selectors to ponder as they start to plan for the quarter final game against France in Cardiff. There were signs from the French today that they are slowly coming into form, but equally there are large dashes of ineptitude and squandering of chances that must be pounced on if the host country is to be knocked out of the competition and the All Blacks are to truly begin their march towards the final. Only time will tell if the weak pool games have hampered the All Blacks’ preparation for the big games, and this coming weekend will be the first true test of that.

24 Sep

Scotland v All Blacks, Edinburgh, 24 September 2007
by Tracey Nelson
24 Sep 2007

OK, so who was the halfwit from the RWC organising committee who gave the go-ahead for all the team jerseys and alternate strips for this tournament? Is he blind, or just did it in the dark? The moment the two teams ran onto the field for this third pool game the entire crowd at Murrayfield all started gaping in disbelief at the close resemblence of the two strips.

The All Blacks, having lost the coin toss that decided who had to wear their alternate strip (given that our normal jersey is black and Scotland’s is navy blue) were decked out in the silver/grey panelled shirts with black shorts and sock. But Scotland ran out in grey and navy panelled jerseys, with the white cross of St Andrew across their chests, navy shorts and navy socks on. Essentially both teams were wearing grey jerseys. Which begs the questions, why didn’t we just wear our normal black jerseys because it would have made life a hell of a lot easier not just for the spectators but I’ve no doubt the players themselves.

Given the Scots weren’t playing their strongest XV for this match, having rested 13 of their top line up, there was huge expectation that something resembling a cricket score would be mounted by the All Blacks. But despite denying Scotland any points during the 80 minutes, the All Blacks failed to produce the consumate drubbing many of their supporters were hoping for. Indeed, many fans walked away from the stadium feeling somewhat deflated if conversations in bars afterwards were anything to go by.

Kudos to Scotland, they defended ferociously for most of the game, although quite how thier fullback Hugo Southwell managed to keep getting up from some of the bone-crunchihg collisions he was involved in (particularly when Tony Woodcock went head on into his ribs for a try disallowed due to a prior forward pass) is nothing short of miraculous.

The All Blacks started well enough with a very slickly performed set-piece move from a 5m attacking scrum putting McCaw over for a try after 5 minutes. Shortly after that Doug Howlett crossed over in the corner to take his place as New Zealand’s greatest ever try scorer, just reward for one of our best finishers. However, the persistence and tenacity of the Scottish defence meant the remainder of the game was punctuated by numerous handling errors by the All Blacks, including a large tally of foward passes that continued to mount throughout. There were also some lineout wobbles, although it must be conceded that the Scots do have a very good lineout. Which is more than can be said for their scrum, which struggled throughout the game until South African referee, Marius Jonkers, lost patience with Scotland and started dishing out penalties as a result of their inability to maintain the binds in the front row.

The most notable thing about this game, in contrast to the two previous pool games, was the apparent failure of the All Blacks to be able to put the man into the gap and let the passes go. Initially there was a degree of frustration about this, but as the game wore on it became apparent that like the spectators the players were having problems sighting their team mates when the two backlines met. While this could be taken as a negative, there were some positive outcomes too – the All Blacks have conceded quite a few intercept passes in the last two games, one of which led to a try, but in this game they did not offer up the same chances to Scotland and overall against a fast defensive line, there were very few 50/50 passes thrown.

Defensively the All Blacks would have to feel pretty pleased about their efforts, particularly during the first half when Scotland mounted one very strong attack that was eventually repelled. They did enough on attack to win the game by 40 points without having to show too much of their hand heading into the quarter finals. The only real cloud was a calf injury early on in the game to fullback Leon MacDonald that eventually saw him leave the field to be replaced by Nick Evans. That, and an uncharacteristically bad day at the office for Dan Carter with the boot missing no less than 5 place kicks at goal.

21 Sep

Sidelines from the RWC
by Tracey Nelson
21 Sep 2007

Reuben Thorne looks set to make his first appearance at the tournament when the team to play Scotland is named on Tuesday evening, France time. However, the clock remains ticking for lock Keith Robinson and if he cannot recover from his calf injury it looks likely that a replacement will be called up for him – the front runners being Otago’s Tom Donnelly, a specialist lock who showed good form with the Junior All Blacks this season, or Auckland’s Troy Flavell who was part of the All Black squad during the Iveco series and the Tri Nations this season.

What are the chances of the 2007 RWC semi finals being an all Southern Hemisphere derby? On current form it seems more than likely that South Africa, Australia and New Zealand will be first place getters in Pools A, B and C respectively. Pool D looks to be a fight between France and Argentina, unless Ireland can pull themselves out of the mire and produce something miraculous to beat both those sides in the final two weeks of pool play. If Argentina beat Ireland, then they will top Pool D which would see France as the runner up having to play New Zealand in Cardiff – a prospect they and the tournament organisers surely wouldn’t have been hoping for so early in the piece.

It’s official – England are the worst defending champion of the Rugby World Cup crown. Not only have they slipped to 7th in the world rankings but their win/loss ratio over the past four years has now dipped below the 50% mark. They are also the first title holders to be held to nil in a World Cup pool game.

Best newspaper quote of the week (and there have been some good ones after the Springboks’ demolition of England) was from the Weekend Argus based out of Capetown: "Before the match they (England) went through a warm-up routine that looked like a ‘handbags at 10 paces’ routine rather than a team gearing up for a match against one of the most physical teams in the world’.

Funniest advertisment – Nike ran a full page spread before the England-Springbok game of the English players standing staunchly with arms folded on the Dover cliffs with the caption reading "Not without a fight". In hindsight perhaps a better caption may have been "Just like lemmings…"

The powerful French loose forward, Eric Chabal, has been quoted as saying that despite his wild looks and brutal running on the field "in my mind I am tranquil". Well thank heavens for that, because the mind boggles as to what he might produce if he was feeling a little riled!!

Who would ever have imagined an All Black pack containing five front rowers? With the current locking crisis in the All Black camp Saturday’s game against Portugal saw TH prop Carl Hayman replacing Chris Jack at lock and and hooker Keven Mealamu coming on at blindside flanker for Jerry Collins to form surely one of the most unusual forward packs in New Zealand’s rugby history.

21 Sep

Old Blighty
by Tracey Nelson
21 Sep 2007

nz_memorialsIt’s been a bit of a comedown being in autumnal London after the balmy, late summer weather in the South of France. Bu there are always things to do and see in London, one of which was to visit the New Zealand War Memorial at Hyde Park Corner – quite a neat piece of Kiwi-ness in the heart of London City. I must say it was an almighty achievement to get that position for a piece of NZ too. Among the many plinths that make up the memorial is one sporting a rugby ball, commemorating CJ Munro who introduced the game to New Zealand upon his return after completing his schooling at Christ’s College in Finchely for two years. Bless the man.

British newspapers are always an amusing read during a Rugby World Cup, and by and by they haven’t disappointed – though the English team are probably quite relieved that the Northern Rock Bank financial crisis and the “sacking” of Jose Mourinho from the manager’s job at the Chelsea Football Club have overshadowed their appalling loss to South Africa in Paris the other week. The All Blacks did manage to get some praise from Stephen Jones though, for their on-field attitude against Portugal in Lyon. Crikey, what is the world coming to?!

This last weekend gone I got first hand experience of that wonder known as British Rail and can now see why people whinge about it so much. We had 1st class tickets, but may as well have been in cattle class both ways as on the way up they had no power in the kitchen so there was no hot food nor

complimentary tea and coffee for those in 1st class. On the way back we were supposed to be able to use the dining car but within minutes of it opening (it was 5 carriages back from the 1st class carriages)

it was full and they wouldn’t take any more seatings so most people travelling in 1st class missed out on a meal. How does that work?

The train trip up was great fun though. The carriages were mostly full of Kiwi supporters on their way up to Edinburgh for the game so there was plenty of banter and lively discussion for the first half of the journey. The second half of the trip saw most of our carriage gathered around one set of seats where one of the guys had a small, portable TV set to view the England-Samoa game. Unfortunately, every time the game got exciting we would round a bend in the track and lose coverage so it became a combination of someone on a mobile getting updates from a mate watching the game on TV back in London combined with brief glimpses of play between the snow storms on the screen. Possibly the best moment of all though was pulling out of the station at Newcastle where some fully fledged train spotters were out en masse doing their Saturday morning surveillance of the trains going in and out of the town. You have to see it to believe it, but they fully live up to the stereotype.

Edinburgh itself was an interesting experience. Chocka with an influx of All Black supporters the restaurants were bulging at the seams and you were hard pressed not to have anything shorter than an hour wait for a table even as late as 9.30pm. Breakfast the next morning wasn’t any easier, as nothing opened for on the Sunday morning (day of the game) until midday. We went to four cafes and were told that they weren’t doing breakfast until noon before we found somewhere that was. Then this morning (Monday) when we went to get breakfast, the places advertising “All Day Breakfasts” stopped serving them at 10am. How does that work again? Since when did All Day only include the hours that are single digit? Not to mention two places had run out of bacon. How gormless are these people when they knew there was a World Cup game and a huge influx of tourists to their city? There were countless numbers of Kiwis roaming the streets with slighty bemused expressions on the faces looking in vain for something, anything to eat. (Hmmm, maybe that’s why Fat Bastard ate babies…. it was all he could find!)

And cold! It’s only the beginning of their autumn and the wind in Edinburgh could cut you to the bone. Yet while I was wrapped up in coats and scarves (and keep in mind Christchurch where I’m from isn’t exactly the Riviera itself), there were local folk walking about in t-shirts. They’re either tough as boots or lunatics. On the plus side, they do have fantastic black pudding in Scotland. And the

people are friendly even if you can’t understand a word they’re saying when they get excited – or with some even when they were talking normally.

This week I’m looking foward to getting back to southern France and the warm climes of Toulouse, known as the Pink City, to watch the All Blacks take on Romania in the last round of pool games. The main mission is going to be making sure I get there in time to watch the England-Tonga game on the Friday night, which will determine the runner up of Pool A behind South Africa. The English are pretty worried about this game, and the way Tonga have been playing and the fact this game is being played on French soil they are probably right to be worried. There are a couple of other must-watch games too, those being the Scotland-Italy match that will decide who comes second in our pool, and most importantly the clash between Ireland and Argentina that will not only decide which of the two teams goes through but also determine who the All Blacks will be playing in the quarter final game in Cardiff.

So much rugby, and thankfully this coming weekend so much time to watch it all!

 

17 Sep

Lyon to London
by Tracey Nelson
17 Sep 2007

le_grill_de_bellecourUnfortunately my brief time in the beautiful city of Lyon is at an end, and I don’t mind saying that despite France being a desperately frustrating country to be in at times, I was very reluctant to leave Lyon.  Other than the trumpets, that is.  I’m not sure how well the small brass bands complete with drummer come across on TV, but they are a regular fixture at French grounds – and if you’re really “lucky”, sometimes you’ll get two of them at either end of the field.

Now I am not a fan of brass at the best of times, and frankly despite it all being very Latin and with loud yells of “Ole” coming from the locals at the appropriate moment following a blast from the trumpets, I will enjoy being in Edinburgh this weekend well away from anything brass.  Not to mention the elusive sole trumpeter who would appear frrom seemingly nowhere at the traffic lights outside my Lyon hotel and blast out a frenetic volley before disappearing again.  As far as I’m aware, this went on pretty much throughout the whole day for the three days we were in Lyon and for the life of me I still don’t know whether he was busking or just a random lunatic, but I am done with the trumpets for the time being!

I dined out with some new friends in the well known Brasserie George in Lyon, a large and bustling restaurant with a staggeringly big menu that made choosing your food quite a hard mission. The brasserie features a live jazz band and one of the specialities of the house is Baked Alaska (although you need to order it at the start of your meals if you want it for dessert).  If it’s your birthday they put sparklers on top of it and when the waiter whisks it out to your table they dim the lights and the band launches into Happy Birthday.  The first time it happened that evening all the French patrons started clapping loudly in time to the music and a huge cheer went up when the dessert reached the intended table.  We were quite amused by this, and lo and behold when a few minutes later another one came out, once again the lights dimmed, the band played and the people clapped.

By the time the third one came out we had got with the programme and joined in with the clapping and whistling.  But then everyone started getting Baked Alaska with sparkler candles (I cannot believe that so many people could possibly have had a birthday on the same day in the one restaurant) so the fun began to wear off – the band started getting bored with the same birthday ditty and started doing variations on the Happy Birthday tune and the clapping got very half hearted.  Of course, that didn’t stop us from nominating one of our table as being “the birthday boy” and we did manage to get a sparkler on top of his gateau – and although there was no dimming of the lights or the band playing Happy Birthday it still didn’t ruin the fun.

It’s not really until you are away from home that you realise how globally recognisable the All Blacks brand is. I have been constantly amazed at how many other nationalities are supporting the All Blacks at this tournament -  we had touring American backpackers turned up at our hotel complete with All Blacks face paint and flags last weekend.  I’ve already mentioned the numerous French who are decked out in black, but there are Irish, English, Norweigans and many other nationalities also turning up especially to watch the All Blacks play.  When you get into a taxi or you’re in a restaurant, cafe or bar in France, as soon as people find out you’re from New Zealand the first thing they say is “ahh, ze All Blacks!”.

Now I’m in London for the week leading up to the game against Scotland in Edinburgh, and it’s been very amusing reading the British press slamming the England team following their drubbing by South Africa on Friday.  There are even calls from the likes of Stephen Jones for a Southern Hemisphere coach to be found.  I never thought I’d see the day!

Au revoir for now.