So the tart is back in town. One of the main topics swamping newspapers, internet forums and talkback radio for the last 3 years and 11 months is that the World Cup is ruining the game of rugby. Even Grant Fox, who tends to view rugby as the best run sport ever, has finally added his weight to that viewpoint. Well, she may squash and overpower all other forms of the game, but she’s here now, so we might as well make the most of it.
What a mess of a rugby year it has been. In this part of the world we had a Super 14 that started too early, lacked its best players for over half of it, and then saw a good portion of those players then spend the balance of the tournament on the bench or injured.
We then had weekly wholesale changes of All Black sides as we hosted Canada and then the worst French team to ever tour. The must anticipated Tri-Nations series was then rendered pointless once the Springboks decided to rest their best team.
Even the dear old ANZ Cup paid more of a price than expected. Finding All Blacks in the first month of that competition was a bit like looking for funny bits in the 12 Sep 2001 edition of the New York Times. Hence the frustration of the average NZ rugby fan.
And it is not only us who have suffered. South African fans did get a bumper Super 14, but it fell apart after that; a tour by a woefully underpowered England, and they must have winced at the left-overs that represented them for the second half of the Tri-Nations. And the French had to put up with their club competition being put on ice for 2 months in the middle of it, resulting in the ramshackle team that came out to New Zealand.
In fact, only Australia, out of the potential contenders, has carried on in close to normal fashion.
Yup, the tart has mucked up everyone’s fun all right. But she’s almost here now; in a week’s time the 6th Rugby World Cup begins, and she looks like being the best yet.
Unlike previous incarnations in the Northern Hemisphere, this one has a proper base (although the matches in Cardiff and Edinburgh for political reasons are an irritation). The final 4 games are going to be held in Paris at the magnificent St. Denis stadium, promising to be the best climax yet. The perfect place for the dominatrix to strut her stuff.
Think back to past World cups. That try by Mortlock in the last semi-final, and the French running the All Blacks ragged in the previous tournament are memories easy to recall. It is hard to think back to other tries scored against us by those sides over the last 10 years so easily. Then there was the Horan – Campese show in Dublin in 91, Blanco’s last-minute match winner in 87; because the World Cup matters, these moments are not forgotten.
And of course, rugby’s most globally recognisable moment; Jonah Lomu dead-anting Mike Catt, occurred at a World Cup. Whatever happens in that final week in Paris, it will be prime rugby conversation point for the next 4 years.
But it’s more than just that week in Paris. The World Cup also provides the opportunity for us to watch the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Argentina play with… full strength sides. That’s something they probably won’t get to do again until the next time the tart comes around.
Then there is the oddity of Georgia; a small part of the Soviet Union that no-one had heard of until they broke the record a few years back for crowd size in a World Cup qualification match. In these days of homogenised international sporting events, where teams’ styles merge into one, it is refreshing to see a distinct brand of rugby. In this case, it’s a game plan built around the scrum and the rolling maul.
Will Portugal spend the tournament rolling around on the grounds like their football counterparts? Have England been keeping things up their sleeves? Can Italy make the long awaited breakthrough to the quarterfinals? Who’s going to die from Group D? What oddities are Japan going to offer this time round?
She is knocking at the door now. Lie back, and enjoy the World Cup for all that she’s worth.
First published on Sportsfreak