ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday October 7, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 19

Rugby World Cup shifting to top gear

Fiji rugby union national team players practice during a training session at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille, 05 October 2007, two days before their World Cup quarter final match against South-Africa. AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVAT

Should England continue with Brian Ashton is the question that haunts the minds of the British rugby followers. This comes hot on the heels of Wales ditching their coach after what they claim is a disastrous world cup 2007. It seems alarm bells are ringing for those who handled teams that were expected to be in the line up of the last eight. But they have not. Most still cannot believe that it is Fiji and not Wales that are in the quarter final stage. Wales are looking for a new national coach, their sixth in less than six years. Gareth Jenkins was sacked after their elimination at the hands of Fiji. Wales only managed to beat Japan and Canada who ended last in their group below Japan. The debate in France is why it is Argentina that is leading the group. France being second has forced the hosts to play their quarter final against New Zealand in Cardiff. It is the unexpected that happened not only to Wales but to Ireland too. After doing well in the Six Nations series they are nowhere close to the world cup this 2007. They did mange to avoid what would have been a very unpleasant loss to Namibia. Others who have joined in leaving France include Italy.

After the second week I said that it seems it will be all Southern Hemisphere semis final and it seems it is what will happen. Argentina being strong contenders to be in the semi final was something some of those who are engaged in guiding rugby destiny in Sri Lanka could not believe. At least now they may have to. Argentina meets Scotland and has every chance of winning. Argentina is the only team remaining in the tournament and have received neither red nor yellow cards. It is this discipline that will possibly take them further than the Scots. The Scots will have to come with some superior performance than they have not managed to display so far in the 2007 World Cup. This will expose Argentina to meet either South Africa or Fiji. The most likely will be South Africa who have performed well in this world cup but are weakened by injury. Fiji fully justifies a place in the quarters, though they may find South Africa more difficult in comparison to the Welsh. Yet one thing is certain. That is the Africans will not underestimate them.

The winners of the Australia and England will meet the winners of New Zealand versus France. The possibility is very strong that that it is to be a New Zealand Playing South Africa final .From one side of the draw South Africa will come through with not so tough games. On the other side it may be a bruised Kiwis side that has two tough teams to beat in the quarters and the semis. The quarters onwards will produce more exciting rugby than what has been seen up to now.

Argentina and Fiji are two teams who were not in contention to challenge the giants that have shown tremendous improvement. Both Fiji and Argentina are hampered by the lack of international match exposure as they proceed up the ladder. The story as we enter the knock out phase is not of New Zealand the side that cannot be defeated. It is not about early exits of Wales and Ireland. It is about the lasting memories created by the smaller nations who were accustomed to feeding on the crumbs, now displaying heroic pride. Argentina has climbed to fourth place in the IRB rankings, yet do they have a place in tournaments outside of the world cup. Their victory over the hosts was no surprise and no fluke. They won against Ireland because they dominated the critical areas, winning both the battle of the breakdown and the kicking game. The widening gap in resources and money has not stopped the lower tier sides in this world cup producing some memorable performances. Georgia came close to upsetting Ireland, Japan giving Fiji a real scare and then tying with Canada. All of these raised bigger cheers. Japan against Canada was a match that kept everybody on their toes Of course, Samoa, Tonga besides Fiji are others who stood up to be recognized These Islanders have the advantage of being genetically designed to play rugby. But what are their problems to be among the best. Once gain the number of matches they play and the lack of Finances. The Fijian squad wished to travel the night before their game against Wales but couldn’t afford the overnight hotel expense

Tonga too has had their own share of worries with the major problem being funds. They managed to be in the World Cup due to the generosity of a wealthy Tongan businessman living in Germany. Thanks to the generosity the historical match against England was televised in Tonga. These teams achieve with what they what they have, and thrill the fans with they play a brand of rugby characterized by natural enthusiasm and exciting use of body contact. However, the most revealing and also encouraging aspect has not been the top three or four sides pulling away from the pack, but the bottom eight or nine showing they deserve to be there with the big boys They deserve the best not the crumbs that fall out.

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