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March 23, 2012

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/23/2012

St Helens teachers makes mark in Mexico

The Daily Mail's Chris Foy casts his eyes across the rest of the rugby world and charts the progress of Mexico ahead of the initial qualifying for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

"When Mexico's 'Snakes' start the countdown to the next World Cup against Jamaica on Saturday, an Englishman from St Helens will hope to ensure that the first of 184 qualifying matches ends in a home victory.

Robert Jones moved to Mexico City six years ago to teach PE, but the 31-year-old son of a rugby-mad Welshman is destined to feature in the back row for his adopted country as a more practical means of boosting the sport there.

The central American nation is one of 80 countries setting out to secure one of eight qualifying places for the 2015 tournament in Britain."

December 18, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 12/18/2011

Good, Bad and Ugly

The Sunday Herald hands out their awards for the World Cup.

"Best Game

South Africa versus Wales. This had a bit of everything: some genuinely good rugby from both teams but particularly the Welsh; controversy thanks to referee Wayne Barnes who said a penalty that appeared to go over, hadn't gone over; a hero in Springbok wing Francois Hougaard who scored a memorably good try late in the piece and added drama when Ryan Priestland missed an easy drop goal and James Hook a late penalty to win it for Wales."

December 5, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 12/05/2011

And the winner is...

The Guardian's Martin Pengelly gives out his awards for the last 12 months.

"From New Zealand glory to England's indignity: 12 months in Test rugby

Team of the year:

New Zealand, because the World Cup had to be taken the hard way – without Dan Carter for half of it, with Richie McCaw battling injury for all of it and with the relentlessly cited "stadium of four million" supporters rather on the eager side for a first Webb Ellis Cup win in 24 years. The All Blacks were definitely the best team but they had to hold their nerve as well as their line. Honourable mention: Wales, obviously."

December 2, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/02/2011

Magnificent Sevens

Stats from the Rugby World Cup confirm the breakdown is the key area in the modern game and openside flanker the pivotal position. The Guardian's Paul Rees writes.

"Given that the Rugby Football Union finds itself, to put it mildly, at sixes and sevens, it is an appropriate time to be talking about sevens – and a few sixes – with the Millennium Stadium on Saturday the arena for a showdown between two of the leading breakaways in the world game, Sam Warburton and David Pocock.

"Seven seems to have become the new 10 in rugby union: it would probably not be right to call them golden boys seeing as how they all seem to end a match with various cuts and bruises on their faces, reflecting the ferocity of the battle at the breakdown, but it is becoming the pivotal position in a team.

"The game analysis of this year's World Cup, published this week by the International Rugby Board, shows how the game has changed, not just since the introduction of professionalism, but in the last four years. The breakdown has become the key battleground, not the set pieces.

"The IRB's analysis showed that since 1995, ball in play time has increased by 33%; the pass rate has almost doubled; kicking out of hand has declined by 45%; the number of scrums and lineouts has fallen by nearly 40% each; and the number of rucks and mauls has virtually doubled."

December 1, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/01/2011

IRB report highlights closeness of World Cup

A report released by the International Rugby Board, which is described as the "most detailed rugby World Cup statistical analysis ever'', shows how the game has evolved since the 1995 World Cup won by hosts South Africa. The New Zealand Herald reports.

"The All Blacks had to endure the closest final in history in order to get their hands on the William Webb Ellis Cup, and a report has now revealed the tournament as a whole was the most competitive ever.

"When Richie McCaw lifted the trophy following the 8-7 nailbiter against France at Eden Park in late October it was the culmination of a month and a half of rugby in which the "Tier 2'' nations closed the gap on their "Tier 1'' counterparts, in spite of being given less chance to recover, in a schedule devised by the International Rugby Board.

"Now the IRB is celebrating the performances of nations such as Tonga and Samoa, who severely tested the big guns and, in the former's case, beat defeated finalists France in their pool match."

November 19, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/19/2011

Remember the Rugby World Cup?

New Zealand's Stephen Donald lines up a kick at goal during the recent Rugby World Cup Final © Getty Images

Before the details fade completely from the memory, the New Zealand Herald's re-lives some of the highs and lows from the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

"P Divvy's fine form - "P Divvy continued his fine form, knocking out the observations. When the Springboks found a way to lose their quarter-final against the Wallabies, Div said he felt "three notches lower than a funeral".

"Our favourite though is hearing him announce he had unfinished business and wanted to coach the Boks again. Please SARFU, let it happen.

"...Beaver fever - If the All Blacks' eventual 8-7 victory was a relief for a rugby nation deprived of any World Cup salvation since 1987, the blessing should go to Stephen Donald. While Jonny lamented his many misses for England, Donald was unerring.

"Unwanted and unfashionable, he was levered from his whitebaiting holiday at Port Waikato into a jersey two sizes too small and nailed his solitary penalty attempt from 36m. It was the kick that saved the cup.

"Beaver Fever should be mandatory each year on October 23. Here's looking forward to Beaver Day, 2012."

November 10, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/10/2011

For sale: Giant Cup rugby ball

One of the central attractions of the Rugby World Cup is for sale, though its buyer will need a large backyard and a lot of money to spend. Isaac Davison reports for the New Zealand Herald.

"The 100 per cent Pure New Zealand giant rugby ball has been retired by Tourism New Zealand and is being sold by public tender with the tagline: "Your Opportunity to own a New Zealand Icon."

"TNZ said it wanted the best price possible for the ball, and that the market would decide how much it was worth.

"The inflatable ball has been at the heart of the tourism group's advertising campaigns, and its placement at the feet of the Eiffel Tower in 2007 was considered a massive coup. It was launched at the Rugby World Cup in France, and has since had about 175,000 visitors, including the Queen."

November 2, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/02/2011

Meet the Welshman with a World Cup winners' medal

WalesOnline's Robin Turner chats to the All Blacks' performance analyst Alistair Rogers.

" To Kiwis, Rogers is the “fourth man” – an ever-present, largely unrecognised figure in the coaching box alongside the more identifiable faces of Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith. But behind the studious exterior lies an incisive analytical insight that played a crucial role in helping the World Cup hosts end their 24-year-long World Cup drought.

"A one-time flanker for Aberavon, Neath and Ebbw Vale – where the former Dyffryn Comprehensive School pupil played under future Wales coach Mike Ruddock – the 36-year-old combined his sporting expertise with his background as an IT expert to work his way back into the game.

"...But does he still feel a yearning to be involved in the resurgent Welsh set-up? “I’m not sure nationality comes into it, I’m extremely proud and privileged to be part of the All Blacks. I followed the All Blacks as a youngster and to be part of the All Black family is something very special.

“It’s a team with a wonderful culture and history and this group of players and management have worked extremely hard over the past four years (eight for some). Winning the World Cup is still sinking in."

October 31, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/31/2011

Minnows left to flounder by the IRB's big fish

Johnny Watterson of the Irish Times bemoans the unfair treatment of rugby's so-called lesser nations during the Rugby World Cup.

"Remember Dora Ratjen, the German athlete who competed in the 1936 Olympics in the high jump? Not much of a story really, except for one thing: Dora was actually Hermann. Either short of friends or terrifyingly ambitious, Herr Hermann was coerced by the Hitler Youth into tightly binding his genitals and competing against women.

"For some people it may have started out with hiding in the bushes while the rest of the team were running warm up laps. For others it was catching a ride during the pre-season road run that happened to have a two-mile stretch along the route of the local bus.

"Cheating in sport has always been fun."

October 29, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/29/2011

Refs are fallible not bias

Allan Massie, in the Scotsman, continues the defence of officials and claims their job is harder than ever with the all-seeing eyes of modern technology.

"It will be a shame if this World Cup, with its splendid final, is remembered chiefly for arguments over the refereeing.

"International referees must, of course, be subject to criticism. They are all now professionals, and quite well-paid ones. On the other hand, we should all recognise that the laws of rugby are so confoundedly complicated, with so many possible penalty offences, that it is impossible that referees should not make some mistakes.

"If these seem more frequent than they used to, this is probably because TV replays, in real time and slow motion, mean that the referee’s decisions are scrutinised more intensely than ever."

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/29/2011

Refs are fallible not bias

Allan Massie, in the Scotsman, continues the defence of officials and claims their job is harder than ever with the all-seeing eyes of modern technology.

"It will be a shame if this World Cup, with its splendid final, is remembered chiefly for arguments over the refereeing.

"International referees must, of course, be subject to criticism. They are all now professionals, and quite well-paid ones. On the other hand, we should all recognise that the laws of rugby are so confoundedly complicated, with so many possible penalty offences, that it is impossible that referees should not make some mistakes.

"If these seem more frequent than they used to, this is probably because TV replays, in real time and slow motion, mean that the referee’s decisions are scrutinised more intensely than ever."

October 28, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/28/2011

A tournament to remember

New Zealand and Australia supporters stand along side each other © Getty Images

Shaun Edwards, in his column for the Guardian, believes England should take notes from how New Zealand hosted the tournament as they look to put on the show-piece tournament in four years time.

"Now that the memory is still fresh and the jet lag has faded, it seems worthwhile looking four years down the road to the next World Cup and how England might be thinking of matching the past two months in New Zealand. Matching? Actually, that's a moot point. Finding another route might be a better question.

This was my first World Cup, so I have little with which to compare New Zealand 2011. However, I have spoken to plenty who have been to others and the universal judgment is that while it might not have been the best yet, it was one huge success. For those organising England 2015, the bar has been set pretty high."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/28/2011

A night to savour

Jim Hopkins, of the New Zealand Herald, reflects on his experience at the World Cup final.

"One minute, I was sitting there, trying to think of clever things to write, the next I was being asked a completely unexpected question. "Would you like to go to the game?" What? "Would you like to go to the game. I've got some tickets. Would you like one?" Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!!!!

Sir, you are a gentleman (and he is, in every sense). That's unbelievably generous. Of course I'd love to go to the game. You'd have to be dead not to. And, even then, you'd get yourself dug up if it meant you could be there."

October 27, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/27/2011

Issues to be ironed out

The scrum is one area of Moore's concerns © Getty Images

Brian Moore, in his column for the Daily Telegraph, gives his musings on the World Cup just gone and lessons to be learnt ahead of 2015.

"The 2011 Rugby World Cup will be hailed as significant in years to come for many reasons, and some of the most important do not concern the quality of the rugby, even though, overall, it was the highest ever produced.

Playing standards among the lower-ranked teams were comfortably better than in any other tournament, even though there were only one or two shocks, like Tonga’s win over France.

Nearly every team produced at least one performance that was genuinely praiseworthy when their rank, resources and expectations were taken into account. Unfortunately, England were one of the few who did not do so and it is a sad and wholly unacceptable fact that their Rugby World Cup presence in New Zealand will not be noted for any rugby they played."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/27/2011

Eyes wide shut

Christopher Chang, of the New Zealand Herald, looks at the allegations of eye-gouging in the World Cup final.

"French sports newspaper L'Equipe has hit out at, accusing it of initiating a "scandal" surrounding French captain Thierry Dusautoir and allegations of eye-gouging on Richie McCaw.

The French newspaper responded to Rugby commentator Keith Quinn's claims that the All Blacks captain was the victim of eye-gouging towards the end of the match. Quinn had told Radio New Zealand that French skipper Dusautoir, who was named IRB player of the year, was "right there" at the time of the incident."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/27/2011

A game from the wrong hemisphere?

Writing in The New Zealand Herald, Wynne Gray gives his take on the World Cup final.

"An old-style scoreboard attendant would have earned a fair swag for his work during the World Cup final at Eden Park.

Just four times, he'd have reached for the white numbers painted on to the black boards to hang on the hooks.

All Blacks 8 France 7.

Someone hitting the hallowed sports arena after being detained somewhere would surely gulp and question whether some numbers had slipped from the pegs.

Single digit scoreline. Hang on a minute, are we in the wrong hemisphere?"

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/27/2011

Have and have-nots

Writing in The Irish Independent, Peter Bills analyses the impact of the World Cup on the less-fancied nations.

"Someone once wrote about the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, calling it a place of cascading contradictions. Who can doubt that such a description fits perfectly professional rugby?

At the completion of another World Cup, this New Zealand version of 2011 being perhaps the most successful to date, it is an appropriate moment to study rugby and its own 'cascading contradictions.'

Sixteen years since professionalism, an event that was supposed to set the sport on the road to global advancement, this latest World Cup has seen the same old suspects prosper. The last eight comprised Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina from the southern hemisphere; Ireland, Wales, France and England from the north."

October 26, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/26/2011

Haka row shows teams should not stand on ceremony

Writing in The Telegraph, Alan Tyers says chapeaux off to the French, £2,500 poorer in IRB fines though they may be.

"Faced with a group of large, angry men shouting and suggesting that they’re going to rip your head off, most people would shuffle not forwards, but back. Not so Les Bleus. Advancing towards the opponent might have been anathema to previous generations of French warriors but fortunately, no matter what those Kiwis might chant, sport is only a metaphorical battleground these days.

"The ideal French response might have involved close-formation shrugging, smoking in a pointed manner, farting in the Kiwis’ general direction or perhaps setting fire to a sheep and laying it on the 10-metre line, but the ridiculous namby-pambyisation of modern rugby forbids such incendiary techniques.

"Instead, the French had to content themselves with a restrained, if resolute, show of defiance. As a result, the IRB fined them. Vigorous, violent and more than capable of looking after itself, the haka enjoys unwarranted protection, like a municipal car park that has been declared a listed building, with rugby administrators treading carefully around it for fear of upsetting.... well, who exactly? It seems a bit much to plead sensitivity while singing songs of conquest and dark deeds. Nor are the New Zealand team or fans doing so: it is the feelings of unknown, probably non-existent, victims that are being defended from hurt."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/26/2011

Before we put RWC 2011 to bed...

In his column in The Examiner, Donal Lenihan gives his final verdict on what unfolded in New Zealand over the past six weeks.

"I am now officially parking RWC 2011.

"After three months of previews, warm-up matches, speculation, analysis, excitement, disappointment, emotion and, for eventual winners New Zealand, elation, it is time to put another World Cup odyssey to bed.

"I am penning this somewhere over the Indian Ocean flying from Sydney to Bangkok. After an amazing seven weeks spent traversing the north and south islands of New Zealand, it is only right that due credit is paid to the hosts for staging what has been a very enjoyable, rewarding and at times inspirational tournament.

"Achieved too without any great razzmatazz, just a return to the traditional values of the game when incoming tour parties were welcomed with open arms and made to feel at home. The difference this time though, was that the New Zealanders embraced and immersed themselves in the different rugby cultures and heritage of their visitors."

October 25, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/25/2011

Defending the trophy

Aaron Cruden could feature prominently for the All Blacks in four years time © Getty Images

David Leggat, of the New Zealand Herald, speculates on the make-up of New Zealand's 2015 World Cup side.

"Don't even think about Rugby World Cup 2015.

Give it time to settle. After all, it's taken a while to have the Webb Ellis Cup nestling within these shores.

So best let the nation savour this, allow the glow of victory to sweep over us before looking ahead.

But just as a matter of interest, what might the defending champions look like when the next cup starts in England four years hence?"

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/25/2011

Good things come in small packages

Mick Cleary, of the Daily Telegraph, looks at the ramifications for New Zealand after their World Cup triumph.

"It was a gloriously celebratory occasion, with crowds lined 30-40 deep as a typically Kiwi motorcade, with gaggles of players on pickup trucks rather than open-top buses, wound its way through the city centre to be greeted in Aeota Square by the Prime Minister, John Key. If ever there were a nation at peace with itself, it was New Zealand.

The final utility vehicle held Henry, his departing coach, Wayne Smith, captain Richie McCaw as well, of course, as the Webb Ellis trophy for winning the Rugby World Cup.

"It's not a huge trophy but what it means is huge," said McCaw. "We're all just blown away by this. Kiwis don't normally show emotion, but this is something else. They'll enjoy being able to say they are world champions."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/25/2011

Changes afoot

Spiro Zavos, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, provides his take on the World Cup final.

"A Rugby World Cup final is different. Here was a French side that had lost two matches in the pool rounds then played poorly in the semi-final against Wales. Against them was an All Blacks side that had not lost a game in the tournament and had played superbly to defeat a resilient Wallabies side in the semi-final.

But at the end of the final it was the All Blacks hanging on desperately, almost by their fingernails, as they looked like tumbling into the abyss of defeat. For the last half-hour of the match it looked like the All Blacks were about to write another chapter in the their chronicles of World Cup choking."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/25/2011

Bowing out with a wimper

James Lawton, of the Independent, looks at Lewis Moody's retirement.

"Something extremely odd happened at the end of the World Cup of rugby that Richie McCaw and Thierry Dusautoir turned into a personal issue of epic proportions. It was that England's captain Lewis Moody, as best he could given his team's performance here, joined on the list of tournament heroes his counterparts of New Zealand and France. Well, sort of.

He did it with his resignation speech, which was hardly the platform for glory granted him at the Telstra stadium in Sydney eight years ago when as replacement for the great Richard Hill he won the line-out ball that launched the move that finished with Jonny Wilkinson's winning drop goal. But, yes, it did require a kind of heroism and Moody produced it when he became the first member of the England squad to admit publicly that arguably the worst, most unprofessional campaign of a major nation in the tournament's recent history had causes other than some destructive media campaign."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/25/2011

Hero's welcome

Patrick McKendry, writing for the New Zealand Herald, looks at the welcome Kieran Read got upon arrival in Christchurch.

"Kieran Read came home to Christchurch today. Hero's welcomes aren't new to him now but the reception from a city broken by 12 months of earthquakes would have put into sharp relief just what the All Blacks have achieved.

Read, who turned 26 today, went through a range of emotions after the final whistle on Sunday night, and will do so again in the Garden City. At Eden Park he jumped into the air with a two-fist salute to the crowd and was "pretty close'' to shedding a tear or two at the relief of winning the World Cup after a 24-year drought for New Zealand."

October 24, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/24/2011

How did France nearly win the World Cup?

Marc Lievremont very nearly led his side to the most unexpected of World Cup victories © Getty Images

Michael Burgess of the New Zealand Herald tries to understand how a French team who were written off by almost everyone came within a whisker of producing the greatest World Cup shock of all time.

"As we were warned during the week, we probably should have expected this from the French.

"They produced a performance completely at odds with their almost all their previous tournament form, dominating possession and territory (55 per cent) and even edging the second half.

"On reflection the buildup to the final was verging on disrespectful; not only did we completely dismiss the French as worthy opponents but every mainstream newspaper gave front page coverage to the `filth factor' in the days leading up to the final."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/24/2011

When we saw fantasy rugby in New Zealand

Writing in The Guardian, Martin Kelner argues that a new documentary confirms that the Lions in 1971 really were years ahead of their time.

"Skinner and Baddiel used to do a bit on their Fantasy Football show, of blessed memory, where they played a newsreel clip of some ancient FA Cup final, consisting of a few seconds of staccato action punctuated by frequent cutaways of cheering chaps in flat caps (up until 1955 it was illegal to try to enter Wembley without a flat cap), wielding those huge old wooden-pronged rattles, which often boasted more teeth than the wielders – and usually less yellow too.

"The feature, as I recall, was called Old Football Is Rubbish, a proposition it was impossible to argue with on the basis of the evidence provided. You would not say similar about old rugby union, though, not in a week when the most enjoyable action by some distance was 40 years old. BBC Wales's elegiac memoir of the British and Irish Lions' triumphant 1971 tour of New Zealand, written and presented by my colleague Eddie Butler, acted as a delightful counterpoint to a less than vintage World Cup (I lost count of the number of times commentator Nick Mullins told us "It's not pretty," the final one appearing 10 minutes from the end of yesterday's final).

"The footage from provincial matches on the 1971 tour, generous chunks of which appeared alongside more familiar sequences from the four Test matches against the All Blacks, was pretty, but did make one wonder whether those magical black and white images of Barry John, Gareth Edwards, Mike Gibson, Gerald Davies et al in full attacking flow were just the television equivalent of what Barbra Streisand called "misty water-coloured memories" (not referring to the Lions' tour, as it happens, but to some stuff with Robert Redford in the film The Way We Were)."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/24/2011

Donald, the hero of the World Cup final

Gregor Paul of the New Zealand Herald salutes the performance of New Zealand's fourth-choice fly-half.

"On a night of redemption there was also a little forgiveness. The crowd rose to their feet on 34 minutes, more really to pay tribute to the injured Aaron Cruden but there was a touch of an apology, too, as everyone lingered on their feet to ensure Stephen Donald could just about think all the fuss was for him.

"No one, least of all Donald, ever thought he would be dawdling out to play first five for the All Blacks in a World Cup final. Actually, no one wanted to believe it could ever happen and yet just as Dan Carter then Colin Slade collapsed in agony, so too did Cruden leaving the improbable and if everyone is honest, the undesirable.

"The subject of derision, most of it undeserved, since he had a meltdown in Hong Kong almost a year ago, Donald has felt the wrath of a heartless and ruthless public more than anyone ever should.

"But Eden Park was a stadium of four million. A nation was united and each and every All Black was going to have to play his part. A decision had to be made - forgive and forget, welcome Donald back and cheer him to the rafters? Or let it all out there and then - throw every toy out the pram and believe the dream was over?"

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/24/2011

All Black aristocrats survive French revolution

Eddie Butler of The Guardian writes that France were unrecognisable, which meant New Zealand were too - but champion sides know how to do things the hard way.

"The All Blacks had a gruelling night, which may be no way to start a celebration of their victory. But they were made to look distinctly uncomfortable by France, who were so extraordinarily unrecognisable from their shambolic selves at all other stages of the tournament that we should have known all along and beyond any reasonable doubt that it was inevitable that they would play like this. They remain contrary to the depths of their gorgeously unfathomable rugby souls, and we should treasure every mutinous sneer and sardonic shrug as indications merely of beauty ahead.

"There remains something, however, of an elephant in the room. The referee. Craig Joubert did not rise to the global occasion, only to the Kiwi event. He was not a 16th man out there, for the Eden Park crowd had already claimed that role, an expression of a nation's will that was not going to be denied.

"But Joubert was not a curious investigator here. He seemed to take the view that this was not a crime scene but a house party and it would be rude to be too probing. In short, he refereed France but not the All Blacks. These seven weeks have not been the referees' finest."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/24/2011

Honour for France but right team has won

James Lawton of The Independent concludes that the French played one half brilliantly against England and then did the same in the final.

"If the World Cup of rugby is about seizing one night, if it was available to a man like Thierry Dusautoir claiming it as a personal possession, it would this morning be draped in the Tricolore and heading for the Champs élysées.

"But it isn't, not morally anyway, and so the trophy goes to New Zealand, the world's No 1 rugby nation, for only the second time in the 24-year-history of the World Cup.

"You may say this is harsh on the French, variously the most sublimely brilliant and deeply schizophrenic entity in any front-line sport, and in a way it is. But as the All Black line held, quite desperately in the end, as fireworks began to erupt from the craggy shoreline of North Island to Stewart Island in the south, it was hard not to believe that a rough kind of justice had been imposed."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/24/2011

Enfants de la Patrie stand tall against the Haka

The All Blacks retreated into their shells under the pressure of injury and of the nation, but they did not buckle, writes Irish Times rugby analyst Liam Toland.

"Allons enfants de la Patrie (Arise, children of the Nation) and arise is what they did. What a brilliant statement from the French, holding hands like a well-heeled, orderly bunch of school children on a walking trip to church, as the world awaited their slaughter.

"In a flash as All Black Piri Weepu was cranking up the Kapa O Pango, “All Blacks, let me become one with the land, This is our land that rumbles,” Thierry Dusautoir and his fellow children left the arrow head and faced the All Blacks as one, becoming men.

"I was on the edge of my seat, nervous, tense and totally unsure of what was to happen next. Clearly France needed to starve the All Blacks of time and space but the pre-match gauntlet was laid down; 'We’re ready!' What was Aaron Cruden thinking as Dusautoir flattened him: ‘God defend New Zealand’?"

October 23, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/23/2011

Sneaky French tactics a thing of the past

France captain Thierry Dusautoir and head coach Marc Lievremont will be hoping to come up with a way of upsetting the All Blacks © Getty Images

Former All Black Richard Loe writes in the New Zealand Herald that he is not expecting anything underhanded from France in Sunday's World Cup final.

"I don't think there is any way the French will come out employing filth against the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup final tonight.

"Some think they may use that as shock tactics - and you've got to say they have done so before against the All Blacks, beating us in Nantes in 1986 and in 1999 at the Rugby World Cup.

"But the game has changed so much, it is so well policed now; anyone trying the nasty stuff will get caught quickly. The game can turn even on a yellow card, let alone a red and all professional players know that - even the French."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/23/2011

McCaw legacy goes on the line

The All Blacks skipper's career will be defined on whether he finally gets his hands on the Webb Ellis Cup, writes Marc Hinton in The Dominion Post.

"Do you know that Richie McCaw has never even touched the Rugby World Cup?

"He doesn't think he's earned that right, so he's only ever glimpsed the gleaming trophy from afar. Tonight he has the chance to do something about that in a match that will define what may be the greatest All Black career of them all.

"It's almost cruel to think that McCaw, who will play his 103rd test in tonight's World Cup final against France, could be characterised as anything but a raging success.

"For the last 11 years he has been one of test rugby's consummate performers on the openside flank, showing courage, skill and commitment whenever he has worn that black jersey. He is a three-time winner of the IRB's player of the year award and, quite simply, there is no more respected figure in the game.

"But he has also been part of two failed World Cup campaigns and a third would create a permanent stain on his career that no amount of scrubbing could remove. There is just no way to soft-sell it. Tonight the McCaw legacy goes on the line."

October 22, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/22/2011

Nervous but in a good way

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Sean Fitzpatrick knows that the All Blacks are 15-20 points better than France but is still wary of the threat posed by Les Bleus.

"I'm nervous about tonight's Rugby World Cup final (which is good; I was nervous last week too and look what happened) but not so nervous that I can't stop and salute Keven Mealamu who is set to take the title of the All Blacks' most capped hooker.

"Kevvy equals my 92 test caps tonight and you'd have to say he looks likely to go on and become our third test centurion after Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina. He deserves it. I am glad he is on our side and if you watch him closely in the tests he plays, you will already understand why he is selected time and again for the All Blacks.

"He is mobile but extremely strong and he always - guaranteed - gets you over the advantage line and gets the ball back. In the modern game, I cannot tell you how golden that is. We saw him do exactly that in the quarter-final against Argentina and the semifinal against the Wallabies. He has a nice little step, he goes through tackles with a low body position that seems to defy gravity sometimes and certainly defies tacklers. He mightily helps the All Blacks build phases."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/22/2011

If only the matches were as epic as the party

Eddie Butler of The Guardian reviews Rugby World Cup 2011 and concludes that while the tournament offered a friendly New Zealand welcome and plenty of booze, it has been not a classic spectacle.

"At the time of writing, the sun is shining, the waters of Auckland harbour are glistening, the French band, as they have been tirelessly doing for days, are belting out "Hello Dolly" on Quay Street, and all is well with the Kiwi world. As it has been for seven weeks.

"The hosts have been fabulous, embracing the outside world, adopting alien teams across the towns of provincial New Zealand with unfailing humour and generosity. New Plymouth, home of the cold war minnow special between the USA and Russia, was a treat, stormy of weather, utterly heartwarming of welcome.

"A touch of malice, just to show that this is no plastic facade, was reserved for Quade Cooper, not for being a New Zealander who left to become fly-half for the Wallabies, but because he had a sly dig at Richie McCaw. To have a go at the All Blacks captain, Quade mate, put you in the category of fair game for a pop. He was booed at every turn until he collapsed against Wales, after which he departed Eden Park to resounding applause. Even the panto villain was cheered."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/22/2011

My man of the tournament is peerless Weepu

In his weekly column in The Independent, David Flatman salutes the consistency of the versatile All Blacks scrum-half.

"The thing is, if you want to be a truly world-class player, you have to be close to immaculate as often as possible, not just in the easy matchesand not just in the big ones.

"With this in mind - and having watched every match of this Rugby World Cup - I think the best player has been the All Black scrum-half Piri Weepu. This might cause a stir should you be a relative of Sean O'Brien or David Pocock, but that's OK; it's only an opinion.

"I have watched him play against varying grades of opposition and the one thing I have noticed above all else is that his game has never altered one jot; it has never dipped."

October 21, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/21/2011

A good Kiwi bloke

All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw powers forward against the Wallabies © Getty Images

Robert Kitson looks at the love affair between New Zealanders and All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw in The Guardian.

"New Zealand has changed substantially over the past two decades. Farewell the long white cloud; welcome to the land of the long flat white. What will forever remain is the pressure on the serving All Black captain. Richie McCaw, the present keeper of the flame, is required to be a simultaneous mix of Sir Edmund Hillary, Colin "Pine Tree" Meads and Mother Theresa. He has done a sterling job; you could travel to the furthest corners of the North and South Islands and still find not a soul with a bad word to say about him.

"Because McCaw is the embodiment of how most Kiwis like to see themselves: uncomplaining, modest, durable and resourceful. "He's very, very bright, he's brave and he's talented," said Graham Henry . "It's not a bad combination." Wayne Smith, the All Blacks's backs coach, is similarly fulsome. "Probably the same things characterise him as a player and a leader. He's bright, he's humble, he comes from a rural background so he's tough, he never gets too far ahead of himself and he's hugely resilient." McCaw on one leg, in other words, is better than most players on two."

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/21/2011

Mr Unbearable Tension

Jonathan Davies sounds a note of caution for the All Blacks in The Independent.

"They don't award the trophy until all the rugby's been played. In the rush to crown New Zealand many people have seemingly forgotten this sporting truth. Certainly, the All Blacks would write off France at their peril.

"The bookies have the Kiwis heavily odds-on – and so they should. But there is a chance, however small, that France could become the most outrageous party-poopers in the history of rugby union. Indeed, the very fact Eden Park will be crammed with fans so ready to pop the bubbly after their first World Cup in 24 years should increase France's hopes. Mr Unbearable Tension could be their 16th man."

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/21/2011

Reasons to be fearful?

David Leggat flirts with the jitters prior to the All Blacks' big day in The New Zealand Herald.

"If France start well, get early points and arrive at halftime in touch, or even in front, watch out. Before last weekend's semifinal against Australia, the air was thick with tension at Eden Park.

"Normally sound, unflappable people were jittery. Was the dream to be dashed once more? This, remember, is a road well travelled by the All Blacks."

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/21/2011

Stay hungry

Former All Blacks scrum-half Justin Marshall offers some simple advice to the class of 2011 prior to the Rugby World Cup Final on

"I have a simple message of encouragement for the All Blacks about tomorrow night's World Cup final. Stay hungry. It's as simple as that, I reckon. If they reproduce the intensity and passion from last Sunday I'm sure the rest will take care of itself against a French team that so far has looked a long way from its best.

"The All Blacks, as we know, have the best winning record of any sporting team in the world, and there's a reason for that. When I played, and I'm sure it's still the same now, we never talked about the outcome. What the All Blacks seek is perfection - and that's based around all sorts of events in the game."

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/21/2011

Counting the cost

Greg Growden evaluates a costly evening for Australia, despite their bronze medals, in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"It's the old story. When the Wallabies have their backs to the wall, they produce. But again, it was a bit too late, and it came at a considerable cost.

"The Wallabies last night succeeded in winning at Eden Park for the first time since 1986 and, even though it wasn't the All Blacks they overwhelmed, they will at least return to Sydney this afternoon as winners, after showing they can overcome losing two of their main game breakers early on and still achieve their objective.

"Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper were gone by the 20th minute of the bronze medal game, and while that could have derailed the Wallabies, they kept their composure and, with Berrick Barnes taking the helm in midfield, achieved a spirited three-point victory."

October 20, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/20/2011

What could have been

The All Blacks are one step away from the history books © Getty Images

Shaun Edwards shares some of his research on the All Blacks and their "claustrophobic intensity" in The Guardian.

"It's an odd feeling. In less controversial circumstances these notes would have been used preparing for a World Cup final. After the quarter-final against Ireland, I sat down and started jotting down everything I knew about Graham Henry's 2011 All Blacks; how they play and how to play them. Most of the notes came from the New Zealand quarter-final against Argentina, who exposed a few nerves for 60 minutes, but the remainder were compulsive additions from the Australia semi-final when we already knew we were out of the competition and that the Wallabies would be our opposition for the third-place shoot-out.

"Over the second batch of notes, and after a chat with some of the All Black coaches, has been added "claustrophobic intensity" – not a terribly catchy phrase I agree, but the line those coaches planted in their players' minds before they sent them out against Australia. It just about sums up what happened in the opening quarter of that Eden Park semi-final and I suspect Sunday's final is likely to go the same way."

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/20/2011

Still Sharpe

Josh Rakic, among others, pays tribute to Wallaby Test centurion Nathan Sharpe in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"It might be Nathan Sharpe's 100th Test tonight but hooker Stephen Moore says the 33-year-old second-rower can lay claim to at least another 66 caps.

"Moore made his Super Rugby debut under Sharpe's tutelage at the Queensland Reds in 2003, and said if it wasn't for the Gold Coast product, he'd likely never have had the confidence to force his way on to the international stage and play more than 60 Tests for the Wallabies.

''He could have easily just ignored me but he really made an effort to take me under his wing and look after me,'' said Moore, who still has a photo of he and Sharpe embraced in celebration after an emotional victory over England in 2008."

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/20/2011

Deans blew the big call

Mark Reason analyses Robbie Deans' decision to stick with misfiring playmaker Quade Cooper in the context of the race for the All Blacks job on

"Steve Tew, the NZRU chief executive, can come out of the oxygen tent. The nightmare is over. Australia will not be playing Wales in the final, matching up the two New Zealand coaches whom he or his board passed over. Tew can now push for his mate Steve Hansen to get the job when this World Cup is over.

"The NZRU Board will be quite within its rights to pass Deans over this time around, because the former Crusaders coach made a huge call and he got it wrong. Very few people would criticise Deans for picking Quade Cooper coming into the World Cup, but there is quite a crowd who wonder why he stayed with his man for so long."

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/20/2011

For the good of the game

Peter Bills believes that the All Blacks must win Sunday's Rugby World Cup in style in The New Zealand Herald.

"All New Zealand believes there is just one task left for the All Blacks in Sunday's Rugby World Cup final. Win the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time in 24 long years.

"Granted, that's a long time to have a hangover. But I'd beg to differ. I reckon there are two jobs remaining for Graham Henry's men. Certainly, the first is actually to win the cup. New Zealand as a nation has gone through hell this last quarter of a century, watching South Africa and Australia (twice each) and England (once) win."

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/20/2011

France should be feared

Ewen McKenzie, in the Sydney Morning Herald, writes that France's record gives them a realistic chance against the All Blacks.

So it all comes down to the All Blacks and France. I'm not too sure many would have tipped that as the World Cup final – I certainly didn't.

While the odds are stacked heavily against the French, they have defied the odds and should not be underestimated. France are the first team to make the final despite losing two games and, although they benefited from a controversial red card, have created history nonetheless.

We shouldn't be too quick to write off the French. It is particularly worthy to note that they have had a couple of wins from their past nine visits to Eden Park – probably better than anyone else in world rugby at this venue. In their last visit to New Zealand, France also inflicted the last loss the All Blacks had on home soil, in Wellington during 2009.

October 18, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/18/2011

The final's a done deal

France will not be able to ground the high-flying Kiwis, according to Paul Ackford © Getty Images

The Telegraph's Paul Ackford cannot foresee France preventing the All Blacks from fulfilling their destiny.

"My love affair with New Zealand rugby started 33 years ago. I say love affair but that’s inaccurate. Fear affair more like, because in 1978, aged 20, I found myself playing against Graham Mourie’s touring All Blacks for the South and South-West division, as it was in those far off days.

"God, those Blacks were good. It wasn’t that they were particularly hard men. I’d grown up in the county championship where a fixture between Devon and Gloucester usually started with a fight and ended with a series of pitched battles.

"I made the mistake once of tweaking the testicles of Phil Blakeway, a supernaturally strong Gloucester prop, in an attempt to persuade him to let go of the ball in a maul. Big error.

"Blakeway grabbed my wrist and held on until the maul disentangled and it was only him and me left, him still holding on to my wrist, me breaking the world record for the number of apologies spewed out in fifteen seconds of stammering fear. I spent the few remaining minutes of the match as far away from the ball and Blakeway as possible."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/18/2011

Gregan's resilience is a model for Quade

Bret Harris of the The Australian believes that Quade Cooper can recover from his World Cup woe if he follows the example of the legendary Wallabies scrum-half.

"If Quade Cooper is looking for inspiration after his disappointing World Cup, he should study the career of former Wallabies captain George Gregan.

"Gregan made his Test debut against Italy in 1994 and later that year he made that tackle on All Blacks winger Jeff Wilson.

"He had been on the winning side in all of his Tests as Australia entered the 1995 World Cup as defending champion, but had an unhappy tournament and the Wallabies were knocked out by England in the quarter-finals.

"Gregan was in and out of the Wallabies' starting line-up for a couple of years until he re-established himself as the top halfback. By 1999, he was arguably the best halfback in the game and played a key role in Australia's World Cup victory.

"There are similarities between Cooper's Test career so far and Gregan's early years."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/18/2011

NZ, a little humility would be nice

Gregor Paul argues in the New Zealand Herald that the World Cup hosts are getting a little too cocky ahead of Sunday's final against France.

"Thankfully the All Blacks are about the only people in New Zealand not a touch complacent right now.

"Everyone else it seems has already decided the final has been won with others going as far to label the French as the worst finalists of all time.

"Such views are starting to grate. Not because the French are enigmatic and unpredictable and capable of an upset; in all honesty this lot probably don't have it in them to pull off the unthinkable.

"It grates because it comes across as needlessly arrogant and disrespectful especially when predictions are made about the likelihood of a 20-points-plus victory. Imagine the outrage if it were the English or Australians talking with such premature confidence?"

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/18/2011

Cruden has world in hands after beating cancer

Writing in The Independent, James Lawton lauds Aaron Cruden's thus far impressive attempt to fill the significant void left by the injured Dan Carter.

"Daniel Carter will receive a World Cup winner's medal if his team-mates beat France in his absence on Sunday, retain his lucrative underwear ads and remain the most idolised Kiwi by roughly the width of the Tasman Sea.

"It is reward for being the world's most gifted rugby player, an artistic leader who gives the game a unique dimension of grace and vision. However, his second-choice understudy, Aaron Cruden, is not going short of recognition for his brave and at times extremely accomplished attempt to run in the footsteps of the injured national icon.

"Apart from a likely £50,000 win bonus, there is also a rumour that his battle-hardened team-mates may have a whip round and present him with a new skateboard."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/18/2011

Rugby still getting its kicks – without really trying

Sunday's Rugby World Cup final is a must-watch event, even though the boot has had far too much say in the previous six, writes Frank Keating in The Guardian.

"It began on 9 September, far too long ago. And after all the energy and expense and the dwarf-throwing, all the injuries, the boasts, the headlines, and the gruesome Haka encores, they say the whole Kiwi caboodle is bound to end this Sunday in a discordant anticlimactic mismatch.

"Who, anyway, remotely expects the World Cup final to be an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular? They never are. World Cup finals have no rich pedigree, no vivid provenance of colourful or inspiring back-story to bank on.

"The very first final, in this same town and between the same teams as Sunday, was a turgid home-team walkover: New Zealand 29, France 9. There were four tries - undistinguished, long-forgotten things maybe, but at least there were four, twice as many as in any other final.

"In the five finals since that humdrum premiere in 1987 only five tries have been scored - by Tony Daly in 1991, Owen Finegan and Ben Tune (1999), Jason Robinson and Lote Tuqiri (2003) and, er, that's it. Not one stirred the blood."

October 17, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/17/2011

France can still be dangerous

France, like their coach Marc Lievremont, remain an enigma © Getty Images

France played poorly in their semi-final win over Wales but should not be taken lightly by the All Blacks in the final, writes Justin Marshall in his column in The Dominion Post.

"Respect the French. That's the simple message I have leading into this weekend's World Cup final.

"Regardless of how well they have or haven't played in this tournament, the French deserve respect based on history, and also on the talent and hardened experience they have in their team. It will be to the All Blacks' peril if they believe the final is already won.

"I don't doubt Richie McCaw and his team already know that, and it was hard not to be impressed by the way they almost downplayed their performance against Australia.

"It was as though they had already switched their focus to France the minute they walked off the field."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/17/2011

Back to beginning of the end

When Australia realised that they could not out-muscle New Zealand in Sunday's World Cup semi-final, they had nothing else to throw at them, according to Bret Harris of The Australian.

"At first I thought the All Blacks-Wallabies World Cup semi-final was over in the first five and a half minutes. That was all the time it took for All Blacks inside centre Ma'a Nonu to score the only try of the match.

"But just as important as the five points was the tone the All Blacks set in that opening period of play. There is no doubt the Wallabies struggled to contain the expansive New Zealanders as they shifted the ball from one side to the other until fullback Israel Dagg made a break and put Nonu over.

"But it was more the sheer physicality of their play that shook the Wallabies. Having won the battle to control the tempo of the game, the All Blacks had the momentum for most of the match.

"Then I thought, no, the Wallabies lost the game at the kick-off when five-eighth Quade Cooper booted the ball into touch on the full."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/17/2011

Henry far too valuable to let go

Richard Knowler of The Dominion Post believes that the All Blacks boss should be kept on by the New Zealand Rugby Union in some capacity after the completion of the World Cup.

"He's pulling a pension, enjoys dropping a hook into the briny for a snapper and has probably torn a few strips off some wayward school pupils in his time. Oh, and he knows a thing or two about rugby.

"At 65 years of age, Graham Henry will soon be forced to dip his toes back into the job market and if retirement doesn't appeal, maybe it is time to update his CV.

"Although the All Blacks coach has remained coy about whether he will vacate the job he has held for eight years, the perfect ending is in sight; if the All Blacks finally win the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time, Henry will bowl on to the Eden Park turf on Sunday night with that lopsided grin of his, embrace everyone in sight in a series of congratulatory hugs and then declare "no more".

"And if they lose, the grin will be gone but the scenario remains the same. Then what?"

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/17/2011

Why NZ richly deserves Cup

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Peter Bills believes that the All Blacks lifting the Webb Ellis Cup would be a victory for The Game.

"The manner of New Zealand's demolition of Australia in the Rugby World Cup semifinal was an object lesson to all sides around the world.

"The good news for the rest is that countries like South Africa can retain for all time their intensity, their enormous commitment in the set pieces and at the breakdown.

"After all, that was, in essence, where the semifinal was won and lost. The Wallabies just couldn't handle all that power which kept coming at them and never stopped.

"But here's the less good news for the South Africans and other teams in world rugby. You just have to have a game outside your No 10."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/17/2011

An Englishman excelling at the Rugby World Cup

Before leaving his post France's defence coach, Dave Ellis has 'put every minute' into helping his employers reach their ultimate goal, writes Richard Williams in The Guardian.

"In four years of working with Marc Lievremont, this was the first time Dave Ellis had shared a press conference with his head coach. Managing to keep a straight face, he listened with astonishment as the Frenchman described his latest problem with his players, who had contravened the previous night's instructions by going out to celebrate their victory over Wales.

Virtually unprompted, Lievremont spoke of his disappointment that the players could not be trusted. 'I told them what I thought of them - that they're a bunch of undisciplined spoilt brats, disobedient, sometimes selfish, always complaining, always whining,' he said. Then he muttered something about how he didn't suppose that a few cigarettes and a dessert at the end of dinner would make much difference to their performance against the All Blacks in Sunday's final.

"'Some of the things he said, I would never say,' Ellis remarked after Lievremont had left the hall. 'Never. But he tells it as it is. I think part of him must come from Yorkshire. He got stuck into the players this morning because that's how he felt. And when you ask him a question about it, he tells you how he feels.'"

October 16, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/16/2011

Welsh became a legion playing to the limit

Mike Phillips bursts through to score against France in Auckland © Getty Images

The French were battered, refused to come out of their bunker and waited for the young Welshmen to crash and burn. The crash didn't come, writes James Lawton in The Independent.

"You know how it is when something you have been persuaded is worth believing in goes out of the door. You know that empty feeling, the sense that the sunshine is a little less bright or that the wind which seemed to blow so invigoratingly has brought only another reason for disillusionment.

"It might be held that a team of sportsmen, however young and splendid, is an unreliable vehicle for such emotion, but maybe you would believe it with a little less conviction were you here today, mourning the end of Wales' chance of winning the World Cup.

"Of course, it was always possible that the French, the cynical and often too frivolous and irresolute French, would find a way to make their third final but the worst of it is they were as disgraceful in their 9-8 victory over 14-man Wales as when they surrendered to Tonga at the end of a dishevelled pool campaign."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/16/2011

Cooper everything but great

Josh Rakic of The Dominion Post slates the performance of Australia's fly-half in Sunday's World Cup semi-final defeat by the All Blacks.

"If that was Quade Cooper's best game ever, as captain James Horwill fearlessly declared it would be on match eve, then one can only wonder what his worst has been.

"Try as he might, the extremely talented but enigmatic Cooper looked rattled for confidence from the onset and aside from a drop goal late in the first half he looked anything but the player that led the Queensland Reds to the Super Rugby title and inspired Australia's dominance of Italy only five weeks ago.

"Cooper and his team-mates insisted the pressure hadn't taken its toll on the New Zealand-born playmaker. Anyone in a gold jumper was willing to jump to his defence.

"But after last night's performance and on the back of his horror showing against the Springboks and the Wallabies' loss to Ireland, even coach Robbie Deans and the man himself would find it difficult to put a positive spin on his performance on the world stage, when it mattered most."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/16/2011

All Blacks set up replay of '87

In his column in the Sydney Morning Herald, Wallaby legend John Eales gives his thoughts on the weekend's semi-finals.

"So history repeats itself unfortunately - the French and the All Blacks vie for the William Webb Ellis Cup, while the Wallabies take on the Welsh in the third versus fourth playoff, exactly mirroring the first World Cup of 1987.

"On Saturday in Auckland, the first semi-final between Wales and France promised much but had its potential stunted. If there was to be a final of National Anthems, this would just about have to be it. I'm not sure what either Land of My Fathers or La Marseillaise exactly says but I get the drift, everyone does. At their conclusion both teams were teary, but only one was at the end of the match.

"But as can be the case when the blood boils, the execution of their start didn't match the passion and intensity of their tunes. For it was a nervy first five minutes which raised doubts about the Welsh team's ability to handle the big stage. The next 75 minutes erased most such questions even though two cruel strikes put paid to their final ambition."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/16/2011

Lack of attack killed Wallabies' hopes

Writing in the The Australian, Wayne Smith bemoans the fact that Australia lost their cutting edge at precisely the wrong time.

"The Wallabies have gone backwards throughout their World Cup campaign, retreating further and further from the attacking game that had threatened to make them real contenders at this tournament.

"Leaving aside the 21 tries they scored in pool-round romps against the United States and Russia, the Wallabies scored only five tries in four Tests against Six Nations or Tri-Nations opponents, and four of those came in the space of 20 inspired minutes against Italy in their opening match.

"The All Blacks held them tryless last night, as did Ireland when they stunned the Wallabies with a 15-6 upset during the round robin stage, which meant all they had to show for 240 minutes of effort against the three quality sides they encountered at this tournament was a solitary try against the Springboks."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/16/2011

Cruden's performance almost a perfect 10

Dylan Cleaver of the New Zealand Herald salutes the performance of New Zealand's third-choice fly-half in Sunday's World Cup semi-final win over Australia.

"World, meet Aaron Cruden.

"The Manawatu first five-eighths stepped on to the world's biggest stage at the Rugby World Cup last night and played, well, he played a little bit like a right-footed Dan Carter.

"There was the odd mis-step - a loose pass early, a couple of cute grubbers that were not on - but in between times he controlled the All Blacks like a seasoned pro. So much so that even Piri Weepu, whose radar was not so finely tuned last night, recognised early that he didn't have to carry the team on his shoulders.

"One searing break Cruden made in the first half seemed to catch even his teammates out as the support arrived just a little late after Will Genia pulled off a try-saving cover tackle."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/16/2011

Warburton's red was strong refereeing

Sam Warburton exits the field after his dismissal against France © Getty Images

Paul Ackford of the Sunday Telegraph argues that if you strip away the emotion from a fabulously courageous Welsh effort, only one conclusion remains.

"Alain Rolland's decision to show Sam Warburton the red card for a tip tackle on Vincent Clerc after 17 minutes, a decision which has sparked considerable criticism and resentment from the Welsh camp, was absolutely correct.

"Law 10.4 (j) states that 'lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst the player's feet are still off the ground, such that the player's head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground, is dangerous play. Sanction: penalty kick.'

"You'd struggle to find a better, more accurate description of what Warburton did than that paragraph in the law book. Following a line-out won by France, the Wales captain drove up and into Clerc, using his own momentum and strength to lift and tilt the French winger to the right, beyond the horizontal, applying downward pressure for a fraction of a second before releasing him.

"Clerc landed with the base of his neck and shoulder area striking the turf simultaneously, feet still up in the air.

"Referee Rolland, a Dublin mortgage adviser when he is not antagonising the whole of Wales, got that part bang on."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/16/2011

Wales is a rugby nation in mourning

In his column in Wales on Sunday, Barry John comes to terms with Saturday's heart-breaking Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat by France.

"What could have been. And what should have been.

"Wales should today have been celebrating a deserved a World Cup final spot but instead we are a rugby nation in mourning.

"Walking through the streets of Cardiff yesterday after the heartbreaking semi-final defeat against France, there were people wandering around in disbelief.

"There was some anger directed towards French referee Alain Rolland for sending off Sam Warburton.

"I won’t go as far as to say that decision cost Wales victory. But they were agonisingly denied by decisions and circumstances out of their control."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/16/2011

The worst team to 'grace' the World Cup final

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mark Reason bemoans the progression of France to the game's showpiece event at the expense of a far more innovative Welsh side.

"Once upon a time, 17 years ago, France came to this stadium and beat New Zealand with the try from the end of the earth. That grand tradition has been defiled.

"The new France are without question the worst team in history to make a World Cup final. Les Bleus are leached of colour, a pale imitation of former glories.

"Captain Thierry Dusautoir, the man who made the 38 tackles that beat the All Blacks four years ago, was embarrassed to talk to the world after this victory."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/16/2011

Ref calls it wrong

James Lawton of The Independent bemoans the split-second decision which killed one of the most inspiring stories of this or any other sporting tournament.

"The card referee Alain Rolland showed Sam Warburton, one of the great, if not the greatest man of this World Cup of rugby suddenly made hollow, was coloured red - but not so densely that you couldn't see the outline of the joker.

"A joker who didn't give much more than a split second to weigh the meaning of what he saw, a joker who made the mistake of forgetting – or maybe ignoring – the fact that his arbitrary decision not only cut dead one of the most inspiring stories of this or most any other major sports tournament of recent memory but also booted into touch any sense of natural justice

"Warburton, the 23-year-old Welsh captain, had displayed stunningly mature leadership right up to the moment he tackled Vincent Clerc in the 19th minute of yesterday's semi-final ferociously enough to lift him up into the air."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/16/2011

Caught in Twickenham's cycle of dysfunction

Martin Johnson has made mistakes but England's troubles in New Zealand are a small part of a much bigger problem, writes Paul Hayward in The Guardian.

"In Twickenham's mess we see a wider British corporate dysfunction - in which plausibly ambitious men award themselves job titles such as operations or performance director while the firm ceases to operate properly and infuriates its customers.

"If the Rugby Football Union were an energy company you would listen to Mozart down the line for half an hour while waiting to speak to an employee. It would be in permanent 'structural review' or 'reporting back' to its management board. Each failure would bring the creation of a new bureaucratic tier and people would be invited to reapply for their own jobs.

"This was Martin Johnson's lot this week after a group of players he trusted (and indulged) at the World Cup let him down on and off the pitch. In the RFU's management comedy, the greatest England captain was issued with a 14-day ultimatum to say whether he wanted to keep a position that will probably be taken off him either way."

October 15, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/15/2011

What's the difference between a tea-bag and the All Blacks?

Will the All Blacks choke again? © Getty Images

In the New Zealand Herald Simon Winter wades through the pre-match jibes and jokes offered up by the Australian media ahead of the World Cup semi-final between the All Blacks and the Wallabies.

"What's the difference between a tea-bag and the All Blacks? A tea-bag stays in the Cup longer."

Or, how about, "What do you call 15 guys sitting around the TV watching the Rugby World Cup final? The All Blacks."

Australian rugby columnists are queuing up across the Tasman to sink the boot into the All Blacks, ahead of tomorrow night's second Rugby World Cup semi final between the All Blacks and Wallabies at Eden Park.

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/15/2011

Game within a game

Greg Growden examines the rivalry between Kiwi's and opposing coaches Graham Henry and Robbie Deans in the Sydney Morning Herald

"Graham Henry, described by his assistant Steve Hansen as one of the few men with an upside-down smile, is not renowned for giving too much away. Whenever he talks about the team he coaches, the almighty All Blacks, everything is considered, to the point.

"So there was genuine surprise a few weeks ago when he opened up and admitted that after the 2007 World Cup debacle when his team, almost unbackable favourites to win the tournament but which collapsed at quarter-final time, he thought his days as All Blacks coach were over.

''When I reapplied, I thought they would appoint Robbie [Deans], and even in the interview I thought Robbie would get appointed,'' he says."

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/15/2011

Eales investigates

Former Wallabies captain John Eales examines the tactical battles in this weekend's World Cup semi-finals in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Rugby is more paper, scissors, rock than it is heads and tails, or hills and flats in the toss of a cricket bat in the backyard. Tactics are rarely binary and no game plan guarantees success against a particular opposition every time. The Wallabies may have scraped through with gutsy defence last week but duplication doesn't guarantee success against the All Blacks this week.

For just as rock is covered by paper, scissors is destroyed by rock and scissors in turn cuts paper, sometimes one style will triumph over another, but that is entirely dependent on the tactics and play of the opposition on the day.

And tactics will be paramount in this weekend's semi-finals between, France and Wales, and the Wallabies and All Blacks.

Advertisement: Story continues below Welsh coach, Warren Gatland, has been most impressive so far leading the Welsh to where few imagined history would record. Will it be his team's ensemble game which eclipses the French unpredictability and flair, or have the French another trick up their sleeve?

October 14, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/14/2011

Talent ticket to making history of that hoodoo

Schalk Burger is held up by the Wallabies defence © Getty Images

Matt Burke of the Sydney Morning Herald believes that Australia can upset the odds and defeat New Zealand in their Rugby World Cup semi-final showdown on Sunday.

"Don't you just love how quickly historians can dredge up a stat or a figure about something that really has no relevance to this week's game?

"We have seen the 'Eden Park hoodoo' raise its head again. Forget it. Here is the real stat: through all of the Rugby World Cups, the Wallabies have never lost to a southern hemisphere team in the knockout stages.

"Perhaps there have been only a few occasions on which they have met, but it's a start.
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"But I think we could come up with something else that will convince us that the Wallabies are going to advance to the final after Sunday's game."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/14/2011

France have no idea about the rules of rugby

Writing in The Telegraph, Brendan Venter argues that hhe only way France can beat Wales on Saturday is if the poor standard of refereeing continues and their offences at the breakdown go unnoticed.

"France are by far the least disciplined side left in the World Cup and they have no understanding of the key new breakdown directives. They go offside at rucks, the tackled player does not roll away, and they play as if they have never been informed that the tackled player must be released.

"But none of this matters if referee Alain Rolland turns a blind eye at the breakdown like Bryce Lawrence apparently did in Australia's quarter-final win over South Africa. In that game Lawrence was seemingly so overawed by the occasion that he allowed all number of transgressions to go unpunished.

"He was like a rabbit in the headlights and at one stage he appeared so visibly scared about making decisions that I almost felt sorry for him."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/14/2011

How the Jackals can have their day

In his weekly column in The Guardian, Shaun Edwards outlines the way in which players such as New Zealand's Richie McCaw, Australia's David Pocock and Wales's Sam Warburton are proving you don't have to have all the ball to win games - and perhaps the World Cup.

"Wales are going up in the world. No doubt about it. Thursday night's team meal ahead of Saturday's semi-final was at the top of the Sky Tower - a kind of Post Office Tower with knobs on, which dominates the Auckland skyline. You feel like you're 1,000 feet in the air. And the food's not bad either. If this is the price you pay for success I could get used to it.

"Who would have thought you could dine out on defence? But that's the way this tournament is going with attention increasingly on the Jackals - the Richie McCaws, David Pococks and Sam Warburtons of the World Cup, who are proving you don't have to have all the ball to win games. I know; the first time you say it, it's a bit like telling someone that water can flow up hill. But I'm prepared to give examples.

"In 2004 Wasps beat Toulouse and won the Heineken Cup when it seemed as though we only had about 30% of possession. Then in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final in Cardiff, France beat New Zealand by making something like 200 tackles - pretty much a record for those like me who store such stats - but then last weekend Australia beat South Africa without hardly touching the ball the day after Wales blunted Ireland's attack."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/14/2011

Halfpenny's heroics are enough to make every grandad proud

James Lawton of The Independent speaks with Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny ahead of Saturday's Rugby World Cup semi-final against France.

"Most days when the boy came out of Penyrheol Comprehensive his grandfather was waiting. He took the boy to where he could practise goal-kicking, usually at the local club, but if that was closed anywhere with more or less vertical rugby posts would do.

"The boy went willingly because at a time when some of the great heroes of Wales worried the culture of rugby had gone too willingly into a version of Dylan Thomas's dark night, ambushed by X Factor celebrity, video arcades and the lure of biking round to the girlfriend's house, he shared his grandfather's passion for the game.

"Leigh Halfpenny's grandfather Malcolm wasn't a hero of Wales but he had played a few times for Swansea and that was heroic enough for the boy who greeted him so warmly when school was done."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/14/2011

Ireland must learn that Plan A may not be enough

As Ireland were busy perfecting Plan A, which was pretty damn good, Wales for months, even years, were perfecting Plans B and C, writes Irish Times rugby analyst Liam Toland.

"So the All Blacks have made it into the semi-final, so too the Wallabies; predictable? Wales have travelled an unbelievable distance in a few short months, making their arrival slightly less so but that France have made it into the semi-final requires our attention. A team that is dysfunctional in its selection, struggling to know what it wants but can turn it on “periodically” when required demands us to take notice. Irish rugby should take notice.

"Tomorrow the Wales-France outcome is far too unpredictable, almost immaterial, as either side is more than capable of winning. What I’m interested in, from an Irish point of view, is how will the plans go? The Irish Times headline last Monday read, “Kidney feels the hurt after Wales execute perfect plan.” A plan is only perfect if you are allowed to execute it. Why? - because we can never completely predict the actions of the opposition and must plan accordingly. What happens when the plan goes awry and how much influence will rest on the number 10s when it does?"

October 13, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/13/2011

The RFU blueprint

What next for the RFU? © Getty Images

Brian Moore, of the Daily Telegraph, provides his take on what should happen next at the RFU.

"Some people have used the lazy, knee jerk criticism that the media is responsible for England’s downfall, though naturally without demonstrating how it is responsible for any of the reported excesses or poor selections, tactics and performances.

Others have accused former players of stabbing Martin Johnson in the back for daring to make unemotional assessments of his managerial record and concluding that it is not good enough and his contract should not be renewed.

Let me say forcefully, if anyone thinks I relish writing critical articles about the team I played for, without being paid, for eight years and people I played with and respect, they are stupid. They are equally dull if they do not also understand that I will not, however, deny the evidence of my own eyes and abandon logic and reality when it comes to forming an opinion about what I see."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/13/2011

Naughty corner

Gavin Mairs, of theDaily Telegraph, talks to Fran Cotton about England's ill-discipline.

"Fran Cotton, who was on Wednesday asked to chair an independent review of England’s World Cup failure, has described Mike Tindall’s behaviour in New Zealand as “unforgivable” and declared himself a “massive fan” of Sir Clive Woodward.

Cotton, the former England and Lions prop, has been asked by the Rugby Football Union to look into the entire elite structure of English rugby, reporting back to the Management Board by early December.

As revealed by Telegraph Sport on Tuesday, his brief extends beyond the separate review being carried out by Rob Andrew, the RFU’s operations director. Cotton will take in Andrew’s own role in England’s lamentable, ill-disciplined World Cup campaign."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/13/2011

Captain incredible

Richard Williams, of the Guardian, previews Sunday's World Cup semi-final.

"Anyone seeking evidence that the All Blacks are capable of ending a 24-year wait to proclaim themselves champions of the world once again could do worse than take a stroll around Brad Thorn, who will play his final matches in the Rugby World Cup over the next few days.

At 36 years old, standing 6ft 5in and weighing in at a couple of pounds over 18 stone, the lock appears to have been hewn from the same batch of timber that produced the great Brian Lochore, New Zealand's captain in the 1960s, and his equally distinguished successor, Colin "Pinetree" Meads. These are totems of All Black rugby: impassive, raw-boned men who give the impression of having been reared in a remote region of a remote country, where self-sufficiency is the priority and words are not to be wasted."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/13/2011

The love spoon

Wales winger George North, talking to Chris Foy of the Daily Mail, speaks of his route into rugby.

"It was supposed to be a day off for the Wales squad, but one of them had no time to rest. George North was in detective mode, undertaking an urgent damage-limitation exercise — trying to track down a lost ‘love spoon’. It wasn’t going well.

As the youngest member of Warren Gatland’s World Cup touring party, the 19-year-old Scarlets wing has been entrusted with the ornately carved wooden spoon. It is a tradition that goes back several Wales tours and echoes the Lions one of the youngest player having to look after cuddly mascot Leo the Lion.

Trouble is, all the jokers around him are doing their best to make it vanish, and this time someone has succeeded. As of Thursday evening, North hadn’t seen the spoon for about 80 hours, and his fine for mislaying it had climbed to three figures."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/13/2011

Anyone but the Wallabies?

Gregor Paul, writing for the New Zealand Herald, slams the Wallabies.

"Let's be honest - it would just about be vomit-inducing seeing James Horwill lift the World Cup.

No offence to Horwill who seems a decent enough sort of bloke, but he's captain of a team that must be about the hardest to like since Will Carling's England of the early 1990s.

This is a Wallaby team with inordinate talent; a team that can play rugby for sure. They trust their skills, see space all over the field and they are brave and accurate."

October 12, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/12/2011

Never forget your roots

Wales' Mike Phillips paid tribute to Whitland RFC after their win over Ireland © Getty Images

Sion Morgan, writing for Wales Online, pays a visit to the Carmarthenshire town of Whitland, home of Mike Phillips, Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams.

"As excitement reaches fever pitch across Wales ahead of the Rugby World Cup semi-final against France, Sion Morgan pays a visit to the Carmarthenshire town of Whitland, home of Mike Phillips, Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams

Wales had just resoundingly beaten Ireland to secure a first Rugby World Cup semi-final in 24 years.

The eyes of the rugby world were on try-scoring scrum-half and man-of-the-match Mike Phillips as he stepped up to a broadcaster’s microphone to give his thoughts on the epic encounter.

“It was a great day for Whitland,” Phillips told the world. Just 15 minutes later Arwyn Thomas, the chairman of Whitland RFC received a text from New Zealand."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/12/2011

On report

Gavin Mairs, writing for the Daily Telegraph, looks at the growing instability at the RFU.

"Rob Andrew’s proposed review of England’s dismal World Cup campaign is under threat after it emerged that senior figures at the Rugby Football Union look set to launch a wider, independent review which will assess Andrew’s own performance.

Andrew is the RFU’s operations director but said this week he had been offered the newly-created role of professional rugby director.

As part of his new brief, he said he would conduct a “robust” four to six-week inquest into England's failure, which has left Martin Johnson’s future as manager in doubt.

Andrew indicated he would be the lead figure in a five-man committee – also featuring two representatives from Premiership Rugby – which would make recommendations to the RFU management board.

But now it has emerged that senior figures at the RFU are discussing ordering a more wide-ranging, external review which would scrutinise Andrew’s own performance as the head of the governing body’s rugby department, as well as examining the role of Johnson and his coaching team."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/12/2011

Time to say goodbye

Rob Kitson, writing for the The Guardian, pays tribute to those players we may never see on the international scene again.

"It is not always the result of a game that defines great players. Sometimes it is how they react to failure or crushing disappointment, particularly at a World Cup. This tournament will be remembered for what happens over the next 12 days, but the dignified exits of Brian O'Driscoll, Mario Ledesma, Victor Matfield and Mils Muliaina will also linger long in the memory.

There is something particularly life-affirming about watching true rugby gladiators depart the ultimate stage for the final time. Unlike cricket, there is no one to give them a raised-bat salute in the evening shadows; too many, as was the case with Muliaina and Bakkies Botha, end their Test playing days in the harsh light of the medical room, the message delivered with a quiet shake of the head from the doctor rather than a standing ovation from the fans outside."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/12/2011

The perfect 10

Former Kiwi international Grant Fox, in the New Zealand Herald, urges the New Zealand public to back Aaron Cruden in the semi-final against Australia.

"All Blacks legend Grant Fox has urged New Zealand to believe in Aaron Cruden - and suggested the Manawatu first five-eighth will be "immune" from the pressure of semi-finals rugby.

Cruden played 47 minutes in the All Blacks' 33-10 quarter-final victory over Argenina on Sunday, replacing the injured Colin Slade and slotting into the backline seamlessly.

Wallabies halfback Will Genia yesterday suggested the Australians would target Cruden in their semi-final match. But Fox told Radio Sport Cruden is more than capable of handling the occasion."

October 11, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/11/2011

The little volcano

Piri Weepu has emerged as an important cog for the All Blacks © Getty Images

Eddie Butler praises the All Blacks' 'little volcano', scrum-half Piri Weepu, as he prepares to spearhead their Rugby World Cup semi-final charge in The Guardian.

"Down at the bottom of North Island, within the city limits of Lower Hutt and the boundary of Greater Wellington, is the small town of Wainuiomata. It is the home town of the All Blacks scrum-half and the two are alike: little and tough. If you've ever wondered, by the way, about the name, Piri Weepu is of Maori and Niuean descent, Niue being 100 square miles of raised coral atoll in the South Pacific, 1,500 miles north-east of New Zealand.

"Despite being where the former All Blacks Tana Umaga and Neemia Tialata come from, Wainuiomata is a rugby league town. Piri's brother, Billy, played for the Manly Sea Eagles in the mid-1990s and their mum, Kura, coached the Wainuiomata League under-sevens. In fact, she had Piri in her team and gave one of the greatest quotes ever delivered by a mother about a son: "He was a prick to coach."

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/11/2011

Soul searching

England fly-half Toby Flood reflects on their exit from the Rugby World Cup in The Daily Telegraph.

"I wanted time to do a bit of soul-searching after our World Cup exit. Life doesn’t get much darker than the moments in a changing room after a defeat like ours by France and that walk helped me to make sense of it.

"Looking back, there was nothing in our preparations that at the time didn’t feel right. We literally gave everything to be as good as we could and did not cut any corners. We knew France were in trouble and the whole group probably didn’t realise just how dangerous they would be once their players started to play for themselves. Until you experience the intensity of a World Cup, perhaps it is difficult to get a sense of that."

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/11/2011

The Wallabies' weak link

Former All Black Taine Randell believes that the Wallabies are carrying a major weak link in Quade Cooper on

"A lot is being made of the All Blacks' supposed crisis at No.10 - but I think the Wallabies have their own problems there with Quade Cooper.

"And it's a fairly big problem, too, if you consider the way his form has fallen away during the World Cup. Cooper is an enigma. He can be outstanding one game and an absolute ghost the next.

"A lot of that comes with the intensity the opposition bring to the Wallabies. Cooper clearly isn't effective without front-foot ball. If teams muscle up against the Australians, he goes missing."

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/11/2011

Halfbacks and opensides

Gregor Paul reflects on the shift of attention away from star fly-halves in The New Zealand Herald.

"It's true - the arrival of Stephen Donald in the All Black camp hardly inspires confidence. It's a worry, not so much because of his wobbly history as a test five eighth, but because he's the fourth choice.

"No coach ever wants to be dipping that far into the stocks come a World Cup semi-final. But the despair and angst can be kept to a minimum. It has become apparent that this is not a World Cup about No 10s."

October 9, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/09/2011

Northern contenders

Bevan Rapson says that Wales and France have proved themselves as worthy semi-finalists and capable of lifting the Williams Webb Ellis Trophy in the New Zealand Herald.

"Any lingering Southern Hemisphere smugness must have finally evaporated on Saturday night, when Wales and France won with performances even a one-eyed New Zealander had to love.

"Nobody who saw these victories will ever again accept the notion that rugby up-over is a tedious knuckle-draggers' scrumfest."

October 8, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/08/2011

Wales on the verge of history?

Wales impressed in their dismantling of Ireland © Getty Images

The New Zealand Herald's Dylan Cleaver backs the Welsh to reach the World Cup final.

"When Shane Williams took just two minutes to achieve what neither Australia nor Italy could achieve in 80, the complexion of the first quarter-final changed in a heartbeat.

It might sound wise after the fact, but in those minutes sparkling first few minutes, all the concerns Ireland brought into this World Cup resurfaced. They've never made a World Cup semifinal, most of this team will never get another chance.

Wales, on the other hand, have a crop of youngsters who have no history of heartbreak and no fear of defeat. The quick score just served to further embolden them."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/08/2011

World turned on its' head

The Dominion Post's Duncan Johnstone looks at a remarkable first couple of quarter-finals.

"Goodness, the world has been turned upside down! The rugby world that is - for 24 glorious hours.

The northern hemisphere quarterfinals played in Wellington and Auckland produced a brand of rugby rarely associated with anything north of the equator.

They have set up a France v Wales semifinal at Eden Park on Saturday night that should be a stunner if the two teams can hold their desire to play this scintillating brand of footy deeper into the tournament.

The biggest question mark will be over the French. After all their turmoil they turned up to play to night. And how!"

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/08/2011

IRB drops the ball

The Sydney Morning Herald's Spiro Zavos provides his take on the IRB's handling of the World Cup.

"Mike Miller, the chief executive of the IRB, has given 10 out of 10 for this year's Rugby World Cup tournament as eight teams prepare to play out the finals. This is a strong vote of confidence in the host union for the tournament, the NZRU. However, I was on a national current affairs program during the week and was asked what mark out of 10, given the NZRU's perfect 10, I would give the IRB.

My answer: ''I'd give the IRB one out of 10. That one point is because the IRB chairman, Bernard Lapasset, started his speech at the opening ceremony with a Maori welcome, something the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, neglected to do."

October 7, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/07/2011

Wing and a prayer

Will Sonny Bill be able to provide a threat from the wing? © Getty Images

The New Zealand Herald's Duncan Johnstone provides his take on Sonny Bill Williams starting on the wing for the All Blacks.

"The All Black theory to play Sonny Bill Williams on the wing against Argentina is that he's so dangerous when he gets the ball that the Pumas won't kick it to him.

I'm not so sure about that. In fact I'm pretty sure Williams will get a serious examination under the high ball at Eden Park on Sunday night.

I suspect the Pumas might see Williams as a weakness rather than a strength as he operates in relative isolation out on the wing.

They will want to see how quickly the big man can turn and chase and, of course, they will want to see how safe he is with an aerial bombardment raining down on him."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/07/2011

Loose cannons

The New Zealand Herald's Bevan Rapson pays tribute to the characters lighting up the World Cup.

"Here's to the guys who say the unexpected. Things get pretty dreary when everybody sticks to their sanitised scripts but, happily, a few figures in and around this World Cup tournament have refused to do so.

Samoan midfielder Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, for example, has been not so much a loose cannon as a runaway trainload of assorted heavy artillery, careering from one incendiary tweet to another.

Whatever you think about his arguments - and his central point about the unfairness of the draw is indisputable - his fearlessness and brio have made a refreshing change from the cliches and caution we usually get from sportspeople, particularly in this country."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/07/2011

A simple equation

Former Wallabies legend Matt Burke, in his column for the Sydney Morning Herald, looks ahead to a weekend of knock-out rugby

"At quarter-final time you play the game with your bags packed. If you lose, you're on the next flight out. It's simple motivation to make sure you keep going for at least one more week.

The Wallabies are yet to play their best rugby. They got the win against Italy, struggled to throw in a change-up against Ireland, and the United States and Russia were all about getting confidence.

This tournament is about growing week to week. Has the team been doing this? You would have to say no. Why? Injuries don't help, having to shuffle positions and personnel and, to some degree, a loss in form are all contributors."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/07/2011

Drawing the line

The Independent's Jim Lawton looks at a potentially World Cup defining weekend for Martin Johnson.

"It was as if Martin Johnson was already making his last stand here in a big hotel ballroom up the hill from the harbour. Dressed in training fatigues, sharp and terse as a champion about to enter the ring, he didn't so much announce a team selection – minus Mike Tindall – as draw a line.

For some time the furrows in his brow might have been created by tank tracks but not yesterday, not when he drew the battle lines that might well shape his professional future."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 10/07/2011

Time to man up

England winger Chris Ashton, talking to the Daily Mail's Martin Samuel, admits Saturday's quarter-final will be one of the most physical games of his career.

"Chris Ashton is stirring the froth on his cappuccino. Measured little circles at first, then bigger swirls as he grows more animated. ‘You’ve got to man up when you’re playing France,’ he insists, his cup now its own little whirlpool.

Ashton is considering a prediction by French No 8 and notorious hard case Imanol Harinordoquy. ‘I don’t know if there will be a lot of passing in this match,’ he said this week, ‘but there will be a lot of fighting.’

The calm before the storm: Chris Ashton relaxes before his first World Cup quarter-final
Harinordoquy is no friend of the English. ‘I hate them for their dismissiveness and arrogance,’ he once said. Ashton is considering it all. The hatred, the threats, the challenge of a quarter-final in Auckland."

October 6, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/06/2011

Kicking problems? Balls!

In the Guardian Paul Rees gets to grips with the contentious subject of the balls being used at the Rugby World Cup.

"Braam van Straaten was talking balls at the Australia squad's hotel in Wellington on Thursday morning. Virtuo reality to put it another way.

"Is the ball being used in this tournament, the Gilbert Virtuo, a dud, as teams such as England have been claiming, with Jonny Wilkinson's success rate dropping by nearly 100% this tournament? Or is it, as the South Africa outside-half Morne Steyn contended this week, little different to the ones used in other tournaments and should not be blamed for a kicker's lack of accuracy?"

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/06/2011

On the offensive

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Queensland Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has been impressed with the attacking rugby on display at the Rugby World Cup.

"What has caught my attention has been the amount of tries scored and the number of big scorelines. While many use this to raise questions about the tournament's competitiveness, for me, it signals the willingness of teams to attack and not just defend.

T"hat's not to say defence isn't having an influence but, unlike some previous World Cups, it's nice to see teams like Canada scoring multiple tries against the All Blacks, and Russia crossing the paint three times against the Wallabies.

"A big reason behind this is teams are embracing the adjustments made to the laws nearly two years ago. Changes to encourage attacking, and alterations made largely to rules at the breakdown were initially met with resistance - and ridiculed in the northern hemisphere - but have resulted in rugby becoming more attractive.

"Teams that haven't become more sophisticated with attacking strategies and skills are being left behind and, largely, have not progressed into the knockout round."

October 5, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/05/2011

The Irrational Rugby Board

Samoa's Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu has engulfed the wrath of the IRB © Getty Images

Georgina Robinson, in the Sydney Morning Herald, argues that the International Rugby Board have made some bad calls in recent weeks.

"The All Blacks would be ''replaceable'' at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, a player banned indefinitely for not attending a disciplinary hearing and another fined $10,000 for wearing a branded mouthguard.

"Comments and rulings, such as these, that emerged from the International Rugby Board yesterday did little to help the governing body win the public relations battle at the code's showpiece event."

October 4, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/04/2011

Beware of the Irish - World Cup contenders

Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien has been one of the standout performers in the tournament so far © Getty Images

Gregor Paul of the New Zealand Herald is growing increasingly appreciative of the threat posed by Declan Kidney's men.

"They have beaten Australia, sliced the Italians and played convincing rugby yet how many people truly believe Ireland can win this World Cup? How many New Zealanders can see the Irish lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in a few weeks?

"There is an in-built southern hemisphere superiority complex. The winner, so everyone domiciled south of the Equator believes, will come from the All Blacks' side of the draw. If it's not New Zealand then it's either going to be South Africa or Australia who triumphs. Let's be honest - that's what we all think. Secretly, or not so secretly, Kiwis, Australians and South Africans don't rate the Celts. They are wary but not fearful of them."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/04/2011

Cueto does England disservice in defending a mountain of shocking conduct by his team

Writing in The Independent, James Lawton takes the England wing to task for asking the media to let go, when an analysis of a chain of mishaps and underperformance is bound to give a nod to cause and effect

"It could be that any day now the England team will come down from its parallel universe and get properly involved in this seventh World Cup of rugby. Maybe the French will do it too, in which case their quarter-final this Saturday might warrant something more cheery than a full-scale autopsy.

"In the meantime, we should maybe refrain from falling over ourselves with optimism. Not, certainly, if the comments of Mark Cueto are about anything more than a defensive reflex.

"The worry, though, is that Cueto, who has among his credentials the probability that he was unjustly denied potentially one of the most significant tries in the history of the English game, actually believed what he was saying when he asserted yesterday that the two most egregious of the many examples of unprofessionalism his squad have displayed over the last few weeks should really be seen as 'bonding experiences'."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/04/2011

Gaffney bubbly as Irish backs come to the boil

Gerry Thornley of the Irish Times hails the welcome return of some incision to Ireland's play behind the scrum in Sunday's victory over Italy.

"Where did that back play come from? While there had been hints of a revival in Ireland’s back play amid a New Plymouth downpour against the USA, and outstanding though the win was against Australia as well as some of the finishing against Russia, the most encouraging aspect of the victory over Italy was the new-found clinical nature and general attacking play of the front-line backs.

"At times the Irish backs became a little too lateral in the first half, and twice revived memories of August by running over the left hand touchline. But even in the try-less first-half there was a noticeably better shape to their running game, with depth augmented by plenty of inside balls and trailer runners to change the point of attack to keep the Italian defence guessing.

"With Sean O’Brien (eh, 14 carries at number seven) and Stephen Ferris as target runners, by rights it should have been rewarded with a try when Tommy Bowe ran one of his trailers on to the flanker’s offload to touch down under the posts.

"In any event, at half-time, they regrouped and became a bit more direct in the second half, the net effect being that they created the space out wide before going wide, and didn’t run out of field by going over the touchline again."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/04/2011

Facing down the Gatland gun again

Wales coach's controversial history with the Irish provides an intriguing backdrop to quarter-final showdown, writes Hugh Farrelly in the Irish Independent.

"Warren Gatland's influence is crucial to the outcome of this contest. Back on home turf, the Hamilton man has been having a very good, very relaxed tournament and he fancies the Irish.

"They are, obviously, a rugby nation he knows well from his time with Galwegians, Connacht and with the national team and Gatland understands the psyche, strengths and weaknesses of the Irish game.

"Gatland's coaching career has been defined by its green hue. Coaching Wasps to beat Munster in '04 was a huge achievement, steering Wales past Ireland in Croke Park in '08 gave them the belief to go on and claim the Grand Slam against France and, going back to the nightmare of Lens in 1999 has surely influenced and girded Gatland for his second World Cup challenge 12 years later."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/04/2011

Time for France to take leaf out of England's book

In his column in The Guardian, Shaun Edwards argues that Marc Lievremont has lost the respect of his players and now must hand control over to them.

"There are times when a coach has to ask himself whether he's doing more harm than good. Whether it's better to take a step back for the good of the team.

"Things get scrambled at press conferences and the language issue obviously doesn't help when the coach speaks in French and the majority of the media at this World Cup speaks English, but if only half the things coming out of the France camp are true, then it might be time for Marc Lièvremont to swallow his pride, move to the sidelines for the next five days and let his players look after themselves.

"If that sounds like a crazy idea, then I can assure you that such extreme methods not only work on occasions, but that they are sometimes the only way to turn a team around. And France need turning if they are to put up any kind of performance against England on Saturday."

October 2, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/02/2011

An injury crisis of Henry's own creation

Dan Carter suffered a tournament-ending injury in training on Saturday © Getty Images

Chris Rattue of the New Zealand Herald believes that the loss of Dan Carter injury is such a blow for the All Blacks because head coach Graham Henry has failed so miserably to unearth an adequate understuday for the mercurial fly-half.

"The Grand Canyon of holes in the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup planning has been exposed, make no mistake about that.

"The worry now for the nation of broken rugby dreams is that the quick-fix recovery operation is to be guided by the mad backline professor responsible for digging this hole in the first place.

"There have been many wonderful sports photos over the years where simplicity creates the dramatic effect and tells the story. The one published on this page showing Daniel Carter crumpled on the turf, his groin torn apart during a simple goalkicking session, easily makes this grade. Should the All Blacks fail on their latest World Cup mission, this will be a photo for the ages.

"What a great shame for the tournament, to lose one of its few superstars and probably the world's best player. As for the All Blacks - total disaster. The only silver lining is that it did not occur during a major match. So step up Colin Slade, or will it be Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, or Isaia Toeava, or someone else?"

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/02/2011

Wales bring vibrancy from northern hemisphere

Fred Woodcock of the Dominion Post salutes Warren Gatland's troops for their dynamism and attacking endeavour.

"Thank goodness for the Welsh - at least one of the four teams on the likely all-Six Nations half of the quarterfinal draw is watchable.

"England and France have been dreary at this World Cup and probably deserve to be on flights to London and Paris tonight such has been the dismal rugby they've produced, but instead we have to sit through a quarterfinal between those teams next week (the worst aspect of that will be that one of them will make it to the semifinals).

"The other likely quarterfinal on that half will be the ambitious Welsh against Ireland (if the latter were to beat Italy later tonight). Ireland were ferocious in beating Australia but aside from that they have hardly fired and they are very much a team that will deal in threes in the big matches."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/02/2011

What contempt from players for England manager Martin Johnson

Once is careless, twice recklessly stupid, but three times? That speaks of a much bigger problem, writes Paul Ackford in The Telegraph.

"The latest scandal to engulf England, James Haskell verbally abusing a female hotel worker at the team hotel in Dunedin, preceded Mike Tindall’s drunken night out which itself came before Dave Alred and Paul Stridgeon were rebuked for trying to get preferred balls on to the pitch in the Romania game.

"In isolation each of these incidents could be explained away, excused even.

"Martin Johnson leapt to that defence when he tried to play down the Tindall incident. “Rugby player drinks beer shocker”, the England manager said. And some of us bought into that rationalisation because it was Johnson and he has credibility as a grumpy bloke who frowns on errant behaviour."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/02/2011

Jaw-dropping Dan Carter news not end of Rugby World Cup hopes

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Wallabies legend Nick Farr-Jones gives All Black fans grounds for optimism after the loss of their star fly-half to injury.

"You could have knocked me over with a feather when news reached Sydney yesterday that All Black Dan Carter had suffered a Rugby World Cup tournament-ending injury. At first I thought, 'They have got this wrong and mean just the one game against Canada.' But news item after news item was led by the confirmation even on league grand final day here across the Ditch.

"Texts started to flow as the reality of losing arguably the tournament's most valuable player began to sink in.

"And for all you Kiwis wondering how the news went down over this side of the Tasman, can I say sincerely that every Aussie I communicated with was genuinely saddened for Carter and the All Black team."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/02/2011

England's rich boys must show they are brave athletes and not drooling fools

Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail is dismayed by the latest sordid scandal to rock Martin Johnson's squad.

"England might as well try to win this Rugby World Cup, because they certainly will not be winning anything else in New Zealand: friends, plaudits, hearts and minds, awards for sophisticated behaviour around women.

"Another day, another crisis, but this one cuts to the heart of changing attitudes in a changing game.

"Nobody expects rugby players to move through life with the elegance of Cary Grant, but to end up talking to an inexperienced female member of the hotel staff through her lawyers is a pretty low point.

"The players may dispute the precise nature of what is alleged to have taken place at the Southern Cross hotel, Queenstown, but the reaction of manager Martin Johnson suggests it fell vastly short of the standards required."

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/02/2011

Don't kick Jonny

Jonny Wilkinson suffered another forgettable night with the boot against Scotland © Getty Images

England captain Lewis Moody accepts some of the blame for Jonny Wilkinson's mixed kicking performance against Scotland, in the Mail on Sunday.

"I know people will be pointing the finger at Jonny Wilkinson after he missed a few kicks but there is one thing I won't spend one second doubting and that's Jonny's ability to kick goals.

"I blame myself a little for his statistics against Scotland. He is the sort of goal-kicker who always backs himself, always says he will nail it.

"But, looking back, there were one or two penalties against Scotland when I should have told him to kick for the corner rather than trying for three points."

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/02/2011

Time to drop Tindall?

Former England international Mike Catt calls for Martin Johnson to drop his old midfield team-mate Mike Tindall for England's quarter-final against France, in the Sunday Telegraph.

"It’s time for Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood to play in the same side, with Mike Tindall giving way. A tough call I know, but after watching yesterday’s fortuitous victory over Scotland, Johnno must make the biggest call of the competition.

"I mention 2003 because there is a certain symmetry about the next seven days and what happened eight years. On that occasion, Clive Woodward made the call to play myself and Jonny in the semi against France. He left Mike (Tindall) on the bench because he felt that if Jonny was picked as the only viable kicking option, France would get at him.

"He based his decision on fact. Two years prior to the semi-final in Sydney, Jonny had been destroyed by the French. He had fought a lone battle and lost. He was the only kicking option on that occasion and they were successful in targeting him. Clive picked me at centre so we had a second option. It took the pressure off Jonny and we all know what happened – we won quite comfortably and booked our place in the final. I was back on the bench in Sydney, but I felt I played my part."

October 1, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/01/2011

Boks team to beat

Writing in the New Zealand Herald Andrew Austin believes South Africa will be a serious threat to the All Blacks' ambitions of lifting the Rugby World Cup.

The great Springbok Houdini act, so successful in the last Rugby World Cup, continued in Albany last night.

The Samoans were courageous, if at times a little ill disciplined, but they simply could not breach a superb defensive line enough to win.

The high-flying All Blacks may be the team to beat, but they will be aware that they probably will have to run through a green and gold brick wall in the semi finals to do so.

September 30, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/30/2011

Wounded Wallabies need to put combinations in place as tournament gets down to business

Adam Ashley Cooper has been moved into midfield for Saturday's clash with Russia © Getty Images

In his column in the Sydney Morning Herald, Wallaby legend Matt Burke wonders if Australia head coach Robbie Deans might have accidentally stumbled across his best team.

"Sometimes the best laid plans go so far off the tangent that you end up thinking, 'This just might work.'

"For the Wallabies the question could be, 'Is this our best team taking the field tomorrow?' The answer could be yes, due to all the injuries they have suffered during the pool stages that have forced their hand at the selection table.

"Without spending too much tomorrow, the Wallabies will account for Russia and pick up the bonus point. They will want to finish this game with a strong performance and take that into the quarter-finals. What they will want to do is control the controllables in this game."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/30/2011

England's trouble spot - the battle of the rucks....

Writing in the Daily Mail, former England captain Phil Vickery gives his thoughts on Saturday's crunch World Cup meeting with Scotland.

"Scotland bulldozed England at the breakdown in the Six Nations back in March and it very nearly won them the game. They swarmed the tackle area and England's forwards simply could not cope.

"If Scotland start disrupting the ruck again, they will thrive and England could find themselves in trouble.

"England's game requires quick ball and that relies on one thing - winning the breakdown. They have been talking about it for two years but still haven't solved the problem. It was a lot better against Romania but Scotland will present a different class of challenge."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/30/2011

Johnson can rely on old knack of moving on to greater things

James Lawton of The Independent argues that while England always convey a sense of disarray, they also retain a formidable capacity to find a level of defiance, a knack of growing strong at places where they should be broken.

"If Martin Johnson tells his men one more time that they must move on he might just be mistaken for the leader of a Bedouin raiding party rather than the English rugby union team going, at last, into the sharp end of the World Cup.

"Yet what else can he say? Hardly, "Let's have some more of the same, boys."

"Certainly it was impossible for him to say that after Dwarfgate, especially with the arrival of Mrs Mike Tindall at the team doorstep."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/30/2011

If Scotland go home it will be their own fault

Guardian columnist Shaun Edwards argues that when cool heads were required against Argentina, euphoria frazzled the Scots' common sense and made them vulnerable.

"There is something in the air. Someone is going home, leaving the party, but it didn't have to be this way. I don't think Scotland will beat England on Saturday, but then again with a little more thought they would not have put themselves in a position where they may miss the quarter-finals for the first time in the history of the World Cup.

"There are obviously horses-for-courses arguments in Andy Robinson's selection for England at Eden Park and he has Euan Murray back so that gives the scrum a big boost. But it was not who was on the field against Argentina that mattered, more how they went about their work."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/30/2011

Deccie, why did you go for O'Gara? Go on, be honest....

In his weekly column in the Irish Times, Liam Toland runs the rule over Ireland's team selection for Sunday's clash with Italy in Dunedin.

"Forget about the battle between Ronan O’Gara and Jonny Sexton or the battle of the scrums for the moment. The battle I am focusing on is between Jamie Heaslip and Sergio Parisse.

"But first, let’s look at another one, between the coach and the player, and how it effects the individuals directly involved and the culture and dynamic of the team.

"The team know who the best players are; they don’t need the coach to tell them. They also know who the weaker ones are. When that team is announced the group will automatically assess it on how it may affect their individual ambitions."

September 28, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/28/2011

What is Wales' best Rugby World Cup back-line?

Will Stephen Jones hold on to the Welsh No.10 jersey? © Getty Images

Writing on Wales Online, Delme Parfitt analyses Warren Gatland's attacking options ahead of this weekend's clash with Fiji.

"It is the debate which just won’t go away for Wales - and as the World Cup progresses it appears to be taking on greater relevance with every passing game.

"Who should occupy the number 10 jersey? Or perhaps more importantly, who will?

"As the final, decisive pool match against Fiji approaches, Warren Gatland, like his home union counterparts, needs to decide whether to stick with the tried and trusted, or twist by going for the more volatile, unpredictable option.

"In other words, with James Hook in recovery from a shoulder injury and almost certain to be unavailable, does Gatland ask his 33-year-old centurion Stephen Jones to guide Wales into the knockout stages after making his comeback from calf trouble against Namibia?"

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/28/2011

O'Gara could kick on into team

Ronan O'Gara looks poised to get the nod at fly-half for Ireland in Sunday's vital clash with Italy, writes Gerry Thornley in the Irish Times.

"Half-back Ireland’s most pressing selection concern prior to Friday’s announcement of their team to play Italy in Sunday’s Pool C shoot-out, with Ronan O’Gara and perhaps even Conor Murray very much in line to face the Azzurri in the third match, at Dunedin’s Otago Stadium.

"Goal-kicking has become a significant issue for Ireland in their pool games and, oddly, this has been particularly true in the only two games played to date in the enclosed Otago Stadium, perhaps because of its open corners, or “drafts”. In any event, the overall return has been 13 from 31, or 42 per cent, with even Jonny Wilkinson struggling.

"Jonathan Sexton’s general game has been good, and he offers both more physicality in defence and a quicker running threat, but his return of five from 13, or 38 per cent, has contrasted sharply with O’Gara, who has landed 10 from 12, or 83.3 per cent.

"But for Sexton’s ratio, Ireland would have pushed clear sooner against both the USA and Australia, and Sexton’s missed conversion against Russia late on after replacing O’Gara against Russia only underlined their contrasting form off the tee."

September 27, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/27/2011

Barnes stole the spotlight but he was not the centre of attention

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Paul Cully argues that Berrick Barnes' impressive performance for the Wallabies against the USA last week needs to be put into context.

"There is a seductive simplicity about Berrick Barnes slipping into the No.12 jersey and solving the Wallabies' problems, but it is just one part of an increasingly complex picture. Besides, the most pressing concern in the back line is the return of Adam Ashley-Cooper into the No.13 jersey.

"Barnes' performance again the USA has generated a degree of excitement. It was assured, but not flawless. A poor kick off the left foot in the 63rd minute that was charged down blotted his copybook against tiring opposition among whose number several with real jobs as well as rugby duties. But his distribution was sound and his vision evident. Three minutes after that charge-down he was clipping a delightful cross-field chip into the arms of Ashley-Cooper on the right-hand side of attack.

"Significantly, kicks at goal travelled towards their destination with a certainty thus far lacking from supposedly superior technicians. Tackles were made without any ill effects. Moreover, the mood dictates that a saviour is required and he seems as good an option as any."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/27/2011

Stay in NZ Sonny, you owe it to youself

Gregor Paul of the New Zealand Herald urges Sonny Bill Williams to resist the lure of lucrative offers from elsewhere and stick with the All Blacks.

"Presumably now with his hissy fit out the way and the All Blacks showing him the love again, Sonny Bill Williams will commit his future to New Zealand after the Rugby World Cup.

"He really should. There are some reasonable arguments to made that he owes it to the fans and to his team-mates to hang around for at least another year. It could even be said he owes it to the executives who took a major risk in contracting him in 2010 when he hadn't actually shown an enormous amount on the rugby fields of south-west France.

"But all of that is secondary. Williams should stay because he owes it to himself to see just how good he could be at this rugby malarkey."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/27/2011

Win + win + win = the Cup

Quade Cooper will be key to the Wallabies hopes of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup © Getty Images

Writing on Rugby Heaven, former Wallaby John Eales reveals his rather simple formula for World Cup glory.

""Interpreting some games of rugby is akin to interpreting a Rorschach inkblot. The Rorschach Test was developed by Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach in 1921 to give insights into personality characteristics. It asks subjects to describe what they see in 10 symmetrical inkblots and the tester will make various assumptions about their personality according to the interpretation.

"If you see a naked woman in every one of the blots, for example, it will indicate that, while consistent, you might have some problems to address. At the moment, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans might only see the inside of the accident and emergency department at the local hospital. The interpretation of that is fairly straightforward.

"In contrast, the interpretations of the Wallabies' loss to Ireland were many and varied. Some blamed the referee, some accused the Irish of cheating, others said the Wallabies lacked commitment or brains.

"The fact is the Wallabies were outthought and outplayed. So there is less variation in the antidote required to turn it around: more consistency."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/27/2011

Wide game the winner at RWC halfway mark

Spiro Zavos of the Sydney Morning Herald believes that, on the evidence of what he has seen so far in New Zealand, a side with an open and expansive style of rugby will win the World Cup.

"The England 67-Romania 3 match was the halfway mark of RWC 2011 - the 24th match of a 48-match tournament. So far, we have seen the Island teams playing northern hemisphere rugby - and some of the northern hemisphere teams playing southern hemisphere rugby.

"The French scored points from an unacceptable soccer-type dive (surely the judiciary should punish this type of gamesmanship?). And, most importantly, the scrum rather than the lineout has been the crucial set-piece contest.

After some close, dour matches, England displayed a wide game against Romania, scoring with 10 tries, including three each to wingers Mark Cueto and the belly-flop expert Chris Ashton. England playing rugby with width is a great thing for the competition and, I would argue, for England's chances of winning their second tournament. For it is clear from the play of South Africa and New Zealand, the other standout teams (with Ireland), that this contest should be won, unlike the one in 2007, by a team that scores tries."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/27/2011

Springboks only side that can stop All Blacks

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Peter Bills argues that New Zealand's greatest threat at this World Cup will come from old foe South Africa.

"Increasingly, there looks to be only one team capable of stopping the All Blacks' march on the Rugby World Cup: South Africa.

"Three-quarters of the way through the pool stage of the 2011 tournament, only two teams stand out, the All Blacks and the Springboks. It was ever thus in world rugby's pecking order.

"Of course, this is not to say that no other side could rise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of previous games. Every match England play, for example, they get better. But they may need the four years that will pass before they host the event in 2015 to become the finished product. Sorting out all their failings in just four weeks would surely require a conjuring trick."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/27/2011

All Blacks show it is possible to win hearts, minds and World Cups

Mick Cleary of The Telegraph suggests that given England have copied the New Zealand shirt, maybe they should try replicating what really matters – the All Black attack.

"It took just over 10 minutes at Eden Park last Saturday for the All Blacks to show that their credentials are as blue chip as ever, the time it took for them to rattle three tries past a France side who had seemingly done what you need to do against New Zealand by getting stuck in from the first whistle.

"The French camp may be on the brink of mutiny, with echoes of Raymond Domenech’s blighted regime at the 2010 football World Cup, but they managed to pour heart and soul into an opening salvo that would have set any other side on their heels.

"New Zealand simply absorbed the brunt of it, then hit back with lacerating potency. Three tries in a blink of an eye and the game was as good as done, hearty as the French resistance was after the break."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/27/2011

Tough call for Kidney as O'Gara presses his case

The Munster man’s goal-kicking stats give him the edge over Leinster fly-half Jonathan Sexton, writes Gerry Thornley in the Irish Times.

"Things are getting giddy among the Blarney Army. 'Can they do it? Can they go all the way?' As in win the World Cup.

"Whoaaa Betsy! It’s true Ireland’s odds have hardened from around 40 to or 45 to 1 down to 16 to 1. But this still leaves them fifth favourites, which is about right.

"For Ireland to even break new ground by reaching the semi-finals they need to stay healthy, for while the nine-try beating of Russia maintained momentum and underlined how some players, such as Andrew Trimble and Ronan O’Gara, are banging on the door, as ever Ireland need the vast majority of their front-liners fit and playing well."

September 26, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/26/2011

Sometimes it seems like we should just give Cup to All Blacks

The All Blacks were scarily good in Saturday's demolition of France © Getty Images

Wayne Smith of The Australian saw enough in Auckland on Saturday to suggest that New Zealand are on an unstoppable march towards World Cup glory.

"We always knew who we were up against. Now we know what we're up against.

"There were times while watching the All Blacks sup so sumptuously from the cold dish of revenge against France on Saturday night when it felt like the sensible thing to do was spare everyone involved at the World Cup another month away from their loved ones by simply handing over the Webb Ellis Cup to New Zealand now and be done with it. If they want the damn thing that much, and unmistakably they do, then why drag out the process?

"The All Blacks for most of the match operated at a level no other team at this tournament has remotely approached, not even South Africa which, until then, had posted the most clinical and impressive display with its systematic destruction of Fiji.

"But here were the All Blacks doing all that and more to the country ranked not 14th in the world but fifth, moreover the country that put them out of the last World Cup and, come to think of it, the one the Wallabies happened to win back in 1999. It's just possible then that they may have brought just a smidgin more intensity to their work than was absolutely necessary.

"Still, this was a scarily impressive display from New Zealand. The French, committed as they were, simply couldn't live with the physicality of their opponents."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/26/2011

Tension shows as French coach blows his top

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Peter Bills argues that Marc Lievremeont is starting to buckle under the weight of the controversy caused by his selection for Saturday's defeat by the All Blacks.

"Mon dieu! A French hissy fit from coach Marc Lievremont amid his spat with a French journalist during the post-match press conference at Eden Park after the crucial Rugby World Cup clash. Whatever next? A duel in the woods at dawn?

"Under pressure, Lievremont blew his top after his misfit side predictably tumbled to a five-tries-to-two defeat against the Rugby World Cup favourites.

"'Do you still believe you can win the World Cup?' Lievremont was asked by a French journalist. The coach snapped back 'You really annoy me with that question. We have just taken no points from this match and I have said we might not qualify. Is that enough for you?'

"As he left the press conference, the pair angrily eyeballed each other. Actually, it was more like handbags at three paces.

"Lievremont's flare-up was revealing about the amount of pressure he is under back in France after picking a below-strength team. France left out five of their top forwards and their first-choice No 10, playing Morgan Parra, a halfback, at first five-eighths."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/26/2011

South Africa are motoring down route one

Eddie Butler of The Guardian believes that the Springboks have identified their road to the final - and it does involve losing to Samoa in order to take the easy Euro-road.

"South Africa seem in an ominously understated mood. Even in Little Jo'burg on Thursday night, in front of a massed throng of expats in North Shore, their 87-0 victory against Namibia was registered as routine. The defending champions seem to be doing this World Cup by stealth.

"Perhaps it was that opening game against Wales that has knocked them off the radar. There is a theory that they spent so much time with all their sponsors at swanky farewell parties back home that they arrived a little overfed and watered in New Zealand. We know how dangerous it can be to party hard.

"There is another theory: that Wales simply played very well and provided the kick in the rear that the defending champions needed. Some say there was never much doubt that these sluggish Springboks would work their way down to the other end of the field after Toby Faletau's try and do whatever it took – a try by Francois Hougaard – to steal the opening game.

"Others say that even if they had lost, South Africa would be OK. This route through the pools, that route through the knockout stages – who cares? South Africa are not light on confidence on any road, even if for the moment it is hushed."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/26/2011

England stars' antics leave plenty to be desired but spare us the role model guff

Writing in The Independent, James Corrigan muses that it didn't take Mystic Meg to work out that the press would swoop on any Mike Tindall misdemeanour in New Zealand, what with all his connections.

"Wow, that dwarf story had some legs didn't it? But now the saga is finally drawing to its close – until England lose, that is – perhaps it is time to peer back and analyse what all the fuss was about.

"In short, it was contained in five words uttered by the coach, Martin Johnson, in the wake of the raucous night at the Altitude bar in Queenstown just over two weeks ago. 'Rugby player drinks beer - shocker.'

"That angered people, or, more to the point, the people who are paid to be angry. They saw it as flippant, arrogant and worse of all condoning of the behaviour which was capped by video images of the husband of the queen's granddaughter in a clinch. They saw it through football men's eyes."

September 25, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/25/2011

Scottish spirits sink but at least there was an even field to enjoy

Scotland's clash with Argentina was a most welcome reversion to one of the basic requirements of the Rugby World Cup: to have teams sharing the incentive to produce their strongest teams, writes James Lawton in The Independent.

"It will be some time before we know if this is truly a great World Cup of rugby or just some inordinately meandering march to record television and advertising profits.

"In the meantime, though, we can at least thank God for the gifts bestowed by filthy nights in Auckland and Wellington.

"The first brought us an appropriately magisterial celebration of his 100th cap by New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw.

"The second was hard on Scottish spirits and not least the splendidly refrigerated nerve of the oddly substituted Ruaridh Jackson, but when Argentina won with a superbly executed try they did it on the kind of field which has become increasingly precious as this tournament wears on.

"This is to say an even one, on which both teams played at maximum strength and with equal opportunity."

September 24, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/24/2011

Let's hear it for Barnesy, the perfect Wallaby for a crisis

Wallaby utility back Berrick Barnes is Adam Freier's favourite player © Getty Images

Australia's own "working class man", Berrick Barnes, could be the player to inspire the Wallabies to World Cup glory, writes Adam Freier in his latest column in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"A quote Wayne Bennett has used is: 'You can always tell the character of someone by what he does for those who can do nothing for him in return.'

"This quote could not be more relevant than with former Brisbane Bronco Berrick Barnes. Forever giving, for charity, rugby and others, this cleanskin can start to blossom in this Wallabies environment. A well-bred Queenslander whose native Australian tone and 'yeah, na, yeah' make him the natural next in line for Lara Bingle's 'Where the bloody hell are you?' ad campaign.

"The first time I met Berrick he wore bone-coloured R.M. Williams tight beige jeans with clip pockets, rum-stained R.M. Williams boots and a checked shirt that I am pretty sure I had once used as a tea towel. He stood there, tilted his head to the side, took one leap forward and simply threw his hand out to introduce himself."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/24/2011

All Blacks' coup de grace

Writing for the New Zealand Herald, former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick salutes the Kiwis' performance against France on Saturday.

"I have to say I was a happy hooker last night. The French started strongly, the All Blacks weathered the storm and then exploited the French deficiencies in this crucial Rugby World Cup clash.

The scrum was good, the lineout was good and they had three opportunities in the first half and took them all. It was like in the Tri Nations - they pressed the boot down on the throat and kept it there.

"They worked hard at the breakdown, a key point of contact in this World Cup, and really out-muscled the French there; demonstrably so, winning the game."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/24/2011

England will not be able to rely on mistakes against Scotland

In his column in The Guardian, Dean Ryan finds some causes for concern in England's resounding victory over Romania in Dunedin on Saturday.

"There was a lot to like about England's performance on Saturdayand the scoreline was clearly impressive. My concern, though, is not how many tries they scored against Romania but how they scored them and whether their approach is likely to be successful against Scotland in their final pool game on Saturday.

"England looked very dangerous in broken field. Mark Cueto's return was welcome; he and Chris Ashton really looked for work and looked threatening. The problem is how England arrive at those broken-field situations. They do not seem to develop them regularly enough from structured moves off their own scrums and lineouts.

"They are in danger of being caught between the Australian approach of trying to run Scotland off the field, which, with a little bit of drizzle, could be very dangerous because I don't think they are good enough, and going for the structured approach, but they haven't looked like they can manage the transition from structure to broken field. They struggle to arrive at the good parts of their game through their own structure and rely on the opposition offering them their chances."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/24/2011

A psychic farm animal called Richie McCow predicts the outcome of games

Tom English of The Scotsman is overwhelmed by just how obsessed New Zealanders are with the All Blacks lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time in 24 years.

"With every passing day in New Zealand we get reminders of how much of the nation's heart and soul is invested in the All Blacks and their pursuit of this World Cup.

"It's not the fact that everything, but everything, has got Silver Fern branding on it, or the fact that the newspapers and television stations bring hourly updates of the latest outbreak of obsession, like the farmer in Northland who has a psychic animal called Richie McCow, who has successfully predicted the outcome of a succession of New Zealand games by drinking from an All Black milk bottle as opposed to one decorated in the colours of their opponents.

"Sorry to say, that McCow went for the French in yesterday's encounter in Eden Park, a blunder that has cost him his credibility and, most probably, his life. Richie has mooed his last, I fear."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/24/2011

So can anybody stop All Black juggernaut?

Writing in The Independent, Hugh Godwin wonders, after watching New Zealand sweep France aside, if there is a side capable of preventing the Kiwis from winning the World Cup.

"They have said it many times, in many ways, but it can be summarised in one sentence from Craig Dowd, who told a radio audience last week: 'The only team who's going to beat the All Blacks is the All Blacks.'

"And the listeners up and down this country - simultaneously en fête and on the edge of a nervous breakdown - smiled and nodded and agreed and crossed their fingers, trusting to God or their own personal spirit that the craggy-faced old prop was right.

"There have been 1,109 men, including Dowd, accorded the status of an All Black down the years: 794 of them in Tests, 551 since the war. And it has felt like most of those still in the land of the living have popped up this last fortnight to declare their faith in Richie McCaw's team to win the World Cup; to win it back 24 years after the team captained by David Kirk and coached by Brian Lochore took the inaugural final on home soil."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/24/2011

Running rugby hopes not dashed

Rocky Elsom touches down during his side's World Cup win over the USA © Getty Images

Writing for The Australian, Wallabies flanker Rocky Elsom still believes than a side with an open, expansive style could yet win the Rugby World Cup - despite all the recent evidence to the contrary.

"As the World Cup enters its third week, it is becoming much clearer what style of play is proving the most successful and which tactics are no longer in vogue -- but there is still hope for the lovers of running rugby.

"The first and most notable trend is that field position is key and teams are happily exchanging possession for a patch of grass further down the paddock.

"In the big matches of the tournament so far, the success rate for players under the high ball has declined, the number of penalties at the breakdown against the attacking team has increased, and the number of phases in the middle of the field has plummeted.

"It seems rather than chance your arm in attack, looking for the sidelines or putting up a bomb is proving more fortuitous, and turning every opposition breakdown into something that looks like a car wreck is less risky than pilfering the ball and relying on set pieces. Throw in a good goal-kicker and you've got a good chance to go all the way."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/24/2011

Wobblies' loss has opened the door for a Six Nations team

In his column in the Sydney Morning Herald, England fly-half Toby Flood admits that Ireland's victory over Australia last weekend has presented the northern hemisphere's finest with a glorious opportunity to reach the World Cup final.

"Ireland's sensational victory over Australia has made the draw extremely interesting for all the northern hemisphere sides.

"It almost guarantees that there will be a northern presence in the World Cup final. Ireland look destined to meet Wales in the quarter-finals, if they win their pool by defeating Italy in their last game, and Wales finish second in theirs behind South Africa.

"If we can defeat Romania on Saturday, then we or Scotland are likely to face France or New Zealand in the quarter-finals, with the winners likely to meet either Ireland or Wales in the semis.

"Effectively, in a single stroke, Ireland have transformed the battle for a place in the final into a mini-Six Nations tournament. We are fully aware of both the opportunity and risk that scenario brings for us.

"As reigning Six Nations champions, we have already beaten Scotland and France at Twickenham this year. We lost the grand slam by going down to Ireland in Dublin before reversing that result in our final warm-up game. As for Wales, this year we have played three, won two and lost one against them."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/24/2011

Andy Robinson makes bold selection to fire up Scotland

Writing in The Telegraph, David Sole gives his thoughts on the Scotland starting line-up for Sunday's crunch clash with Argentina.

"I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at this week’s selection meeting as Scotland coach Andy Robinson picked his team to play the crucial Pool B match against Argentina.

"I’m sure the debates and discussions about who should play where would have been lengthy and probably quite emotive, such is the importance of the game. Where did they begin I wonder?

"The Pumas offer a very clear challenge to any side they play. They are good, technical set-piece players, they compete very aggressively at the contact areas, especially within two to three metres of the breakdown and they like to kick and chase up the middle of the field.

"So, do you select a team that is going to take them on at their own game and try to ‘outmuscle’ the big South Americans or do you focus on trying to play your own style of game and force the opposition to adjust their game plan by necessity?"

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/24/2011

Irish win sets scene for a titanic pair of North-South battles

In his latest column in The Independent, former England boss Brian Ashton analyses the repercussions of Ireland's shock victory over the Wallabies in Auckland last weekend.

"Ireland reignited the age-old cross-hemisphere debate between North and South last weekend with their enthralling victory over Australia.

"In many ways the situation was tailor-made for them: all England players, together with England followers who understand the first thing about the game, are acutely aware that the Irish have throughout rugby history shown a remarkable ability to create and feed off chaos, to the extent that there is no more destructive team in the world in and around the tackle area.

"Given that Australia are not exactly renowned for laying stable foundations at the scrum, and that David Pocock, their truly outstanding open-side flanker, was missing from the Wallaby line-up for last Saturday's contest, the men in green and gold must have anticipated a few problems, although I suspect they did not predict the scale of the issues they found themselves facing."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/24/2011

Positioned nicely to be third time lucky

He may be an outhalf in centre’s clothing but at his third tournament Paddy Wallace is relishing his first World Cup start, writes Gerry Thornley in the Irish Times.

"Finally, at his third World Cup, Paddy Wallace can tick a previously empty box. It would have been cruel beyond cruel if the 32-year-old had gone through another World Cup campaign without a game, though you always sensed Declan Kidney was as mindful of that as anyone.

"In 11 previous matches at World Cups, dating from the 2003, through ’07 and into this tournament, despite being on the bench in all four pool games four years ago (when things didn’t exactly go swimmingly for Ronan O’Gara and Ireland), Wallace was confined to a three-minute cameo in the endgame of the opening 32-17 win over Namibia.

"Even in the last throes of the campaign, when 30-15 down against Argentina and Gavin Duffy had replaced Denis Hickie, he was not brought on as a token gesture. 'I think me and Bryan Young were left holding hands that day,' he says with a chuckle.

"Needless to say, he’s fairly relieved and excited about his belated first World Cup start."

September 23, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/23/2011

French defence

The selection of Morgan Parra at fly-half has caused controversy in New Zealand © Getty Images

Wales defensive coach Shaun Edwards, writing in the Guardian, says the criticism of France's selection for their clash with the All Blacks has been over the top and at time hypocritical

"Things have got a bit out of hand. When you wake to read the front‑page lead story in the nation's main morning newspaper is talking about "French farce" and suggestions are made that France would be happier to lose Saturday's match against the All Blacks, then it's time to take stock. I know this is a rugby-mad country, but hang on a minute.

"First, you can dismiss any suggestion that Marc Lièvremont and the French team will not be taking the match at Eden Park seriously. They will. There may appear to be contradictions in the side France's coach has selected, but when haven't there been in his four years in charge of the national side?

"He has constantly fiddled, but if you trace Lièvremont's selections through the warm-up games it's reasonably easy to see the thinking behind the team he has picked. It's a pity that a journalist who seems to delight in getting his pieces quoted down here didn't do his homework before claiming that the game has been "downgraded close to an irrelevance by the deliberate French selection".

September 22, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/22/2011

Burger's have-nots the real losers

Jacques Burger's Namibia are about to embark on a rather hellish few days © Getty Images

With the debate still raging over the fixture list for the supposed lesser nations in this year's Rugby World Cup, Peter Jackson, writing in the Irish Examiner, labels Namibia's schedule as "sadistic".

"The Samoan with the unpronounceable double-barreled name called it ‘slavery’ and duly gave the World Cup organisers both barrels.

"The reaction to Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu’s rant over the compressed scheduling of his country’s four pool matches into 16 days veered from recommendations of a medal for bravery to demands that the tweeting twit be sent home. Goodness knows what more foul-mouthed abuse would have poured forth had he considered the case of a country in an even worse pickle.

"Namibia, led by the fearless Jacques Burger of Saracens, are about to be plunged into the most brutal schedule of all. They are obliged to take on South Africa in Albany this morning, make a four-hour coach journey to New Plymouth and play Wales there on Monday morning. Sadistic is hardly the word for it."

September 21, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/21/2011

Stressing the point behind World Cup upsets and controlled chaos

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Ewen McKenzie discusses the importance of being able to handle pressure, particularly in a World Cup environment.

"I have been playing chess on my phone of late and it goes without saying that strategy is a critical element. Making the right decision under pressure in difficult circumstances is a must.

"Rugby is often talked about as a game of chess, where the tactical battle is as important as the physical.

"Rugby is a chaotic game, so the principle objective for a team must be to create some order. Chaos creates stress, so finding the balance between controlling the uncontrollable and predictable elements of a match should be a high priority.
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"This is possible, with the right preparation, but only if you are capable of creating, and handling, stress."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/21/2011

Beware the cunning of the French

In his colum in the New Zealand Herald, former All Blacks legend Colin Meads warns New Zealand not to underestimate the threat posed by France ahead of this weekend's pivotal Pool A clash in Auckland.

"There has been a bit of talk this week about the French selecting a "B" team, but that type of talk makes me worried. Last week's big win over Japan had everyone in raptures over how well the All Blacks played.

"But it's a false sense of security because Japan weren't great opposition and the tries were easy. That's not what the Rugby World Cup is about.

"Much of the talk this week has been about a French halfback being selected at first five-eighths. Well, if Daniel Carter went down injured, his All Black replacement would be a halfback too.

"Let's be realistic, I like Colin Slade, but he hasn't played well. Piri Weepu would be our backup first five-eighths. And that would mean we're doing the same thing as France."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/21/2011

Kiwi media stung by France's 'B' team

Gerry Thornley of the Irish Times defends France's selection for this weekend's allegedly devalued Pool A clash with New Zealand.

"Midweek constitutes a bit of a lull in match-day action, so the gaps have to be filled somehow. But even so, the media furore which has greeted Marc Lièvremont’s team selection for the eagerly awaited World Cup rematch between New Zealand and France has been quite extraordinary.

"'World Cup’s $450 French farce' screamed the banner headline in the front page of The New Zealand Herald, above a sub-heading of “Fans pay big bucks to see All Blacks play B team” over pictures of the two captains in action, Thierry Dusautoir and Richie McCaw.

"The day’s lead page one piece quoted one of their own (English) columnists in citing Lièvremont’s selection as “an insult to the 60,000 who have bought tickets” and randomly quoted three disgruntled All Blacks fans to underline the point."

September 20, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/20/2011

Southern softies?

Australia's Will Genia is wrapped up during Ireland's victory over the Wallabies © Getty Images

Writing in the Daily Telegraph Mick Cleary asks if the Southern Hemisphere sides are finally taking the Six Nations' side seriously.

"A smug curl of the lip has never been far from southern hemisphere faces when rugby of the north is being discussed. Too strait-laced, too one-dimensional, too boring. Well, by all accounts the curl was nowhere to be seen in Auckland on Saturday night, nor for that matter in Wellington the previous weekend when Wales caused world champions South Africa so much bother.

"But it was Ireland’s hard-knuckle win over Australia at Eden Park that has changed countenances down this part of the world. Maybe this dour lot from the grey, northern reaches can play rugby after all. Test rugby, that is, not the floss that is sometimes on show in Super rugby, that vibrant, highly skilled competition, a brand of the game that excites but which can breed ruinously self-indulgent tendencies."

September 19, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/19/2011

Hangover continues for England

England were far from convincing in beating Georgia © Getty Images
The Independent's Chris Hewett is unimpressed with England's efforts against Georgia.
"Are Georgia really 47 points better than they were at the 2003 World Cup? It is at least arguable. Are England 47 points worse? No, but if their first-half performance here was a reliable guide, they are getting there. The men from the Caucasus had less than 96 hours to prepare for this match, having been ordered to operate on the parallel fixture schedule reserved for this tournament's second-class citizens."

September 18, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/18/2011

Promotion and relegation

Writing in the Scotsman, Iain Morrison believes it is time to consider promotion and relegation from the Six Nations.

"The Nations Cup is Europe's second tier competition. Last year Georgia, Portugal and Romania were joined by sides from South Africa, Argentina and Namibia. Replace those three outsiders with Spain, Russia and the Ukraine and you have a shadow European Six Nations.

"Throw in the carrot of promotion/relegation to the top-tier Six Nations, as BBC Scotland's John Beattie recently suggested, and rugby in those emerging nations would take a huge leap forward. As a Scottish supporter I'd dread this development. As a rugby fan who wants to see the game grow I'd demand it. But Europe's emerging nations are lucky compared to those in the Pacific."

September 17, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/17/2011

World Cup questions

Former England coach Brian Ashton outlines the key questions of the Rugby World Cup in the Independent.

"Questions raised by the first weekend of World Cup action? There were many, but here are the ones I consider most significant:

1 The ball and the kickers. At what stage will the latter exert a satisfactory degree of control over the former?

2 How influential will the out-and-out open-side flankers be over the course of the tournament?

3 The physicality levels are already sky-high. This is bound to take its toll come the later stages of the competition, and when it does, will it open the gate for the high-tempo teams and their match-winning runners?"

September 16, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/16/2011

Breakdown running smoothly

Paul Cully gives rugby chiefs a cautionary pat on the back in the Dominion Post

"It's been a steep road back to the credibility for the IRB after the well-intentioned but horribly botched ELVs, but there is every indication after the early rounds that those in charge of running the game deserve a cautious pat on the back.

"The rugby has been, in large, very promising with the blight of World Cups past - the sporting mismatch - blissfully absent. This might change as injuries bite but for now the mood is good."

September 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/15/2011

Henry's backs look okay, but the forwards are a worry

All Blacks head coach Graham Henry must get more out of his forwards, according to Colin Meads © Getty Images

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Colin Meads admits that he has his concerns over the All Blacks pack.

"The performance of the forwards against Tonga has left me a little worried.

"The concern came in the second half - the moment we lost Tony Woodcock and Brad Thorn our scrum packed up. I always say good players have a 'bonus'. It means you've got a job to do, and you do your jobs, and what comes above that is a bonus.

"I think we had too many forwards who weren't doing their job - they were looking for 'plums' or 'bonuses' before they did their job.

"I thought the backs all played well, except perhaps for Toeava. Yet there weren't too many forwards who you could mark better than five (out of 10)."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/15/2011

So what have you learnt, Johnno? Georgia aim to keep it tight in World Cup showdown with England

Georgia's performance in their 15-6 Pool B defeat against Scotland will have given England valuable clues about their strengths and weaknesses, according to Chris Foy of the Daily Mail.

"All of the pre-match hype spoke about Georgia’s power up front, the plethora of players playing in the French Top 14 league, their close match against Ireland four years ago and how this Pool B match was an opportunity for them to stake a claim for more ’tier-one’ international matches.

"Such hype seemed to be of great help to Scotland because although the victory margin of nine points might not suggest it, Georgia were very much second best in this contest.

"Perhaps the match against Romania at the weekend was a bit of a wake-up call or maybe the Scottish players really began to realise that they were approaching the business end of the competition and they could not afford to slip up – not easy in the rainy conditions of Invercargill."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/15/2011

Scotland meet their objectives but a sense of disappointment resonates after opportunity lost

David Sole of The Telegraph discusses the positives and negatives of Scotland's victory over Georgia.

"All of the pre-match hype spoke about Georgia’s power up front, the plethora of players playing in the French Top 14 league, their close match against Ireland four years ago and how this Pool B match was an opportunity for them to stake a claim for more ’tier-one’ international matches.

"Such hype seemed to be of great help to Scotland because although the victory margin of nine points might not suggest it, Georgia were very much second best in this contest.

"Perhaps the match against Romania at the weekend was a bit of a wake-up call or maybe the Scottish players really began to realise that they were approaching the business end of the competition and they could not afford to slip up – not easy in the rainy conditions of Invercargill."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/15/2011

If versatility counts, Stevens will be in at No 1 for England

Writing in The Independent, Chris Hewett analyses the front-row selection dilemma now facing England team manager Martin Johnson following the injury-enforced exit of prop Andrew Sheridan.

"The question now is whether England have the faintest notion of who their number one No 1 should be. There are two contenders: the young London Irish prop Alex Corbisiero, who performed so well against such intimidating opponents as Martin Castrogiovanni of Italy and Nicolas Mas of France during this year's Six Nations, and Matt Stevens of Saracens, who has returned fitter, stronger, more focused and a whole lot happier in mind and spirit following his two-year drugs ban.

"Both men are good technicians and both have some football about them. Stevens' off-loading game, first developed during his spell at Bath, is worth its weight in gold in modern-day rugby, while Corbisiero's ability to take difficult passes and give good ones is equally striking. At 29, Stevens has had his share of rough passages in the scrum and survived to tell the tale. At 23, Corbisiero experienced a difficult hour or so against Mike Ross of Ireland in the Grand Slam match at Lansdowne Road last March, yet finished so strongly that all questions about his competitive make-up were answered there and then.'"

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/15/2011

Towering figure born to play

The re-emergence of Radike Samo is what Hollywood scripts are made of, writes Gerry Thornley in the Irish Times.

"It is perhaps, on the face of it, the story of the World Cup. A 33-year-old, deemed too fat and slow, is given a short-term contract with the Queensland Reds. His performances earn a two-year contract, he plays a starring role in their historic Super 15 title and revives a Test career that had stalled for seven years to become a shock inclusion in Australia’s 30-man squad, scores a match-winning try in the Tri-Nations decider and begins the World Cup as their starting number eight. You could hardly make it up.

"But this is the world, right now, of Radike Samo, a typically easy-going Fijian freak of nature who was simply born to play rugby. One imagines, save for one or two opponents beaten out of his path or left eating his dust, Samo doesn’t have an enemy in the world.'"

September 14, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/14/2011

Where there's a Will

Australia's Will Genia looks ready to prove himself to number one scrum-half in the world © Getty Images

Gerry Thornley of the Irish Times profiles Wallabies scrum-half Will Genia, a player he feels capable of inspiring his country ro World Cup glory.

"It's a point made before but it’s worth repeating this week of all weeks. Think back to David Kirk’s role as captain of the inaugural winners from New Zealand, and with every World Cup champions since they have usually boasted the world’s best scrumhalf at the time. The next few weeks will tell a tale, but Will Genia is beginning to look the part.

"Be it Nick Farr-Jones, Joost van der Westhuizen, George Gregan, Matt Dawson and most definitely Fourie du Preez, the Kirk example has been generally emulated. Much to his own embarrassment, the comparisons with the 119-times capped, Zimbabwean-born Gregan are invariably the most commonplace, with Genia once saying that mention of him in the same sentence was “a joke”.

"Yet almost two years ago, when Genia was still only 11 caps into his career, Gregan said of him: 'He’s got a lot more skills than me. He’s bigger, stronger and he can kick a lot further. I’m a dinosaur compared to him. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. I like the way he plays. He has time and space to do things, which is a sign of a real quality player. He’s only 22 and has heaps of improvement in him. That’s what’s exciting.'"

September 13, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/13/2011

Guildford paying price for Suncorp blues

Writing in The Dominion Post, Duncan Johnstone wonders if All Blacks head coach Graham Henry regrets including Zac Guildford in his World Cup squad ahead of Hosea Gear.

"Is Zac Guildford destined to be the Frano Botica of this All Blacks World Cup squad?

"Botica famously never played a match during the triumphant 1987 World Cup campaign, though he wasn't alone there - halfback Bruce Deans and injured skipper Andy Dalton never got on the field either.

"The prospect of Guildford being the odd man out this time took a deeper turn this morning when he was omitted for the second match in a row, missing a chance to play Japan on Friday night in Hamilton.

"Apart from the injured Kieran Read who won't get a chance until the last round-robin game against Canada at the earliest, Guildford is the only fit player to be kept on the sidelines during these opening two weeks of the tournament.

"The Magpies flyer has paid a heavy price for his shocker against the Wallabies in Brisbane on the eve of the tournament."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/13/2011

Richie McCaw is still world's best

Reports of Richie McCaw's demise have been greatly exaggerated, writes former All Black Taine Randall in his column in The Dominion Post.

"There has been a lot of recent speculation and some strong comments made about Richie McCaw's form.

"The criticism seems related to the fact that he was injured for a long period in the Super Rugby season and that when he came back he didn't immediately recapture the form we all know him for.

"As a result, there's been no shortage of people suggesting father time has caught up with one of our greats.

"I can't agree."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/13/2011

Mil's fading star burns too long

In his column in the New Zealand Herald, Chris Rattue gives his thoughts on Mils Muliaina's recall to the All Blacks starting line-up for Friday's clash with Japan.

"Japan will be chuffed. Having scared the daylights out of France, they are now cast - allegedly - as the make-or-break opponents in Mils Muliaina's All Black career.

"Unsure of their best fullback, the All Blacks will start Muliaina against Japan on Friday night when he can prove himself the better No 15 choice over Israel Dagg.

"After 98 tests, and deep into the 2011 season, Muliaina's last-chance saloon is against a team the All Blacks should beat by a zillion points."

September 12, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/12/2011

Insecurity an anchor in Rugby World Cup tournament on the rise

Rhys Priestland is left devastated by Wales' defeat to South Africa © Getty Images

The New Zealand Herald argues that an innate lack of confidence cost Wales victory in their clash with South Africa on Sunday.

"Same old story. Plucky little Wales. How brave the boys were in defeat at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. They did everything but win. Yes, in the land of my blathers the soliloquies of consolation were long and winded.

"Francois Pienaar called it perfectly. He had just heard his fellow analyst Gareth "Alfie" Thomas taking all the positives out of his country's one-point loss to South Africa and he was aghast.

"'They didn't have the belief they could win,' said the World Cup-winning captain. 'And until they do believe, they won't win.'

"Pienaar said it as if believing was the easiest thing in the world, and to a mighty Springbok it probably is as straightforward as emptying bowels.

"But this inferiority complex has been forged in Wales over many thousands of years and to tell a Welsh person, and particularly a Welsh rugby fan, 'you only have to believe' is akin to informing an ape 'you only have to stop eating bananas'. Sorry, Frans, it's in our nature - it's even in our hymns."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/12/2011

Barnes criticism unfair

In his column in the Dominion Post, France Bunce offers some support for under-fire referee Wayne Barnes.

"I'm backing Wayne Barnes.

"The English referee always gets a lot of coverage in New Zealand because of what happened in that quarterfinal game in 2007 and he became the main talking point out of Wales' 17-16 loss to South Africa on Sunday night.

"But I thought Barnes had a good game, although he did miss a forward pass when Toby Faletau scored his try for Wales.

The kick that never was from James Hook certainly isn't all his fault. The assistant referees Vinny Munro and George Clancy should have been a lot more proactive in what happened."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/12/2011

Minnows are closer to catching the big fish

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Spiro Zavos savours the fact that there is no longer a massive gulf in class between the top sides in rugby and the smaller nations.

"With all the teams (except Canada and Samoa) playing over the weekend, it is a great relief and pleasure to say that this has been the best opening pool round of all the World Cup tournaments.

"There were no blow-outs. Japan, for instance, had France on the brink of defeat before conceding 20 points or so in the last 10 minutes of the match. All the matches were sternly contested. The US held winner Ireland to a 22-10 scoreline.

"Many thrilling tries were scored. And the last match of the round, between South Africa and Wales, was one of the great rugby matches: intense, hard, gripping and on the line until the final whistle."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/12/2011

Hey Ted, play the best team

The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray writes an open letter to All Blacks head coach Graham Henry ahead of Friday's World Cup clash with Japan.

"Hey Ted,

"How about picking the best All Black team to play Japan on Friday. Not your "best-team-for-this-match" theory but the form XV in your squad.

"This is the time to pull the trigger, get the strongest combination on to Waikato Stadium for at least 60 minutes and then you can run on any reserves you like to give them a chance to impress.

"Japan will not get close to any All Black combination. But we don't want just any combo. Now is the time to put the form XV on the track and run them through the rest of the tournament. They need time together in match conditions, not huddled around the whiteboard."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/12/2011

Why the world loves to hate England's rugby

Richard Williams of The Guardian believes that England's style of play means that they will always win more matches than friends.

"Those who represent England on the rugby field generally go about their business in the belief that everyone else hates them. No argument there but they are often wrong about the cause, which they presume to be a reaction against a certain arrogance that comes from being rich, powerful and possessed by an unshakeable sense of entitlement founded on their role in the game's origins. In fact they are disliked because of the way they play, and never was that clearer than on Saturday in Dunedin.

"England have no history of bringing imagination or creativity to the 15-man game and it was evident against Argentina that they are not about to start now. This was a horrible performance in every respect, from the challenges by Courtney Lawes and James Haskell that removed Gonzalo Tiesi from the tournament and put Felipe Contepomi out of Argentina's next match to the language used by Haskell when drawing the referee's attention to an alleged attempt to gouge his eyes, a complaint he later withdrew, putting his outburst down to "over-exuberance".

"Would that even the tiniest hint of exuberance were detectable in the way the team play, because worst of all was the combination of tactical cynicism and a fundamental lack of inventiveness shown by a squad who have spent three-and-a-half years under the same coaching team and yet ended their opening match of the tournament giving routine explanations for the poverty of their performance."

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/12/2011

Minnows making waves

Romania gave Scotland a major scare in the clash in Pool B © Getty Images

Former All Blacks skipper Tana Umaga says the smaller nations are lighting up the early stages of the Rugby World Cup in the New Zealand Herald.

"Attention in World Cups usually settles on the fortunes of the big nations.

"This time the discussion has been about the prospects for the All Blacks, Wallabies, Springboks, England and France and how far they will go in the tournament. But I was struck by the way the lesser-fancied sides stood up in their opening matches - there were no score blowouts like there have been in other tournaments."

September 10, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 09/10/2011

Romania provide a timely boost

Romania very nearly caused an upset in their opening clash of the World Cup © Getty Images

The Dominion Post praises Romania's endeavour as they very nearly cause an opening round upset against Scotland.

"The Rugby World Cup was crying out for an upset.

Unfortunately there wasn't one at Invercargill but the thunderous men of Romania pushed Scotland to the brink of defeat and in the process did this tournament an enormous service.

Critics of rugby routinely point to the lack of boilovers at any level of the game let alone at the international tier, where the difference between the haves and have-nots is cavernous.

There was no predictability in this Romanian performance.

Scotland had to be brave, plus the rest, to snatch a late win against opponents who at times resembled 15 props such was their muscularity.

Unfortunately their bright lemon jerseys was the brightest thing about the Romanian backline."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 09/10/2011

Fireworks at opener

The Dominion Post's Marc Hinton reflects on the opening clash of the World Cup.

"There were 60,000 pretty happy souls in the stands as the Rugby World Cup opened in spectacular fashion at Eden Park tonight. And one slightly concerned one.

As the Kiwis, neutrals and even the smattering of Tongans warmed to the quality rugby on display from the All Blacks in the first half and, you have to say, the islanders in the second, pretty much everyone in the sellout crowd had themselves a merry old time.

Except for one. You can only wonder what idle All Black fullback Mils Muliaina would have made of a polished and precise first-half display from the makeshift back three who took the Tongans apart at every opportunity in the tournament's opening game.

Muliaina sits poised on 98 tests but surely his hold on the No 15 jersey is as shaky as it has been pretty much at any time through his long and spectacular career. Even his coach admits his veteran No 15 has gone "a bit flat."

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/10/2011

Shock would cause no upset

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, David Leggat wishes for a few early upsets to set the World Cup alight.

"Here's a thought, after six years waiting for the return of the World Cup to these shores: by tomorrow night one-sixth of the games will be over.

"Just like that. One thing is absolutely certain: the next six weeks will fly by.

"So what to expect over this hectic weekend, with four games today, three more tomorrow?

"High on any neutral wishlist would be an early upset, something which will give the tournament a real shake."

September 9, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/09/2011

Crooked feeds blighting game

In the New Zealand Herald, Peter Bills bemoans what he thinks will be the inevitable flaunting of the scrum feeding laws.

"Shane Warne is a much missed spin bowler on the cricketing scene. But it's still mystifying why every halfback in world rugby has aped the Aussie with scrum feeds about as straight as a Warnie leg-break.

"From Dunedin to Dublin, Brisbane to Buenos Aires, cheating with the scrum feed has become endemic. Pathetically tolerated by the game's authorities for 25 years or more now, this small act which creates such intense anger and frustration is set to infect another Rugby World Cup.

"Revealingly, the IRB named five key areas for referees to focus on at this tournament and the scrum feed wasn't in there."

September 8, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/08/2011

Dave Alred: 'Jonny's kicking is improving all the time - and he'll get even better'

Jonny Wilkinson's deadly goal-kicking is actually getting better, according to Dave Alred © Getty Images

Dave Alred tells Hugh Godwin of The Independent that he is delighted to be back within the England coaching fold and is now ready to recreate the mentality that proved so effective in 2003.

"Much as we look forward to the flying Fijians, Wallabies, All Blacks and – you never know - Welsh, Scots, Irish and Englishmen running in tries from all areas of the field, the next seven weeks of the World Cup are bound to feature matches decided not by dazzling hands but the simple, single swipe of a boot.

"So much do England and their manager Martin Johnson believe in the necessity of getting their goal-kicking right that they have re-hired the man who honed Jonny Wilkinson's technique for his dropped goal of glory in the 2003 final. And Dave Alred says Wilkinson - England's leading points scorer, too, in their run to the 2007 final - is kicking better than ever."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/08/2011

All Blacks hold key to New Zealand's wellbeing

Winning the World Cup would provide a rare chance to party for a nation trying to regroup after a tough year, writes Robert Kitson in The Guardian.

"Back in 1987, when the Rugby World Cup took its first faltering steps, few people were particularly interested. The former All Black great Don Clarke was invited to kick the match ball through the posts before the opening game and promptly tore a hamstring. The Italian anthem was played on crackling vinyl only to cut out halfway through. After New Zealand had beaten France in the final, several players were back at their day jobs by Monday morning.

"To contrast such a village-fete atmosphere with the 2011 edition is to be reminded how far the sport has advanced. New Zealanders are resigned to never hosting the tournament again; a population of 4.3 million means they simply do not have the economic clout. Estimates of how many overseas visitors will assemble in New Zealand continue to fluctuate, but the latest official figure is 95,000, almost a quarter of whom are making the trek from the UK. The organisers have even sold 55,000 tickets for a pool match between Fiji and Samoa, no mean feat even in Oceania.

"For a nation still trying to regroup from the deadly earthquake that hit Christchurch in February, it is a bittersweet sensation. Kiwis are not naturally demonstrative but, on the streets of Dunedin, Hamilton and Auckland, there is an overwhelming sense of now or never. If the All Blacks could just do the decent thing and win the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time since the Special K era of David Kirk and John Kirwan, they could rest easy."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/08/2011

Leamy feels squad is far better prepared

Denis Leamy tells the Irish Times that Ireland are not about to make the same mistakes in New Zealand as they did in France four years ago.

"Forewarned forearmed, as it were, and with memories of the Namibian and Georgian games still vividly uncomfortable for the majority of the Irish squad, that should be of some benefit before the equivalent 2011 banana skin against the USA on Sunday.

"The recuperative week in Queenstown having restored morale, Ireland are probably better off starting against one of the minnows (it’s not often we get to pair America and Russia in that category) than in the in-form and newly-crowned Tri-Nations champions from Australia, or even Italy. But, coming on the heels of August’s four warm-up defeats, that is only on the premise that the Eagles don’t inflict the same kind of psychological scars that Namibia and Georgia delivered.

"Indeed, had Denis Leamy not positioned himself under one of the Georgian sumo wrestlers who had rumbled over the Irish line, Ireland would have suffered unquestionably the worst result in its history."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/08/2011

Cooper is the Lomu for all rivals

Neil Squires of the Daily Express profiles Quade Cooper, the fly-half who will be starring for the Wallabies in New Zealand when he could so easily have been lining out for the All Blacks.

"When he was seven, Quade Cooper watched with awed delight as Jonah Lomu destroyed England in the 1995 World Cup semi-final. Back then he was a Kiwi kid revelling in the sight of the monster in black running free.

"As children do, he headed straight into the back garden in New Zealand’s Waikato province and attempted to emulate the bulldozer. Quade Cooper and his friend re-enacted the scene over and over again, taking it in turns to be first Jonah Lomu and then his Cape Town carpet Mike Catt.

"The irony is Cooper has not grown up to be an All Black like Lomu but the dazzling playmaker of the side most likely to stop them winning their own World Cup, Australia."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/08/2011

Kiwis' desire to show everyone except the Wallabies a good time is palpable

In his New Zealand Letter in the Irish Times, Gerry Thornley reveals that the natives are determined to make the most of this glorious opportunity to showcase their country.

"You travel by Air New Zealand to “the four million stadium” and you know you’re going to be consumed by the World Cup experience almost as soon as you step on the plane at Heathrow. And again in Hong Kong and then, just to be sure, from Auckland to Christchurch, if not on the final propeller leg to Queenstown.

"The slightly slapstick security video at the outset of each journey is a little different from the norm, featuring as it does an array of would-be rugby supporters from around the globe as well as a phalanx of All Blacks led by Graham Henry and Richie McCaw in the cockpit.

"If any of the passengers dares to smoke, warns Henry, no doubt reprising his earlier incarnation as a stern schoolteacher, 'then consider yourself dropped. Smoking is strictly prohibited. We can’t have that kind of disruption to the team.'

"And so on. In all of this it’s worth noting Emirates Airlines are one of the World Cup’s official sponsors, whereas Air New Zealand are one of the All Blacks’ sponsors. Therein lies the genius of this security video/advertisement/endorsement – the World Cup, even the All Blacks, are never mentioned. Not quite ambush marketing, but not far removed either."

September 6, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/06/2011

Correct decision to leave O'Connor languishing on bench for opener

James O'Connor will have to watch from the sidelines as Australia take to the field to face Italy on Sunday © Getty Images

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Growden backs Australia head coach Robbie Deans' decision to resist the temptation to recall James O'Connor to his starting XV for this weekend's clash with Italy.

"World Cup success requires smart decisions on and off the field. And the Wallabies began their campaign in New Zealand on the right note yesterday when the Test selectors made the wise move of showing strength and solidarity by sticking with the team that won them the Tri Nations for their opening tournament match against Italy.

"The selectors could have taken the easy option of rushing winger James O'Connor back into the starting team following his one-match suspension for missing the World Cup squad announcement.

"There was some logic in that, especially as O'Connor is the team's No.1 goalkicker, and World Cup glory relies so much on having an in-form and consistent kicker. But if the selectors had immediately handed back O'Connor his Test wing spot it may have destabilised the Wallabies' touring group, and disenchanted those who would have had to make way for him."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/06/2011

Pride and pace key to Eddie's Eagles

Gerry Thornley of the Irish Times looks ahead to what is going to be an especially emotional game for the United States against Ireland on Sunday.

"Of all the days of the year Ireland are to be pitted against the USA, one could hardly imagine there being a more emotionally charged occasion for an American team than the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities.

Those shocking images having reminded everyone of where they were that day, no national anthem in the tournament will carry more resonance for its players than the playing of the Star Spangled Banner in New Plymouth on Sunday.

American sports teams abroad are innately patriotic in any case and rugby is littered with examples as to how emotional energy can count for so much."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/06/2011

Multi-talented Sheridan has got a taste for the claret

England prop Andrew Sheridan tells the Daily Mail of his love of wine and his other interests outside of rugby.

"Andrew Sheridan's CV entries are becoming more numerous and diverse with every passing year - bricklayer, singer-songwriter and now budding sommelier.

"On Saturday, the Sale prop will aim to prove he retains his most important qualification, that of supreme scrummager, but the 31-year-old has spent considerable time preparing for a life after rugby.

"I can’t play for ever,' said Sheridan. 'I like drinking wine, so I thought I’d do a course in it. You just understand more about different flavours and the way different countries deal with their wine industries. It’s very interesting, how different wine varieties can produce such different flavours.'"

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/06/2011

Rory Lamont raring to go as he shrugs off two years dogged by injuries

Scotland fullback Rory Lamont talks to David Ferguson of The Scotsman ahead of the start of the country's World Cup campaign.

"Rory Lamont insists that he can remember the last Rugby World Cup clearly but there has to be some doubt about that.

"The fullback was knocked unconscious by a hefty and controversial tackle from Andrea Masi while he was in the air during the pool decider against Italy in St Etienne.

"He was taken from the field after just 24 minutes and went straight to hospital. For Lamont, however, it was just one of what has become a litany of injury moments in his career. Whether it is their frequency or his natural ebullience that makes him shrug them off is hard to know.

"But, reassuringly for Scotland, they have done little damage to his terrific self-belief."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/06/2011

Proud Pumas will stalk big prey after Tri-Nations experience

Mark Souster of The Australian talks to former Argentina scrum-half Agustin Pichot.

"The story of Argentine rugby is one fuelled by a burning sense of injustice, but also by pride, passion and an unbridled love for the sport.

"In Agustin Pichot, it has been fortunate to have had one of its most respected advocates, who may have retired from the international game after the previous World Cup but whose influence on his country's future is still as strong as it was when he was a player and captain.

"Over the past four years, Pichot's mission has been to ensure that Argentina, which England faces on Saturday in the opening pool B game, secured a place in the Tri-Nations tournament. It is one that has taken him around the world, in turn cajoling, imploring and negotiating. It is one that finally paid off with his beloved country admitted this year to that exclusive southern-hemisphere club with effect from next year.

"But as always, there is a price to pay. The side that bewitched the world four years ago has broken up, those who remain are ageing and the next generation is not yet ready. It is a team in transition, shedding the last vestiges of romantic amateurism to be replaced by fully fledged professionalism. The Pumas, he suspects, may struggle at this tournament, but he hopes not."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/06/2011

I fear cheating will be rife at the World Cup

Writing in The Independent, Peter Bills voices his dismay at the way in which players are repeatedly allowed to break the rules at scrum time.

"The Rugby World Cup which starts in New Zealand this Friday may bring us many things.

"We can anticipate better rugby compared to the type we saw in both 2003 and 2007 when kicking dominated the game. There may be some stirring contests such as New Zealand v France and Australia v Ireland in the pool matches alone. South Africa’s pool games against Wales, Samoa and Fiji should all be fascinating and physically frightening.

"But I fear one thing we can forget about seeing is a fair contest for the ball at the set scrums. Cheating, it would appear, has been quietly but officially sanctioned by referees when it comes to the scrum feed."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/06/2011

How Martin Johnson grew from being a mild young man to the enforcer of English rugby

Martin Johnson won the World Cup as a player; now he hopes to win it as a coach © Getty Images

The Telegraph's Mark Reason profiles the man charged with leading England to World Cup glory in New Zealand, Martin Johnson.

"Martin Johnson’s Maori team-mates used to call him ‘lovely boy’ after the character La-dee-da Gunner Graham, an effete aesthete in the Seventies sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Out in King Country the 19-year-old Johnson was as rugged as a fairy cake.

"His locking partner, Russell Alve, remembers Johnson running on to the pitch in a pair of shorts with pockets. He might as well have worn a cravat. When Alve looked closer he saw the corner of a white handkerchief sticking out.

"'What the hell is that?' asked Alve. 'You can chuck that away mate. We just snot on the ground over here. We don’t have that sort of thing.'"

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/06/2011

Will mad dog ever get off the leash?

Chris Foy of the Daily Mail is less than reassured by Martin Johnson's claim that the increasingly injury-prone Lewis Moody will be fit to lead his country through their World Cup campaign.

"When Martin Johnson claimed on Monday that the loss of Lewis Moody for Saturday's World Cup opener against Argentina was not a major disruption to England's plans, he had a point - to a degree.

"Sadly, the man appointed as captain for the tournament is becoming used to watching proceedings instead of playing a crucial role in them. Moody has been actively involved for only 60 of the 640 minutes of Test rugby that England have contested in 2011.

"The 33-year-old flanker has had far more than his fair share of injuries over the years, and they have taken a heavy toll of late."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/06/2011

Conquer McCaw, you'll conquer the All Blacks

Writing in The Australian, former England fly-half and current media pundit Stuart Barnes outlines the way in which to defeat World Cup favourites New Zealand.

"AUGUST 20: the All Blacks rest their captain, Richie McCaw, and the world's best five-eighth, Dan Carter. South Africa beats them by 18-5.

"Even though other players are rested, it is hard not to subtract two from 15 and arrive at the same answer as most rugby fans on the planet.

"New Zealand, for all the individual brilliance, is a flawed diamond when Carter isn't there to glitter and McCaw to deliver the hard edge at the breakdown. But not for the obvious reasons."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/06/2011

Friendly welcome fails to mask local fear factor

The party is set to start but the collective self-doubt of New Zealanders about removing the gorilla from their backs is rife, writes Gerry Thornley of the Irish Times.

"Thousands been turning up to welcome the various squads to have landed in New Zealand over the last few days. Even England were taken aback by the 200 or so mostly white-clad supporters who greeted them in Dunedin, Martin Johnson dryly noting that it’s not something they normally receive hereabouts. The warmth of the Maori welcomes and native hospitality has been a credit to New Zealand.

"The World Cup is already dominating the front and back pages in advance of Friday’s opener in Eden Park when Tonga are fed to the All Blacks. Memories of 1987, when New Zealand both last won and hosted the World Cup, have been repeatedly invoked. But there is an edginess here, a palpable fear that once again the All Blacks might not reach their holy grail."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/06/2011

Martin Johnson: 'We're doing something special here. We're lucky'

England team manager Martin Johnson talks to Donald McRae of The Guardian ahead of the start of his side's World Cup campaign this weekend.

"Martin Johnson settles his huge frame in a chair that suddenly looks very small. The supposedly dark and brooding lord of England's World Cup campaign slips his hands behind his head and stretches out his long legs in an unusual break from planning and plotting. And then, feeling relaxed, the big man asks the first question.

"'So what's the news from the world outside?'" Johnson says, the unexpected query offset by the genuine curiosity in his voice. A baffled silence follows before, remembering how smitten Johnson is by sport, I offer a few cricket and football scores in the hopeless assumption England's rugby manager and former World Cup-winning captain might be less interested in real life.

"'I asked the question," Johnson says with his wonky grin, "because you start to wonder if there is still a world outside here. Does the world still exist beyond rugby and this World Cup?'"

September 5, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/05/2011

Wales can sparkle

Can Warren Gatland's Wales suprise a few teams at this year's Rugby World Cup? © Getty Images

Writing in the Wales on Sunday, Barry John backs Wales to make a big impression in this year's Rugby World Cup.

"It is time for the greatest rugby show on earth again.

"And I am quietly confident Wales can do well in this World Cup – and I expect them to qualify from a tough pool involving South Africa, Samoa, Fiji and Namibia.

"This has to be the best prepared Welsh side at any World Cup given the evidence from the warm-up games.

"While they might be lacking in creativity and the subtle side of the game, they are very strong in defence and the contact area.

"I have seen enough to see these boys are mentally tough enough and there is no problem with the physicality."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/05/2011

Remarkables setting for Irish adventure

The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley reports from Ireland's World Cup camp in Queenstown.

"If nothing else, the Ireland squad probably couldn’t have kicked off their 2011 World Cup odyssey better or in a more idyllic backdrop than Queenstown.

"After their grim sequence of four defeats last month, this certainly isn’t Ireland and, according to one Welsh man who has been living here for 18 years, it’s not typical of New Zealand either.

"The adventure capital of the world, where bungee jumping was invented, relies almost exclusively on year-round tourism and accordingly, the 15,000 or so inhabitants are commercially pro-active as well as being artistically creative.

"But like the rest of this “four million stadium”, Queenstown is in a tizzy at the prospect of hosting what is, for all and sundry with a vested interest claim, the third biggest sports event of the year and hence, with no matches per se, all the more so in having the Irish squad start their preparations here."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/05/2011

Why Boks shouldn’t win the RWC

Peter Bills does not hold back in his latest piece for the South African Independent.

"As for the South Africans, their game has atrophied for four years under coach Peter de Villiers. They will play the 2011 tournament much as they played 2007, hoping their big, physical forward pack, kicking half-backs and physically solid backs can repel all opponents.

For the sake of the game and its future, you have to say it would be a whole lot better if such a blinkered strategy failed."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/05/2011

Ten commandments to winning the RWC

The South African Independent's Mike Greenaway offers his recipe for success at the Rugby World Cup.


"History shows that successful World Cup campaigns have been built on organised and totally committed tackling. In this regard the Springboks made a highly positive move in employing Stormers defence coach, Jacques Nienaber. The defence was excellent against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth and will get better the longer he works with the players.


"In 1987, All Blacks coach Brian Lochore billeted his players on farms during the tournament “to take them back to the land and traditional Kiwi values”. In 1995, the Boks were propelled to victory by the rainbow nation. In 2011, Peter de Villiers correctly says that the challenge for the Boks is to “maintain our excitement over the tournament”.


"There is no such thing as pacing yourself in a quarter-final with an eye on the semis. Ask the All Blacks. Each game, Pool or otherwise, has to be treated as a final. That is what tournaments are about. Seven games in seven weeks, each treated with the same respect, is how you have to approach it. The Boks are too experienced to make this mistake."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/05/2011

Dunedin will be the perfect base

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, England's Nick Easter makes himself at home in Dunedin.

"Like most of you I read my rugby books over the years and know that Dunedin is a hotbed for the game; the Otago province is even the place where rucking was invented.

"It’s a huge university town and their ‘uni’ rugby team has produced scores of All Blacks. I think I even read somewhere that the locals take part in an annual nude touch rugby contest in the depths of winter!

"It sounds like a rugby outpost with heart and soul and I can imagine the local fans will ensure a fantastic atmosphere.

"I’ve also done my homework and packed a couple of warm fleeces and ‘beanie’ hats which, rather like rucking, also originated in Dunedin: apparently All Blacks flanker and surf dude Josh Kronfeld was an early fan.

"The weather forecasts up in Auckland have been predicting snow flurries down here but that’s fine. We are not here on holiday, we are here to represent our country in the world’s greatest rugby competition."

September 4, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/04/2011

Biggest challenge is off the field

The latest Herald on Sunday editorial insists the biggest battle for New Zealand will come off the field as they look to host a World Cup to remember.

"But for the host nation, this is about much more than the rugby. There are only 64 hours of game time between now and October 23 and all going well the All Blacks will have barely nine hours to dazzle spectators and opponents with their skills.

"For the larger team, the one with more than four million members, it's already begun.

"The eyes of the world will be on this country and it is up to every one of us to achieve peak performance. Hundreds of foreign media arrive this week, with newspaper columns and broadcast time to fill for the entire six weeks.

"We need to give them a good story to tell.

"The same goes for the tens of thousands of visitors from distant parts. We have earned a name for being a hospitable and friendly nation and it is in everybody's interests for us to cement that reputation now.

"This is particularly true if the unthinkable should happen and our team should fail to win the tournament - or even make the final."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/04/2011

Save us from this World Cup agony

The Irish Independent's Eamonn Sweeney fears for Ireland at the World Cup.

"Hurray. The Rugby World Cup starts this week, a feast of top-class games played by the greatest teams and greatest players in the world. So why do I feel like Max von Sydow in The Seventh Seal as he watches Death lollop cheerfully over the fields, scythe and chessboard in hand?

"Perhaps it's because Irish rugby might be better off if no one had ever thought of a Rugby World Cup. Mention the name Eddie O'Sullivan, for example, and what comes to mind is not one of his stirring Triple Crown victories but the 2007 World Cup which seemed less like a sporting event than a prolonged course in national sporting humiliation and torture. It's hardly fair on O'Sullivan but it's just one example of how the collision of Ireland and the World Cup results in disaster.

"That year might have been the nadir of our fortunes in the tournament. Then again it might not because there are so many horrendous memories to choose from. It began with a disappointing defeat to Wales in an awful game on a terrible day, May 25, 1987, and the misery has piled on since then, deepening like a coastal shelf."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/04/2011

How the Wallabies can win the cup

The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Growden offers what he thinks Australia must do if they are to win the Rugby World Cup.

"2. Don't be intimidated by being in New Zealand - The Shaky Isles can be a stifling place for any visiting team, because you can't get away from that country's rugby obsession. They come at you from every angle. Deans probably wouldn't admit it, but he becomes considerably more tense when he returns to his home country. He becomes guarded, and that tension can rub onto his players. Tense teams don't win big tournaments, and so the Wallabies must be prepared to lighten up and enjoy their surroundings. One good sign is that they will disappear for a while, head to the hills and the delights of Hanmer Springs on the South Island during the pool stage. That should at least give them some reprieve from every rugby know-all in the country … and there's thousands of them.

"...4. Set piece must be dominant - In recent years, the Wallabies have got their priorities right and ensured they have a scrum of note, plus a lineout that can terrorise all. The biggest transformation has occurred at scrum time, with the Test pack, which for so long was regarded as second rate, now a consistent weapon. This year the scrum has stood up in every Test, and with it has emerged a formidable front row in Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander. Also hovering in the background is Tatafu Polota-Nau. There shouldn't be any problems at the lineout, with the Wallabies boasting four reliable second-rowers - James Horwill, Dan Vickerman, Rob Simmons and Nathan Sharpe."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/04/2011

France are my dark horses

Writing in the Sunday Express, Sir Ian McGeechan offers his thoughts on the forthcoming World Cup.

"England are going to be a handful because I cannot see too many teams are going to be able to dominate them up front, and will be looking to make the most of that platform. "Although saying that South Africa did it last autumn but Martin Johnson and his coaches will know that certainly in a World Cup tournament they have got to have that right.

"Jonny Wilkinson has come through the warm up games in good shape and I would start with him. When you are playing in the World Cup you need to be playing the game in the right areas.

"And that’s what they did well when they won the tournament in 2003. Jonny knows how to take pressure off the team, if you need to be playing in your opponent’s half he can do that."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/04/2011

How 1987 changed the face of rugby union

The competition has turned full circle with the Rugby World Cup returning to where it all started. The Observer's Eddie Butler reports.

"The inaugural competition was by invitation only. Remarkably, Samoa (Western Samoa as they were then) did not receive one. Russia, who will be playing in NZ the second time round, did receive an invitation, but turned it down because they objected to the ongoing presence of South Africa on the IRB board. What a principled stance by the ancien Soviet regime. South Africa voted but did not play. Instead, they invited the New Zealand Cavaliers to tour in 1986, a nakedly commercial mission that rekindled all the IRB's uneasiness. Not only were the Cavaliers sanction-busting and contravening the laws of rugby by taking payment, they were also engaged in one of the most violent series of all time. The image of the game took a hammering before the new showpiece.

"The New Zealand tourists were banned for two months and while they were absent, their replacements, dubbed the Baby Blacks, beat France at Lancaster Park, Christchurch. The ban served, New Zealand then toured France in the autumn of 1986 and played the second Test – they won the first 19-7 in Toulouse – in Nantes.

"This second Test made anything in South Africa look like shadow boxing. France assaulted the All Blacks by all known means of unarmed combat. The No8, Wayne "Buck" Shelford, not the softest mortal on the planet, had his scrotum torn open and lost several teeth. I don't think he noticed the missing gnashers. France won 16-3.

"New Zealand's response was to rebuild for the World Cup. In doing so, they over-engineered themselves and became one of the greatest teams of all time. Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Jones, Grant Fox, Shelford and John Kirwan were just five of the side that swept all before them, even France, whom they beat 29-9 in the final. And of that group, Jones rose highest, the God-fearing wing forward who would not play on Sundays, but who made up for it on all other days, combining the work of all positions – bar the front row – into his individual set of skills."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/04/2011

Emotion that will power All Blacks past Australia

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Paul Ackford previews the Rugby World Cup and tips the All Blacks to feed on the emotion of hosting the tournament.

"All of which leaves New Zealand and Australia, first and second in the world rankings, and both in decent nick on the evidence of their encounter last week in Brisbane, as the two countries best placed to go all the way. There are flaws. Australia’s front-five alternatives are as healthy and as deep as England’s scrum-half options, which is to say not healthy at all, but by removing the captaincy from Rocky Elsom, transferring it to lock James Horwill, coach Robbie Deans has underlined the importance of the grunt and grind brigade.

"A World Cup across the Tasman holds no fears for Deans, who was born in New Zealand, played for the All Blacks and oversaw the Crusaders to five Super Rugby titles. Couple that on-the-ground savvy to the brilliance of an Australian back line boasting the extravagance of Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Quade Cooper and Will Genia and it will take a good side to stop Australia becoming the first nation to land three World Cups.

"For my money, despite losing their last two fixtures away to South Africa and Australia, the All Blacks start with a sizeable advantage, especially as the final will take place at Eden Park, a ground where the All Blacks last lost a Test in 1994 against France. New Zealand go into the event with Kieran Read injured, with only one reputable outside-half, Dan Carter, and with weaknesses at scrum-half. But they can also call on pace and power aplenty elsewhere, a settled, experienced coaching group desperate not to repeat the mistakes from previous campaigns, and support which will never be less than hysterical."

September 3, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/03/2011

A tournament marked by gulf in quality

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, former All Blacks captain Wayne Shelford insists the World Cup is a far from perfect tournament.

"I'm happy to join the World Cup fanfare, but let's not kid ourselves that we are about to witness a perfect tournament.

"Drama awaits and our little country will take on a whole new spirit and atmosphere as we play host to a major sporting event.

"But I'm afraid the initial weeks will involve a lot of one-sided games with big teams whitewashing smaller ones. I think the reality of this has been lost a little bit in the lead-up, but once the action begins it will become apparent.

"There are better ways to organise the World Cup, which should be an elite competition.

"The more honest we are about the current structure the more the chance that a much more competitive and thrilling tournament can be created, full of cliff-hangers between the top sides and those just below them."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/03/2011

Commentators face tough call

The New Zealand Herald's Bevan Hurley reflects on the task facing TV commentators at this year's Rugby World Cup.

"Tackling the Fijian fullback Taniela Maravunawasawasa on the field will be hard enough. But commentators will have to master his surname as well as other tongue-twisting names during the Rugby World Cup.

"Maori Television has issued its commentary team with a pronunciation guide for hard-to-handle names.

"And at Sky TV, Murray Mexted has drawn the toughest assignment, covering the Russians', Georgians' and Romanians' games. "Some of them are incredibly difficult," he says."

September 2, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/02/2011

Everyone to get a thorough exam

The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Growden believes squad management will be crucial for a successful World Cup campaign.

"The prime wish of all teams is to remain injury free. Selecting consistent line-ups gives a country an enormous advantage, while teams can lose their way if forced to call for replacements or if they must play people out of position.

"In the Wallabies' case, the depth in the squad is reasonable, and they should be able to cover every position. It's not as good as the All Blacks. But the backup is certainly more encouraging than two or three years ago when the gap between the first XV and the next best was substantial and the team standards dropped alarmingly.

"It will also give Wallabies coach Robbie Deans the opportunity to keep every squad member happy. The backup players should expect at least one run during the minor pool games - the United States in Wellington on September 23 and Russia in Nelson on October 1 - where key players are likely to be rested. The only one who could miss out is third halfback Nick Phipps, as it is unlikely Will Genia will at any stage be out of the playing squad - such is his importance to the group."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/02/2011

A good start

The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports from the Ireland camp in New Zealand.

"A good beginning. Ireland's World Cup hopefuls have finally landed in New Zealand and, despite the draining effects of an awful August followed by four flights and 37 hours trans-global travel, Declan Kidney and his men appear to be in exceedingly high spirits.

"The warmth of the welcome at Queenstown airport was certainly a considerable morale-booster as the players and management seemed genuinely touched by the efforts and enthusiasm of the local schoolchildren and ex-pat Irish community.

"While the New Zealand youngsters dived into their 'Irish for the Day' special project with ear-splitting zeal, the sizeable contingent of Queenstown-based Paddies (sounding like their throats had been suitably lubricated in advance) gave it a good lash themselves.

'The Fields of Athenry' got a blast as the Irish players emerged from the terminal and there was also a lusty rendition of 'Monto' -- the party piece of absent prop Cian Healy."

September 1, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 09/01/2011

Always take the three points

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie, writing for the Dominion Post, emphasises the importance of drop-goals during the World Cup.

"Winning a Rugby World Cup has become the all-consuming goal that drives four-year cycles for players, coaches and even administrators.

Australia and South Africa have won twice, while New Zealand and England have held ''Bill'' aloft once. History suggests the odds are stacked against teams from the northern hemisphere and form indicates this will continue in New Zealand.

The All Blacks have enjoyed an 85 per cent success rate in Tests during the past century and several heavyweight teams from the north are yet to beat the Kiwis. Rewriting that history or beating the All Blacks isn't impossible - as France proved two years ago when they overcame New Zealand in Dunedin. But the biggest question is, who is capable of winning the seven games in a row needed to win the cup?

It's possible to drop a game in the pool stages and still qualify for the knockout rounds, but every team will be vying for the easiest possible road to the final and this can only be achieved by topping your pool."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 09/01/2011

A memorable occasion

Brian Moore, in his column for the Daily Telegraph, talks about the special nature of the World Cup.

"While the two tournaments have obvious differences, many of the special features are common, as are the thoughts and feelings of those players lucky enough to take part.

Some ex-footballers recently questioned the wisdom of Jack Wilshire taking part in the football’s European Under-21 Championship. They were wrong. World Cup and similar tournaments are special and you cannot prepare for them in the same way as other competitions, nor can you definitively state what they do or do not give participants without having been involved.

As the World Cup takes place only every four years you know, if you have a realistic chance of selection that, even if you are relatively young, you may not get to play in another. The team may not qualify, you may be injured, be out of form or simply out of favour – the time is now and you want to be chosen now."

August 27, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/27/2011

The forgotten XV

Owen Rawlings, writing for the Independent, picks his XV of players who will not be going to the World Cup.

"World Cup hopefuls all around the globe no doubt had the date 22 August pencilled into their diaries months in advance. Monday was the deadline for head coaches of the twenty international sides featuring in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand to announce their final 30-man squads for the tournament. Tough decisions had to be made and, inevitably, there were a number of winners and losers. Here we take a closer look at those players who didn’t make the final cut.

The most talked about absentee from the England camp is Riki Flutey. The British and Irish Lion failed to find a place in Martin Johnson’s squad as just one specialist inside-centre was selected; London Irish’s Shontayne Hape. Johnson also selected just five dedicated back-row forwards, meaning Sale flanker Hendre Fourie missed out. Unfortunately, Danny Care was ruled out of the World Cup two weeks ago as the Harlequins’ scrum-half sustained a toe injury during England’s 19-9 defeat to Wales."

August 24, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/24/2011

10 to watch

The Daily Mail casts its eye over 10 players to watch during the forthcoming World Cup.

"With the 2011 Rugby World Cup fast approaching, Sportsmail gives the lowdown on 10 players who we expect to star in New Zealand. Some are already household names, some you may not have heard of.

DAN CARTER (New Zealand)

The outstanding fly-half in world rugby, Carter is the single most important figure in New Zealand's bid to win the World Cup on home soil. The All Blacks' strength in depth means they could cope with losing any other player to injury, even Richie McCaw, but not their fly-half. Carter is in a league of his own - the world record points scorer with an all-round game that might just go down as the best ever. A master tactician, Carter's attacking genius has been destroying teams for the best part of a decade and he is a defensive workhorse in the mould of Jonny Wilkinson."

August 23, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/23/2011

Notable omissions

The Sydney Morning Herald casts its eye over the players who will not be going to the World Cup in a special photo gallery.

August 22, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/22/2011

Wales in good shape for World Cup

The < Ahref="" target="new">Daily Telegraph's Brian Moore believes that Wales have clearly prepared well for next month's Rugby World Cup.

"Much hard work and initiatives like their recent training camp in Spala, Poland, using ultra-cold cryogenic chambers that allowed more intensive training have enabled them to finish each of their pre-World Cup games strongly.

"From this base they launched and sustained disciplined and aggressive defensive efforts in both games against England and again in their 28-13 win over Argentina in Cardiff.

"They will be reasonably satisfied with their World Cup preparation because, Morgan Stoddard apart, their established players look in good shape and their inexperienced fringe players have been given game time and not found wanting.

"Positives were the performances of Rhys Preistland at fly-half, Tavis Knoyle at scrum-half, James Hook wherever he played and that minority possession in every game did not subdue their ability to fashion and finish tries-scoring chances."

August 19, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/19/2011

Curious choices in bunch of crocks

The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray reacts to the Wallabies' squad announcement and their decision to change their skipper.

"Deans had stuck with Rocky Elsom even as he battled to get back from injury and when he did, he scarcely deserved his Wallaby place.

However, Deans retained his skipper and then after the Wallabies held on for a rare win against the Boks in South Africa, he dumped his captain on the day of the World Cup squad announcement. That logic seems unusual.

Clearly Elsom did not warrant his place in the Wallabies starting XV this season, but Deans included him and left him as leader. Why he would then leave him to soldier on with that work and those duties, only to open the trapdoor yesterday, is baffling."

August 18, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/18/2011

Telecom sorry, ditches ABs no-sex plan

Telecom has ditched a controversial campaign asking All Black supporters to abstain from sex during the Rugby World Cup. The New Zealand Herald reports.

"The "Abstain for the Game" campaign was roundly criticised after details were revealed by the New Zealand Herald yesterday.

In leaked email circulated this morning to stakeholders, Telecom's head of retail Alan Gourdie said the campaign would be dropped after a "torrid 24 hours in the glare of public spotlight".

"'s pretty obvious to all that we misjudged public opinion. So you may or may not be surprised to hear that following the strong reaction yesterday, we won't be proceeding with the 'Abstain' campaign," the email read.

In a statement issued by Telecom, Mr Gourdie continues: "No excuses. We caused offence to some people, and for that we apologise.

"Full credit to the opposition. We listened to your views, and we have acted quickly to change our game plan."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/18/2011

Seeing double

The New Zealand Herald reports that Rugby World Cup fans can be forgiven for seeing double next month.

"Rugby World Cup 2011 boss Martin Snedden has confirmed the trophy thousands of New Zealanders had their photos taken with is the real Webb Ellis Cup, however fans can't be blamed for seeing double.

Mr Snedden confirmed today that two trophies exist and the one which toured New Zealand will be the same trophy handed to the winning team on October 23. "The trophy that New Zealanders saw and had their photos taken with is the Webb Ellis Cup that will be presented to the winning team at the Final of RWC 2011 on October 23 at Eden Park," said Mr Snedden said.

"We are pleased to be able to reassure all those fans who turned up early in the morning around the country that the experience they had was genuine."

August 17, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/17/2011

Time for a change in policy

Chris Rattue, writing for the New Zealand Herald, calls for a change in policy from the IRB.

"The Rugby World Cup, however it may turn out, could have been so much better in a competitive sense.

Let's face it - for all the IRB's millions, and rugby's extravagant dreams of world domination, the same old famous five will contest the Webb Ellis Cup again and even then only the All Blacks are in decent shape.

Rugby should forget the global dream and sort out the backyard ... especially the Pacific Islands.

When you consider how England is blatantly using its power to bolster the national side with players not remotely English, it is time for rugby to start levelling the playing field.

When it comes to international borders, I'll admit to changing my mind on letting players switch teams, having seen how the rich are getting richer while the poor are shafted."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/17/2011

Why does it always rain on me?

Former All Blacks fly-half Nick Evans, talking to Peter Bills of the New Zealand Herald, believes the weather may well determine where the William Webb Ellis Cup is going come October.

"The weather was glorious, the setting sublime. A hot sun baked down on the near 4,000 crowd at the local 'Stade' and the rugby festival was in full swing.

Here at Lacaune in the south of France, 40 kilometres into the hills of the beautiful Tarn region beyond Castres in the heart of French rugby land, an unlikely New Zealand brains trust sat on the grass analysing and discussing the All Blacks and the forthcoming Rugby World Cup.

A strange place then, for those old New Zealand opponents, Nick Evans and Chris Masoe to meet up again and chat about times past, present and future. "

August 15, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/15/2011

Baffling Bok side unlikely threat

The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray sees nothing to fear from the Springboks at the Rugby World Cup following their latest reverse at the hands of Australia.

"From Peter de Villiers down, the World Cup champions seem agitated, uncertain and indecisive. Their common purpose is fragmented, their reliance on old-stagers more displaced as they muddle about with new talent like Patrick Lambie.

The most experienced Springbok side in history played with a lack of wit and clarity which should irritate even the most ardent one-eyed Bok apologists.

Sloppy substitutions towards the end, which allowed the Wallabies to monster the Bok scrum, were the nadir, an indictment of the tactical nous of de Villiers and co and a move which cost them the match. None of my acquaintances would be mournful about the Boks' inadequacy but all would be curious about their decline."

August 14, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/14/2011

Talk all you want

Dan Carter hugs it out after victory over Australia © Getty Images

Former All Black fly-half Grant Fox dismisses Australian confidence as New Zealand continue their march to the Rugby World Cup in The Sunday Star Times.

"The All Blacks typically need very little psychological goading when they play the Wallabies anyhow. So for so many Australians to get so carried away off the back of the win in Hong Kong last October and the Reds' successful Super 15 campaign was folly.

"Their former players are often their worst offenders. With the exception of Nick Farr-Jones, who consistently sounded a sober note of warning about Australia's inexperienced forward pack, the ex-Wallabies lined up to pontificate about the virtues of the youthful Australians versus the supposed failings of the ageing All Blacks. It was grist to the mill for Graham Henry."

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/14/2011

The importance of Ross

Brendan Fanning highlights the importance of tight-head Mike Ross to Ireland's Rugby World Cup bid in The Sunday Independent.

"In case you weren't tuned into Mike Ross's importance to Ireland, you should be now. Having been ignored for longer than was reasonable, he has become the difference between having a scrum and Ireland not having a scrum. Yes, it's possible to win the odd game without one -- Wales managed it earlier in the day in Cardiff -- but it's not a policy you want to adopt.

"So the chance of a draw in Bordeaux last night, and with it a boost to morale having come back from as bad a 40 minutes as we have seen from Ireland, went south on a five- metre scrum that went back. Ross was on the bench; Tony Buckley was in the cockpit, and the plane crashed. It remains to be seen what effect this has on Buckley's chances of going to New Zealand. You need two tight heads on board, and aside from Ross we have one who is too old -- John Hayes -- and another who is not a good enough scrummager -- Buckley. There is no way out of this for Declan Kidney."

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/14/2011

Wales respond well to English insult

Legendary Wales fly-half Barry John gives his views on events at the Millennium Stadium in Wales on Sunday.

"England had absolutely no ideas and all the energy and spark they tried to show early on was totally eliminated. I thought it was quite an insult to the Welsh team that England chose not to take the easy penalties in the first half.

"They had Toby Flood putting them into strong positions in the corners and looking to use their advantage in the scrum and the line-out but they could not break down the amazing Welsh defence. And after absorbing all the pressure they made England pay."

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/14/2011

The green-eyed monster

Hugh Godwin runs the rule over Wales' win over England - where both sides were left coveting the other's strengths - in The Independent on Sunday.

"Friendly and phoney, or tellingly revelatory? Some old failings undermined England in the second of their three World Cup warm-ups and the most obvious straw to be clutched by those hoping they will achieve something in New Zealand next month is that to suffer in Cardiff is neither here nor, more importantly, there.

"Oddly, each side possessed what the other lacked. England, who will not play before naming their squad of 30 on 22 August, were solid in scrum and line-out, and they will proclaim that winning a World Cup is a tough task without those pillars. But Wales ruled the breakdown and they had an effective flanker in their captain, Sam Warburton, and the simple ability to finish a try when the chance presented itself to James Hook with 23 minutes left."

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/14/2011

Toothless England

Richard Williams laments England's lack of cutting edge following their defeat to Wales in Cardiff in The Observer.

"With the roof closed to preview the conditions they will encounter against Argentina in Dunedin, playing around 75% of the match in their opponents' half for the best part of an hour, with the volume of God Save the Queen outdoing that of Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, and a chorus of Swing Low Sweet Chariot sweeping around the stadium from visiting fans who seemed to constitute a majority of the 73,307 in attendance, this felt unexpectedly like a home match for England.

"So much possession was granted to England by the superiority of their pack in the first half that Cardiff might as well have been Fortress Twickenham. For long – indeed, almost interminable – periods of the match, the men in white camped out on the Welsh line, trying desperately to take advantage of the decision not to take shots at goal from the avalanche of penalties awarded to them by the erratic referee, Alain Rolland."

July 31, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/31/2011

Picture perfect

Eddie Butler, in his column for the Guardian, believes Europe's players are in optimum condition ahead of the forthcoming World Cup.

"At the risk of igniting a firestorm of career-threatening injuries, the rugby players of Europe have never been in better shape. While the southern hemisphere countries hurl themselves into the Tri-Nations – or in South Africa's case, limp up to Rustenburg for secret conditioning – the hard graft of our summer has finished. The heavy weights have been lowered and stories of recovery outweigh tales of woe.

For every Hugo Southwell who has to be declared out of World Cup contention, there is a Stephen Ferris back in the Irish reckoning, or a William Servat starting to rediscover his aim into the French lineout after surgery to his left knee. Every nation bristle with rude health. Gavin Henson has passed every test at -140C in Poland. Maxime Mermoz, perennially unavailable, is just one of so many French players running around and leaving his coach, Marc Lièvremont, in the wonderful position of not really knowing what his best starting lineup is. Mauro Bergmasco, who last appeared for Italy in the Six Nations of 2010, is back. Goodness, even Jonny Wilkinson is fit."

July 30, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/30/2011

New Zealand have been hot favourites for the World Cup before and flopped

Writing in the Irish Independent, Winston Aldworth cannot shake off a familiar sinking feeling ahead of this year's tournament.

"If, as they say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then this year I'm compos mentis.

"After 24 years of approaching Rugby World Cup competitions in a spirit of optimism, I've realised that expecting a knockout-round humbling for the All Blacks is the only protection against misery for a Kiwi rugby fan.

"1987 has become to New Zealand rugby what 1966 is to English soccer. For Bobby Moore hoisted on team-mates' shoulders we've got a lovely photo of wee David Kirk holding the Webb Ellis Cup with his mates behind him in composed, soft-focus bliss.

"It's a stirring memory. But in a nation where All Black success is considered the birthright of every fan, there's no escaping the fact that our last taste of World Cup glory came when mullets ruled the Earth."

July 22, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/22/2011

The golden child

Ruaidhri O'Connor analyses the World Cup prospects of Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald in The Irish Independent.

"If being left out of Ireland's 2007 World Cup squad at the age of 19 came as a shock to Luke Fitzgerald, imagine how he felt about being dropped during this year's Six Nations.

"Until recently, Fitzgerald didn't do doubts -- he has always been the most single-minded of young sportsmen. He was simply fulfilling his long anointed promise -- the golden child of the schools scene was checking off achievements along the way to greatness.

"But over the last 18 months Fitzgerald has had cause to question himself as never before. Injury, loss of form and criticism were all new to a rising star who hit a bump in the road."

July 18, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/18/2011

Wales beware

The Western Mail feels a chill in the air in the wake of Samoa's headline-grabbing victory over Australia - just a few short months before they clash at the Rugby World Cup.

"Wales coach Warren Gatland, his coaching staff and the players know of Samoa’s threat anyway, but yesterday’s major upset will have hammered home just how dangerous they are as the World Cup beckons.

A quarter-final place at this autumn’s World Cup should be the minimum requirement for Gatland’s men, but with Samoa producing these sort of performances it isn’t going to be straightforward by any means.

After Wales open their campaign against defending champions South Africa in Pool D on September 11, they come head-to-head with Samoa a week later before taking on minnows Namibia and then Fiji, their perennial bogey team.

It was the Fijians who sent Wales crashing out of the last World Cup and Gatland and co will know that if Wales aren’t firing on all cylinders it could be another early exit this time around."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/18/2011

Mighty Samoa send Cup warning

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, David Leggat hails Samoa's historic victory over Australia in Sydney.

"Samoa were terrific. They threw themselves into their work, bruised a few Wallaby bones as well as egos and showed that they are tuning up just fine for the big show starting in 53 days' time.

As ever, get them on a roll and you've got problems. The object of these games, including the All Blacks' run against Fiji in Dunedin on Friday night, is to run through the playbook and come away with plenty of ticks in the positives column. Deans will have jotted down precious few last night.

Samoa have form for this. Remember the 1991 World Cup, when they turned over, oh yes, Wales, at their national stadium. Pool D is suddenly alive with possibilities. South Africa, Samoa, Fiji, Wales and Namibia. This won't be viewing for the faint-hearted.

As for Australia? They need to regroup fast. South Africa are in Sydney this week."

July 10, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/10/2011

Under-strength French side?

The Dominion Post's David Long suggests France may field a second string against New Zealand in their pool game.

"French coach Marc Lievremont has hinted he could put out a ‘B’ team against the All Blacks in their Pool A Rugby World Cup clash.

"Lievremont has raised fears that Graham Henry’s men could again head into the knockout stage under-done by suggesting he’ll field an under-strength team when his side plays the All Blacks in France on September 24.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,’’ Lievremont told French rugby magazine Midi Olympique this week.”

July 7, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/07/2011

World Cup to end all World Cups?

The New Zealand Herald's.
Scott Kara argues that the forthcoming World Cup will be a "entertainment extravaganza."

"Stop it right now, you naysayers. Here are 10 reasons why the Rugby World Cup will be an entertainment extravaganza - for rugby and non-rugby fans alike.

Party central will rock

No, really, it will. Forget Kronic, the natural high that you will feel down at Cloud Nine - as we fondly refer to it here at TimeOut - when Dan Carter slots the drop kick (practise, Dan, practise) to win the final will be better than anything Matt Bowden and his mates can offer. Celebrate good times, come on...."

July 3, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/03/2011

'In the defence of Eden Park'

Auckland's Eden Park will play host to this year's Rugby World Cup Final © Getty Images

Following recent criticism of the re-vamped Eden Park, RNZ 2011 boss Martin Snedden launches the case for the defence in the Sunday Herald.

"The best sporting memories are not created by bricks and mortar. They help, and the re-developed Eden Park will play its part, but what matters much more are such things as the importance of the event, the history that surrounds the occasion, the on-field action and the passion of the people who are there in the stadia.

"These are the crucial factors which will converge to bring Eden Park alight when RWC 2011 gets under way in 68 days.

"In international sporting terms, this is a really big event. It is by far the biggest New Zealand has ever staged. We know that a sizeable international spotlight will be on us for those 45 days and that our country's international reputation is on the line.

"The very magnitude of this opportunity will create a real edge but should also be accompanied by a feeling of goodwill which will be felt in all our RWC stadia, most particularly at Eden Park as venue for the opening match and final. Those present are there not just to witness, but to play a part in making sure that the occasion succeeds."

June 22, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/22/2011

The spark that spawned the Rugby World Cup

It took some determined efforts to get the Rugby World Cup off the ground © Getty Images

When Dan Carter kicks off towards the Tongan forwards in the first match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, an 80-year-old from Whakatane will be watching from a special VIP seat in the stand, Paloma Migone reports for

"Dick Littlejohn is a retired rugby player, a former All Blacks manager, and most notably, the Kiwi co-founder of the Rugby World Cup.

"A man who 2011 organiser Martin Snedden sought out as soon as he took up the job.

"His leadership and that of his Australian counterpart [Sir Nicholas Shehadie] is what ultimately in the end made sure that the thing happened," Snedden said.

"It's a story that hasn't really been told much in the public domain, and it was really good to sit down [with him] and hear that."

"Littlejohn, alongside Aussie Sir Nicholas, convinced sceptical European rugby bosses a world cup was a starter in 1985.

"After a deciding vote in Paris to establish the tournament, they sealed the deal that led to the famous All Blacks triumph at Eden Park two years later."

June 20, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/20/2011

All Blacks look to feed off raw emotion

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and head coach Graham Henry reflect on their exit from the 2007 Rugby World Cup © Getty Images

Reluctant to touch it in 2007, the All Blacks of 2011 will push what they call the 'emotional button' in the final stages of the World Cup according to the New Zealand Herald's Gregor Paul.

"If Graham Henry has an overriding regret from the last campaign, it was the failure to predict the emotional intensity of their quarter-final clash against France.

"The All Blacks, as captain Richie McCaw revealed two weeks ago, had thoughts about the semifinal leading into the Cardiff encounter.

"The French, meanwhile, never entertained the notion there was anything else to worry about than the game that lay ahead.

"They famously lined up to face the haka in an array of training and tracksuit tops and match jerseys to form the colours of the French flag.

"They played on emotion all game - drawing on their passion, their sense of nationality and desire to honour their nation to make more than 300 tackles."

June 3, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 06/03/2011

Top 10 - Rugby World Cup certainties

With the 2011 Rugby World Cup now less than 100 days away, Dylan Cleaver, Jared Savage and Winston Aldworth of the New Zealand Herald tell us what we can expect from this year's tournament.

"Quade Cooper will single-handedly knock out a major nation - and then get thumped by the majors. The Tokoroa Kid clearly has the goods to tear apart even the best defences in a one-off knockout match.

But can his kitbag of no-look passes and high-stepping breaks deliver against top opponents three times on the trot? Wishful thinking perhaps, but we think not....."

June 1, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 06/01/2011

One hundred days

Wynne Gray analyses the lie of the land with 100 days to go before the Rugby World Cup in The New Zealand Herald.

"There is still some way to go before the All Blacks start their quest to repeat the deeds of their predecessors at the first global tournament 24 years ago.

"The Super 15 has three weeks of pool play left followed by three weeks of finals footy. In coaching parlance, that is the time when the national selectors really sharpen their pencils.

"As the series moves into late qualifying, local derbies and sudden-death rugby, players' skills and calibre are being marked more harshly. Injury charts have been collated and amended, form lists have been compiled and altered, and there is still time for players to demand selection or exclusion by the All Blacks panel."

May 26, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/26/2011

WRU set to hit World Cup jackpot

The Millennium Stadium could host as many as eight matches at the 2015 Rugby World Cup according to the Western Mail.

"It’s anticipated that the 74,500-capacity Cardiff venue will stage the majority of matches in Wales’ group, plus a showpiece quarter-final.

"Wales have also received the green light to have home advantage if they face a fellow Tier One side, such as New Zealand, South Africa, Australia or France.

"...David Pickering said: “We will be working extremely hard to surpass what we did in 2007, when we staged four matches.

“Rugby is not immune from these difficult economic times we are living in. It’s very important that Rugby World Cup maximises revenue streams. That would be a strong argument for putting a number of games in high-capacity venues like the Millennium Stadium.

“It’s down to RWC to make a decision on what matches come to Wales and how many. But we would hope to work with them and the Welsh Assembly to get a significant number of games in Cardiff, hopefully more than in 2007.”

May 25, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/25/2011

Don't count Elsom out

Should Rocky Elsom still be Wallabies skipper? © Getty Images

Paul Cully advises against counting Rocky Elsom out prior to the Rugby World Cup in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Those prematurely writing the obituaries for Rocky Elsom's Wallabies captaincy - and perhaps his place in the team - after his latest injury setback had better be careful what they wish for.

"The big No.6 will miss the rest of the Super Rugby season after sustaining an ankle injury in his comeback game against the Force on Saturday night, raising concerns about his place in World Cup considerations.
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"But it wasn't just his remarkably effective return - grouchy, combative - from a long-term hamstring injury that highlighted his worth, but its timing. As the Super season moves to the business end - and the weather closes in - we're getting a much better indication of what the coming international campaigns will bring - and the trend is moving towards tough, uncompromising and defence-dominated rugby."

May 13, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/13/2011

NZ firm on Fiji RWC sanctions

New Zealand emphasised on Friday that it would not ease sanctions barring Fijian players with military or government ties from travelling to the Rugby World Cup. Sport24 reports.

"The embargo, imposed following the 2006 military coup, will remain until there is evidence of substantial progress toward the return of democracy, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said.

"McCully was responding to a demand from the new military head of the Fiji Rugby Union, Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, for New Zealand to declare whether there would be a travel ban on Fijian players selected for the World Cup.

"I'm mystified as to why they think we need to spell out a clearer message - banned means banned," McCully said on the Fiji Village website."

May 9, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/09/2011

Ireland's hypochondriacs

Time is not on the side of Geordan Murphy © Getty Images

David Kelly looks at the Rugby World Cup prospects of Ireland's walking wounded in The Irish Independent.

"As the World Cup looms, this is the time of year when the night-sweats start afflicting rugby's hypochondriacs.

"Ireland's injury profile remains a major worry: three of the country's world-class players -- Stephen Ferris, Jerry Flannery and Rob Kearney -- are currently sidelined.

"Another -- Paul O'Connell -- has had repeated injury problems for a year. Nightly, thousands offer novenas that Brian O'Driscoll's hamstrings will continue to function well beyond September.

"And Ireland's front-liners still face another few weeks of intensive combat. How Declan Kidney sleeps soundly is anyone's guess."

May 8, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/08/2011

The clock is ticking

Paul Ackford talks to Rugby World Cup boss Martin Snedden as the countdown clock ticks towards 100 days to go until kick-off in The Sunday Telegraph.

"As of this morning, there are 123 days remaining before the All Blacks face Tonga to start the seventh Rugby World Cup.

"But here’s the thing. Snedden is not concerned one jot about stadiums being ready. Check. Nor he is worried that the final, which will be played out in the 60,000 capacity Eden Park in Auckland, will lack atmosphere and gravitas compared to the 80,000 monster arenas which are common in Europe.

“The final of the Cricket World Cup was held at Wankhede stadium in Mumbai, a 32,000 venue, and that’s the biggest cricketing country in the world by a mile. It was a fantastic atmosphere, a brilliant event.”

May 5, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/05/2011

Trying to keep Christchurch in the loop

A Crusaders fan pledges his support to Christchurch earlier this season © Getty Images

The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley talks to Rugby New Zealand 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden about the continuing impact of the earthquake on preparations.

"The scale of human loss and damage caused by the Christchurch earthquake can scarcely be imagined. The second-deadliest natural disaster recorded in New Zealand (after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake), Prime Minister John Key stated that February 22nd “may well be New Zealand’s darkest day”.

"The final death toll is set to be about 182, while 1,000 of the 4,000 buildings within the Four Avenues were expected to be demolished, as will an estimated 10,000 houses in the suburbs. What the rest of the world, Ireland included, appreciates even less is the continuing scale of the damage.

"Martin Snedden, the chief executive of Rugby New Zealand 2011 Ltd, sits outside Bruxelles off Grafton Street in Dublin on a sunlit mid-morning and tries to put this in context.

“The whole centre of the city – like you imagine this whole area here – is in complete shutdown, and will be for the whole of 2011, while they demolish 500-plus buildings. And there’s whole areas of suburban housing that have been destroyed, so it’s a really terrible thing for the city.”

"The disruption caused to the 2011 World Cup by the earthquake pales by comparison. “It was really stressful because it’s so much more than rugby,” says Snedden. “You’re dealing with people’s lives. For six weeks that was really intense.”

May 3, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/03/2011

Distorted figures

Rugby New Zealand 2011 chief Martin Snedden wades in to set the record straight on Rugby World Cup expenditure on

"First, the $1200m cost figure correctly included the tournament's operational costs of $310m, but then, inexplicably, ignored our forecast income of $268m generated from match ticket sales.

"Second, the Herald reconstructed history so that the Otago Stadium construction cost of $198m could be included as a RWC 2011 cost despite the possible hosting of matches having played little or no part in the ultimate decision to build. That's why we allocated Dunedin's three RWC 2011 matches to Carisbrook.

"Third, where on earth did the alleged RWC 2011 expenditure of $130m on "ports and airports" come from? Are they talking about long-planned upgrades to the Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch airports? If so, were these capital improvements really because of RWC 2011 or, as is more likely the case, was the timing of this expenditure largely coincidental?"

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/03/2011

Murky laws

Wynne Gray ponders the murky tackle laws as the spectre of the Rugby World Cup grows ever larger in The New Zealand Herald.

"Golf might be self-policed while in rugby you just play to the whistle. Until then or an assistant intervenes, you just plough on.

"Which is what Sonny Bill Williams and Corey Flynn did at Perth in the latest round of the Super 15. In the same movement, both players were brought to their knees but neither released the ball. They carried on, Williams squirming forward to set a ruck, then Flynn picking himself up again and ploughing across the tryline to give the Crusaders the lead. The only whistle from Christchurch referee Vinny Munro came for a try. It was perplexing."

May 1, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 05/01/2011

New Zealand rugby's southern soul breathes ruck'n'roll

Eddie Butler of The Guardian finds that four months before the World Cup New Zealand is still carefully rebuilding amid the aftershocks but its rugby is in rude health.

"The Rugby World Cup is four months away, approaching fast, but not so imminent that it is the only reason to journey to New Zealand. I was there recently to travel the route of the Tests as played by the 1971 Lions, the one and only tour from Britain and Ireland to beat the All Blacks.

"We went from my favourite ground, Carisbrook, still standing but no longer a Test arena, amid the scrapyards and panel-beating workshops of Dunedin, to Lancaster Park, as the AMI Stadium was then called, in Christchurch. Here, there is no World Cup. The centre lies empty, with only emergency workers moving cautiously among the buildings, between the aftershocks. No date can be set for any rebuilding until the tremors cease. And nobody is saying when that may be. One year, 15 years.....

"Tane Norton, brand new as an All Black hooker in 1971, showed us his house. There was not a crack inside, but the whole structure had moved two inches. The core of the rugby capital of NZ is a no-go zone, the inner grid system of streets in this unique Anglo-Kiwi city cordoned off."

April 29, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/29/2011

Greed shining through

Eden Park will host the Rugby World Cup final © Getty Images

Brian Rudman analyses the financial implications of New Zealand hosting this year's RugbyWorld Cup in The New Zealand Herald.

"A year ago, organisers of the 2011 Rugby World Cup were admitting they faced losses of $39.3 million on the tournament. The political cheer leaders chose to duck this cold dose of reality, preferring to deal in the hard-to-define currency of "wider economic benefit". At the time, $500 million.

"This week, a Herald investigation has calculated the real costs to New Zealand of hosting this sporting extravaganza.

"For expenditure of $1.2 billion, much it from the public purse, World Cup Minister Murray McCully is claiming New Zealand will gain direct economic returns of $700 million."

April 19, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/19/2011

O'Neill tips All Blacks-Wallabies final

Australian Rugby Union shief executive John O'Neill believes the Wallabies have enough players with the crucial ''X-factor'' to at least make the World Cup final this year and to be in with a strong chance of winning it. The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Growden reports.

"Speaking before the annual general meeting next week, when the ARU will announce a $1.07 million surplus for last year, O'Neill said the Wallabies' World Cup prospects were ''really encouraging''.

''No one is sitting here saying we are going to win it. But my prediction is that we will make the final, and play the All Blacks. As to who might win the final … well,'' O'Neill said. ''Still, I like what I see.''

O'Neill said that, ''barring injury to key players'', the Wallabies would select a 30-man World Cup squad with ''genuine and substantial depth … which is unusual for us''.

''We haven't entirely overcome our weaknesses, but the vulnerability around the scrum is not as much of a concern as it was,'' he said."

April 17, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/17/2011

Cup beer price hike on cards

Rugby fans won't get much change out of NZ$10 (approx £5) when they buy a beer at Rugby World Cup matches according to the Sunday Herald's John Weekes.

"The Herald on Sunday has been told punters should expect to pay higher prices than normal for cans of Amstel Light or Heineken, the only beer allowed in the stadiums.

"David Allott, general manager of Eden Park Catering, says that at prestigious international events "it's not unusual that price structures are slightly different".

"Allott says the price decision will be made by the Rugby World Cup board within the next eight weeks.

"Glenn Corbett, a director at catering company Eurest, says there's "a real determination" to keep prices affordable for matchgoers - but prices will be in line with other global sporting events."

April 12, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/12/2011

All to play for

Hugh Farrelly assesses Ireland's options for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup in The Irish Independent.

"It's 153 days until Ireland kick off their World Cup 2011 campaign against the US in New Plymouth.

"An eternity for the Chilean miners (who were underground for 69) but for Ireland coach Declan Kidney, it does not seem that long. It will be on us before we know it and speculation on the composition of Kidney's 30-man squad has begun in earnest.

"Injuries cloud the issue; in an ideal scenario Jerry Flannery and Stephen Ferris would be fit and in fine fettle but given how their seasons have been ravaged by repeated setbacks, it does not look good for two of the world-class players at Kidney's disposal."

April 7, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/07/2011

Don't take the party out of Party Central

A New Zealand Herald editorial hopes that fans' needs are not over-looked at Queens Wharf in Auckland.

"With cruise ships at Queens Wharf and its Shed 10 refurbished, the basic elements for a good time will be there. New Zealanders, as they have shown at events overseas, rather like a rustic old barn with minimum comforts for their social base. If the heavily timbered wharf shed is weather-proofed and equipped with big screens, bars for the provision of beer, wine, snack food and good coffee, it's probably all rugby fans will need in September and October.

"...It might work, it might not, but Queens Wharf is a big place and the World Cup is only five months away. It's too late to be quibbling about design features.

"The time remaining must be used to ready the wharf for the various ways it will be used and trust that its prime purpose cannot be compromised. The party must remain central to all that occurs at Party Central."

March 31, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/31/2011

McCully sorry not all moved RWC games stayed south

Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully is disappointed not all the five pool games that were scheduled for Christchurch were kept in the South Island. The New Zealand Herald's Dylan Clever reports.

"Dunedin and Auckland have emerged as the major beneficiaries of the decision to move World Cup matches away from the quake-damaged city. World Cup organisers yesterday confirmed the revised schedule which has seen the relocation of the five pool matches and two quarter-finals to have been played in Christchurch.

"The three remaining South Island venues - Nelson, Dunedin and Invercargill - will host an extra match, while North Harbour Stadium and Wellington will also get an additional game. Eden Park will host two quarter-finals, both semifinals and the final.

"Mr McCully said he had hoped the pool games would stay in the South Island. "It's a question of having the whole concept of a stadium of four million people. We wanted to keep as much of the North Island/South Island balance as possible. Clearly the shift of those games and the quarter-finals is a significant shift to the North Island.

"That's disappointing, frankly, [but] it's their decision and we accept that. But I had a duty to convey a sense that the Government would like the games in the South Island, if possible."

March 28, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/28/2011

Time is on Williams' side

Writing in the Sunday Herald, Gregor Paul believes injured Blues lock Ali Williams could still force his way into the World Cup reckoning.

"Far from panicking at the latest injury to Ali Williams, the All Black coaches believe the country's most experienced lock has ample time to force his way into World Cup contention.

"Currently sidelined for at least another two, possibly three weeks by a torn hamstring, Williams is desperate to regain his All Black jersey but is facing a race against time to prove his form.

"He managed four rounds before his latest setback and although Williams didn't stand out, All Blacks forwards coach Steve Hansen says he saw enough to believe Williams is on track and capable of reaching the end of the season in the sort of form that will make him hard to leave out of the national squad."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/28/2011

England 'a year short'

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Brian Moore believes England manager Martin Johnson running out of time to hone his Rugby World Cup 2011 squad.

"The No 8 is a difficult issue. Nick Easter needs to have a specific rival, not ones who are good utility back-row players such as James Haskell.

"While Haskell did well to cover for Lewis Moody in the Six Nations, he should ideally be considered for one position so that he and England can get the best out of him specialising and putting pressure on any other contenders.

"If Johnson demarcates Haskell’s candidacy and hastens the playing qualification of Kiwi Thomas Waldrom, the Leicester No 8, he can then tick off another selection problem.
This would leave the No 7 issue.

"Moody is a converted openside and historically has injury problems. He undoubtedly competes with the best when fit but the reality is that Johnson needs two quality rivals for Moody. Though Haskell could be asked to specialise in this position, this is not the answer.

"Hendre Fourie has not been given sufficient game time from which a proper assessment can be made and Tom Rees, of Wasps, is injured and unlikely to be properly fit for World Cup consideration – hence the problem remains."

March 24, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/24/2011

Kiwis' wealth of talent is a small wonder

Writing in the Irish Independent, Peter Bills as how New Zealand's relatively small talent pool can produce so many top-class players.

"Consider these figures: New Zealand has around 120,000 registered rugby players -- 8,000 less than Japan, which is a minnow in international rugby terms.

"As for England, who always head such a list, the figure is over five times more than New Zealand -- a massive 650,000. Ireland, incidentally, has something in excess of 150,000.

"These are all approximate figures. But I'd like to know the answer to this simple question: if England has more than five times as many players as New Zealand, why is it that the latter could, right now, put four world-class centres into their Test side, whereas England don't really have one?

"I don't suggest this is a perfect science, but it seems absurd to me that a tiny country like New Zealand can find and develop so many outstanding players for one department of their international team, when the nation that is awash with players struggles to find any."

March 22, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/22/2011

Player welfare lost in the mix

With the Six Nations over and domestic issues back on the table for the time being, Robert Kitson argues that player welfare is being lost in the mix in The Guardian.

"Imagine your name is Ben Youngs. You have just completed your first full Six Nations season as a regular starter for England. Mostly it has been fun and hugely rewarding but the past fortnight has been tougher. A heavy defeat in Ireland, a high-profile yellow card, increasing scrutiny on your personal performance etc etc. After seven months of top-level rugby already this season, you could probably do with a rest.

"And then you look at the calendar. Leicester want you back pronto to assess your state of readiness to face Bath in a big Aviva Premiership game this Saturday. You don't want to let them down or risk being called a big shot. You also want to get back on the horse and make amends for the Irish debacle. Not far down the track, though, is an even bigger fixture, a return trip to Dublin to play Leinster in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals."

March 17, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/17/2011

Stadium decision sad but sensible

Christchurch's World Cup hopes have finally been extinguished © Getty Images

The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray reflects on the decision to re-located Rugby World Cup matches away from the earthquake-damaged city of Christchurch.

"The IRB is not famed for speed or wisdom in some of their decisions. It is made up of a cautious group, unwilling to be bullied by public opinion. They love their committees, sub-committees, focus and encounter groups, reports and administrative introspection.

"But 23 days after the quake, that group's ingrained caution led them to the only sensible decision. There was too much doubt about the stadium rebuild; it might happen but there were too many uncertainties and a rebuild is no time for guesswork or shortcuts.

"There was nowhere else in Christchurch where World Cup matches could be held. No arena with enough capacity to come anywhere near that of AMI Stadium.

"The New Zealand Rugby Union was already facing a hefty loss in staging the seventh global tournament, they could not take a further hit. The matches scheduled for Christchurch had to be switched to grounds with a combined capacity to equal or better AMI Stadium.

"It was no doubt an emotional decision. It has removed a city that was central to the all-New Zealand hosting approach, a city which hosted matches at the inaugural 1987 World Cup including two All Black tests."

March 14, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/14/2011

It's a very tough call but it has to be made

The people of Christchurch have suffered enough - they now need the World Cup organisers to be decisive and state sooner rather than later whether the tournament can go ahead there, according to the Sunday Herald's Gregor Paul.

"A full report on AMI Stadium is expected tomorrow and if the prognosis is favourable, if it can host games, then the procrastination has to end. A decision on Christchurch's World Cup future has to be made quickly, preferably by the end of this week.

"It's not just the locals who need clarity - the international market is becoming increasingly anxious to hear something definitive. Tour operators, like circling aircraft, can stay in a holding pattern for only so long. The overseas market has bought tickets, booked accommodation and made commitments.

"To keep telling them nothing, runs the risk of cancellations. The competing teams, too, need to know - not so much where they are playing, but where it would make sense to set up base camp."

March 12, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/12/2011

IRB executive tips Auckland to host quake city matches

Auckland is set to host more Rugby World Cup games, including two quarter-finals, with quake-affected Christchurch looking likely to lose its matches, the Weekend Herald has learned.

"A senior official at the International Rugby Board says the chances are firmly against Christchurch being able to stage its seven scheduled matches during the World Cup, including two quarter-finals.

"In a blow to the quake-shattered city, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it would be a "mammoth effort" to rebuild Christchurch in time for the September tournament.

"Most intelligent people would say the infrastructure and hotels would not be there and ready in time. And even if they were, would people want to go to Christchurch ?

"There is a huge risk, a massive risk ... as regards further earthquakes."

"He said that if Christchurch were to lose its games, most of them - if not all - would be shifted to Auckland."

March 10, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/10/2011

Inside the earthquake-hit stadium

The New Zealand Herald's Derek Cheng, Jarrod Booker and Isaac Davison report from the earthquake-hit AMI Stadium in Christchurch.

"The playing surface is rippled and bulging with patches of sludge. Concrete structures are cracked and dislodged. Silt is piled thick beneath the stands and outside.

"..From the air, a 2m-wide lump can be seen near the northern end of the playing surface, as well as ripples in the turf and signs of liquefaction at the edges of the field. Grey sludge has seeped out from the turf in a 3m patch in front of the Deans Stand.

"A stairwell and walkway leading to the Deans Stand is dislodged at one end, its concrete base cracked and metal covering broken. A 20m crack runs up the side of the Hadlee Stand, which is scarred where concrete has fallen away. The ground's seating appears undisturbed. Silt is piled up under the stands, particularly on the northern side. The streets around the stadium, in particular Stevens Rd, are riddled with bumps - it is almost impossible to drive at more than 30km/h."

March 2, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/02/2011

Key: I want RWC in Christchurch

There is still a chance the Rugby World Cup will go ahead in Christchurch, according to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. The New Zealand Herald reports.

Questions have been raised about whether the city will be able to host the event, given predictions that it may take months to get essential services up and running following last week's 6.3-magnitude quake.

"There's a series of different boxes that will need to be ticked before we can say yes or no," Mr Key said.

"My strong preference is to hold the Cup in Christchurch if we can because I think it sends a very strong international message that Christchurch is going through a rebuilding phase, and equally, if we don't, sadly the message is it's not."

"Mr Key said the primary concern was ensuring the city's stadium was in the right condition to host games.

"That work is happening. If it doesn't pass that standard then obviously the cup has to be moved, if it does then we can work through the other logistical issues."

February 24, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/24/2011

Mother Earth impacts RWC

Sport24's JJ Harmse reflects on the difficult decision Rugby World Cup organisers following the Christchurch earthquake.

"An equally disturbing thought will be the options the IRB have with regards to Christchurch's hosting rights during the upcoming Rugby World Cup in September and October. As things stand at the moment, the last thing one would want to do is to deal the people of Christchurch another blow while they are down.

"To tell them they will lose their games while they are still trying to get people out of the rubble, might sound very cruel, but unfortunately, time is running out for all those concerned.

"I am no expert on earthquakes and trembles, but you need not to be to see that there is currently something not right with Mother Earth’s stomach in the Christchurch area.

"Although no one can predict there will not be another quake, I would say, there is a fair chance there will.

"And as no one can guarantee no loss of life if it happens again, it will be very naive from the IRB and the organising committee to presume that nothing will or could happen and that the thousands and thousands visiting the city will be safe.

"The earthquake, if it is due, will happen with or without the RWC in progress or not."

February 10, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/10/2011

Eligibility rules unfair

Tonga's prime minister says this year's Rugby World Cup will not be a real competition because "unfair" eligibility rules prevent Pacific nations from fielding some of their best players. The New Zealand Herald reports.

"Lord Tu'ivakano said International Rugby Board (IRB) rules barring a player who has represented one country from ever taking the field for another, protected the game's traditional powers from being challenged.

"The law is a sore point for Pacific nations, whose best players are often lured to New Zealand or Australia as youngsters, but cannot represent their homeland even after their careers with their adopted countries are over.

"If they're going to have a real World Cup, then they need to give the other countries the chance to have their own players," he told AFP in an interview on Tuesday.

"Tu'ivakano said Tonga had players in top international competitions who could not represent their country at the World Cup, which runs from September 9 to October 23 in New Zealand, robbing the team of valuable experience."

February 4, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/04/2011

Kiwi Prime Minister sports bangle of power

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has been spotted sporting the controversial holographic wristband that claims to improve performance and keep the body at an optimal "ionic balance". The New Zealand Herald's Katherine Irvine and Derek Cheng report.

"The Power Balance wrist band is endorsed by sportsmen such as professional NBA basketball player Lamar Odom and professional beach volleyball player Todd Rogers, but has courted controversy because of a lack of evidence that it does anything.

"When the hologram comes in contact with your body's energy field, it allows your body to interact positively with the natural frequency stored in the hologram," the Power Balance Facebook page says.

"They restore optimal electro-magnetic balance and promote free-flowing energy pathways - NO PROMISES, JUST RESULTS." But last month Power Balance Australia admitted there was no "credible scientific evidence" to support its claim that the wristband improved strength, balance and flexibility. It apologised for its misleading promotions and offered purchasers a full refund.

"It is unclear if the Prime Minister believes in the benefits of the band, and he did not return calls last night."

February 3, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/03/2011

Harvey hits back at 'party central' criticism

The Rugby World Cup "party central" will be "a destination second to none" and will be ready in time for the event, Auckland Waterfront Development Agency chairman Bob Harvey says. The New Zealand Herald's Paul Harper reports.

"His comments follow criticism from former All Black Marc Ellis that $14 million was too much to spend on a temporary structure at Queens Wharf, which he described as "the wrong end of town".

"I think they should be putting a temporary tent in Victoria Park and all you'd have to do to market it is say it is the biggest audio-video screen in New Zealand history. Victoria Park is right by Ponsonby, so it is in the right place," Mr Ellis told the Otago Daily Times.

Mr Harvey said Mr Ellis was "a little out of touch". "The fan centre is locked in place," he said. "It's all on time."

"Party central" has been mired in controversy and disagreements - from its location on the waterfront to the heritage merits of two 100-year-old cargo sheds on the wharf. Late last year one of the sheds was dismantled, while the other will be refurbished - at a cost of $4 million.

"The temporary building - dubbed The Cloud - will host around 6000 people for a range of events, including a Tourism New Zealand visitor site, VIP functions and concerts."

January 26, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 01/26/2011

Forget about Hayman

Carl Hayman chose Toulon over the All Blacks © Getty Images

Duncan Johnstone believes that the emergence of Owen Franks means that the All Blacks do not need Carl Hayman for the World Cup on

"The All Blacks don't need Carl Hayman. Talk in France linking him to New Zealand's World Cup bid is way off the mark and the New Zealand Rugby Union have been quick to squash any suggestions they would get him back here on a short-term deal for the tournament.

"For a start the rules don't allow it and that is the biggest barrier. But secondly there is the burning question of whether Hayman is up to the job of slotting back into the All Blacks?

"He has carried the mantle of being the best tighthead in the world. But is that still relevant? Highly debatable I'd say."

January 18, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 01/18/2011

Rugby economics

Andrew Gawith casts a critical eye over the financial implications of New Zealand's hosting of the Rugby World Cup in The New Zealand Herald.

"In our corner of the world 2011 will be dominated by the Rugby World Cup - the biggest event New Zealand is ever likely to host.

"Consultants hired by the Ministry of Economic Development three years ago estimated that the Cup would add about $500 million to gross domestic product (or roughly 0.25 per cent).

"In 2008, Deloitte was hired by the IRB to look at the value to a country of hosting the Rugby World Cup."

January 6, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/06/2011

Italians find a home away from home

The New Zealand Herald's John Roughan believes Italy will receive a particularly warm welcome from Nelson at this year's Rugby World Cup.

"Coach John Kirwan and his team are due to settle into the city a full week before the tournament opens. They will travel to Christchurch for their opening match against Australia on the first weekend of the cup but return to Nelson for the rest of the month, playing their next two games at Trafalgar Park against Russia and the United States.

"The Italians are set to receive a particularly warm welcome from Nelson's long-established Italian community, many of whose ancestors migrated a century ago to grow tomatoes in the mild Mediterranean climate.

"An Italian connection of a different sort will be forged while they are there. They will attend the opening of a long-overdue memorial to Nelson members of the Maori Battalion who fought in Italy during World War II."

December 6, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 12/06/2010

IRB should learn from FIFA farce

The IRB should have learned lessons last week, according to Brian Moore © Getty Images

Brian Moore sounds a word of warning to the IRB following the recent farce involving the FIFA World Cup in The Daily Telegraph.

"It has been easy to criticise the recent ignoble Fifa charade and the hypocritical way the FA was prepared to endorse a seemingly corrupt system, only complaining when decisively humiliated by the result.

"It was to our eternal shame that what the FA believed was the footballing national interest was allowed to hijack the true national interest.

"The willingness to spend ruinously on a bid that, if successful, would have forced the country to accept, without debate or vote, the suspension or amendment of our laws on tax, intellectual property, employment and human rights was reprehensible and that is before you add the ignominy of our future sovereign and Prime Minister kowtowing to dishonourable bigots."

Posted by Huw Baines on 12/06/2010

Rip-off culture

Peter Bills laments the rip-off culteure set to grip New Zealand during next year's Rugby World Cup in The Irish Independent.

"Heading for New Zealand and the 2011 World Cup? Be prepared for a shock. The rugby-mad nation at the far end of the earth, isolated from just about everywhere, looks likely to become just another of the world's great rip-offs.

"The country that used to wear a warm smile on its face, welcome visitors and treat them like royalty, is sleep walking into acquiring such an unwanted reputation worldwide.

"The price of ordinary everyday articles and living costs horrified me on a trip there this year. I've been there, admired the place and loved the people since 1975. I wasn't even put off by my first ever weekend in New Zealand -- seven inches of rain in 24 hours and sitting shin-deep in water at Eden Park as the All Blacks aquaplaned past Scotland."

November 18, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/18/2010

World Cup is about more than who reaches the final

It is such a shame that Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and their performances seem to be forgotten between World Cups, so writes Paul Rees in The Guardian.

"Fiji are in Cardiff on Friday night, only their sixth meeting with a Tier 1 nation since knocking Wales out of the 2007 World Cup in Nantes, while Samoa face England at Twickenham the following day, again their sixth encounter with a top country in three years. As for Tonga, who came closer to beating South Africa in the last World Cup than anyone and who gave England the hurry-up, they have only had 11 Tests since 2007, not one against the big boys. It's scandalous, as if they are rugby's version of an eclipse, seen once every four years.

"Rugby is a business, not a charity, and the major unions are concerned with bank balances, not offering leg-ups. New Zealand have, over the years, plundered the South Seas islands for players, but they have never been bothered about reparation: since 2007, they have played Samoa once, Fiji and Tonga not at all. The Junior All Blacks were in the Pacific Nations Championship, but pulled out this year. Tonga will get a fixture next year but only because they are in the same World Cup pool as New Zealand."

November 11, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 11/11/2010

It's our problem

Rugby World Cup chief Martin Snedden takes a look at the problems that surfaced at last weekend's rugby league Test between Australia and New Zealand at Eden Park in The New Zealand Herald.

"I could argue till I'm blue in the face that it was a game of league, not rugby. And that none of the Rugby World Cup 2011 security or alcohol-management plans were being tested, and that what happened at Eden Park on Saturday night was simply not our problem.

"But it is. Running something as major as next year's event is just as much a confidence game as it is about getting things dead right operationally.

"Eden Park, as host of the final (and eight other matches) is our most crucial venue. Public confidence in the venue has been dented for the moment. It is something that we must take serious notice of and learn from."

September 23, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 09/23/2010

Home comforts

Paul Rees wonders whether the All Blacks are being mollycoddled by the IRB in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup in The Guardian.

"Peter de Villiers earned himself a date with a disciplinary committee earlier this year after he suggested that referees were favouring the All Blacks because New Zealand was hosting the 2011 World Cup. The South Africa coach escaped censure but was told by his employers, not for the first time, to send the brake on his tongue in for repairs.

"De Villiers might have been tempted to have responded to the International Rugby Board's edict this month that teams who disrespected New Zealand's haka, or any of the war dances performed by the Pacific Island countries, by encroaching too close or reacting menacingly would be fined, but for the impending review of the Springboks' Tri-Nations and friendly international campaigns this year by the South African Rugby Union which is occupying his attention.

"The Australian team in the recent women's World Cup went home £1,000 poorer for advancing during the haka and breaking small print in the tournament regulations. The IRB deems the haka to be a traditional part of the game and one worth preserving; a pity it has not been so staunch in its defence of another traditional aspect of the game, rucking."

September 6, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 09/06/2010

Club v country

Brian Moore takes a look at the difficulties facing players in a Rugby World Cup season in The Daily Telegraph.

"The players’ standard position is that they will concentrate on their club form because without this they do not even come into consideration for the national team. Like most truisms, the statement is simplistic and does not address the inherent problems facing many players as they attempt to board the plane for the land of the long white cloud.

"Even for players hitherto certain to be in Martin Johnson’s squad there is the problem of focus. England rugby players do not consider the club game to be the equal or better of an international match and the temptation to not focus properly week to week during a World Cup season is something they and their coaches, at both levels, need to address.

"Furthermore, depending on what selections are made around them, players can be faced with a dilemma not of their making but one which is, nevertheless, something they have to confront."

August 25, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/25/2010

The joy of seven

Chris Rattue has compiled a list of ways that New Zealand can win the Rugby World Cup in 2011 in The New Zealand Herald.

"The Tri-Nations trophy (does anyone actually know what this looks like?) is back in the cupboard, and all is well in Rugbyland.

"Next assignment. Eeeeek - the World Cup.Okay, so we're skipping a few things here, like another of those (yawn) magnificent trips to Europe, where the Scary Scots and Welsh Wizards lie in wait.

"Not that they need the help right now, but here are a few suggestions for the All Blacks to amp up the campaign to become world champs, and so put this nation out of a dreadful misery."

August 1, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/01/2010

Smart rugby

All Blacks legend Sean Fitzpatrick was impressed by Graham Henry's men once again as they routed the Wallabies, and doesn't buy in to their 'chokers' tag, in The New Zealand Herald.

"This was another very good All Blacks performance. What was especially pleasing was that it was a continuation of what they did in the first two tests against the Springboks.

"The Wallabies posed different problems to South Africa and that was illustrated in the first two minutes when Matt Giteau picked out a mis-match in the All Blacks defence and set James O'Connor up for a great early opportunity.

"But the All Blacks withstood the pressure throughout and maintained their accuracy and intensity. They played smart rugby. People have been saying New Zealand are peaking too early again and we are going down the same road we do every time before a World Cup. But I don't buy into that at all. At the moment they are playing smarter, better rugby than anyone else."

July 24, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/24/2010

Andes survivors' Cup request

Survivors of the Andes plane disaster nearly 40 years ago want to play in next year's World Cup in New Zealand to commemorate the anniversary and their special rugby sporting bond. The New Zealand Herald reports.

"Roberto Canessa, a survivor from the October 1972 crashed flight which was carrying the Old Christians Club from Uruguay to play the Old Grangonian Club in Chile, says they have petitioned the International and New Zealand Rugby Boards to play a curtain-raiser to the opening test between the All Blacks and Tonga at Eden Park next September.

"So far no response. However, former All Black loose forward Paul Henderson, who coaches a private club in Chile, believes a short match would be a great way to showcase rugby's camaraderie and has taken up the cause. "I think it would be a marvellous way to honour the whole episode, those who died, the survivors and the game they play," he said."

July 12, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/12/2010

Genie off the back

Greg Growden rolls out a few World Cup jokes after the All Blacks' brilliant dismantling of South Africa in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Despite all the euphoria surrounding the All Blacks' swashbuckling win over the Springboks, the usual jokes about the Kiwis' inability to win a certain big trophy are getting another airing. Even if some of the gagsters have blatantly plagiarised lines directed at England and the football World Cup, they are worth retelling.

"The one going around yesterday involves a genie, who has granted the person who released him from the bottle one wish. ''I want to live forever,'' the person says. The genie slowly shakes his head, saying he cannot grant such a wish. ''Fine, instead I want to die when New Zealand win the World Cup.''

June 22, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/22/2010

Rugby World Cup set for 3D?

New Zealanders might be able to go to the movies, to pubs and clubs to watch the Rugby World Cup games live in 3D. The New Zealand Herald's John Drinnan reports.

"The IRB is talking to its members about the feasibility of having the event filmed in 3D. The IRB will have to decide by the end of this year at the latest, said Rugby World Cup Ltd general manager Ross Young.

"But there are a lot of issues including whether there is enough interest overseas from broadcasters and sponsorship technology companies promoting the 3D TV sets.

"TV networks say with such a tiny number of 3D TV sets in New Zealand it would not be viable for them to buy 3D rights. But if the IRB does opt to film the World Cup in 3D there may be options for rugby fans beyond their home TV sets."

May 13, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/13/2010

The price is right

Rugby World Cup 2011 chief Martin Snedden wades in on the recent controversy surrounding overpriced accomodation for the event in The New Zealand Herald.

"No one should back off this current debate about Rugby World Cup 2011 accommodation pricing. It is timely and will ultimately be helpful. Charging fair prices will be one of the factors critical to making this event a success.

"We want our visitors to enjoy their stay, linger long and leave with special memories. Let's face it. Our country has probably never had a better international profiling and marketing opportunity. This is not just about 45 days next year. It's also about our future well beyond Rugby World Cup 2011.

"The stark reality here is that we only get one crack at hosting this. If we don't get it right the first time, we don't get the chance to learn from our mistakes. Get this right and our international reputation will soar. Taint it by irresponsible profiteering within any aspect of hosting the event as a nation and we'll suffer badly. The consequential reputational and financial damage will be significant."

May 11, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/11/2010

Southern skills

The Bulls and Stormers have proven that South African rugby remains in rude health © Getty Images

Peter Bills predicts more World Cup woe for the northern hemisphere due to their inferior skill levels in The Independent.

"We won't know for sure until the World Cup next year. I never think the end of season tours in either hemisphere are much of a yard stick as to serious form or trends.

"Players are invariably tired by the end of a long season. The idea of flying to another hemisphere and spending weeks away from home when you are mentally weary after a hard season is never attractive.

"Perhaps New Zealand regularly buck such a trend, as their demolition of France in Marseille last November showed. But the Springboks had a dire end of season tour to Britain and Europe last November. Did that make them a declining force? Not on the evidence of this season's Super 14 where the Bulls and Stormers are currently the leading lights."

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/11/2010

A limp legacy

The New Zealand Herald's Paul Lewis has nothing but fear and contempt as the Queens Wharf project continues to stall in the build up to the Rugby World Cup.

"With apologies to Martin Luther King, I have a dream. Rugby World Cup minister Murray McCully and Auckland Regional Council head Mike Lee are in a large building on Queens Wharf.

"It is a giant tent which covers and links two sheds. The two men are inside, standing around a big punch bowl, surrounded by bunting and other jolly party stuff. They are alone. The wind is blowing.

"Down the road, at the Viaduct, the party is in full swing after the 2011 Rugby World Cup final. People are hanging off the walls, dancing in the streets, sloshing their drinks. They are having great fun. Back at the giant tent (all right, I know it's not really going to be a tent but the image was too good not to dream about), McCully shifts uncomfortably. A napkin is blown across the empty floor space, like a dead weed across the tundra."

April 24, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/24/2010

Territorial gain

Wynne Gray believes that territory will be king at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in The New Zealand Herald.

"Uncover the crystal ball. Remove the scarf from the gypsy's friend and let us look into the future. Give us a glimpse of next year's World Cup, not the frothy bits we will see in pool play, but the serious stuff once the quarter-finals begin.

"While we are enjoying the style differences during this season's Super 14, from the freewheeling Blues and Reds to the more controlled game-plans of the Crusaders and Stormers, we should also get a fair dose of entertainment during the Tri-Nations series.

"Changes to interpretations at the breakdowns and cleaning up several other areas have reduced the amount of kicking and created a better spectacle. Well, they have on this side of the equator; stodgy matches are still played in tougher conditions up north."

March 25, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/25/2010

Georgian hero

Georgia will return to the World Cup stage in 2011 © Getty Images

Peter Bills recounts the frenzied atmosphere for Georgia and Russia's European Nations Cup game, which booked their Pool sports at the World Cup, in The Irish Independent.

"You could see it in their eyes, tell the difference in their approach before the game," said Georgian coach Tim Lane, a former Australia international.

"Even some weeks ago when we played Romania, they had their eyes on this game. It was a different feeling at training; everyone had more urgency. I just wish I could bottle the feeling within our team when we play Russia and bring it out for every game. We would be a different kettle of fish then."

"Lane is a lovely, laid-back, smiling and courteous Australian. He's been assistant coach to Australia and South Africa at World Cups and now, next September, he will proudly take Georgia to the 2011 tournament in New Zealand."

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/25/2010

No hopers

Stephen Jones can't see a northern hemisphere team challenging for honours at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in The Times.

"It has come to my attention that there are one or two of you out there who do not want New Zealand to win the 2011 World Cup. This is very uncharitable. Naturally I am rooting for the All Blacks to take the title, and for the nation to accept this triumph with its usual modesty, good grace and concern for the beaten sides.

"However, it must be said that following the France-England match last week in Paris, all those contemptible people who do wish ill on New Zealand will now be very worried indeed. Especially with Ireland in a possible decline, I simply cannot see that a European team can come remotely close to winning next year in New Zealand, and so we could be relying on the Springboks to do the necessary.

"Let us deal with France first. They have been very good this season. But for me, the frailties they showed on Saturday evening were marked, and very worrying indeed. When they found that England were hanging on grimly and turning in a good performance, you could almost see their legs and their minds turn to jelly."

March 4, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/04/2010

Doubt NZ will be ready for World Cup

RWC'11 CEO Martin Snedden is confident New Zealand will be ready when the world's best descend on the country © Getty Images

Organisers are confident everything will be ready for the Rugby World Cup kick-off but a quarter of the public disagree. The New Zealand Herald reports.

"Rugby World Cup 2011 CEO Martin Snedden has "no doubt" about progress, regardless of the latest political wrangling over "party central" on Queens Wharf and no guarantees that Otago Stadium will be ready. Mr Snedden said everyone from the Prime Minister down is keen to see the World Cup go off without a hitch and reputations are at stake.

"The Government's reputation is on the line, a lot of reputations are on the line, including mine. A lot of people are motivated," Mr Snedden said. He said New Zealand world cup development is largely "greenfields" - unlike past hosts France and Australia, who also held the 1998 Football World Cup and 2000 Olympics respectively

"...Aside from the America's Cup challenges, New Zealand has not hosted an international tournament anywhere near the size of the World Cup since the 1990 Commonwealth Games. But Mr Snedden said the whole of New Zealand will be getting behind the World Cup - something that did not happen in France or Australia. "We'll create something that no one else can replicate," Mr Snedden said."

March 3, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/03/2010

All Blacks to win next World Cup?

New Zealand coach Graham Henry and captain Richie McCaw reflect on their quarter-final exit from RWC'07 © Getty Images

In the latest instalment of their series on the state of rugby in New Zealand, the New Zealand Herald publishes the results of a poll that surveyed opinion on who will win RWC'11.

"Kiwis are confident that, 24 years on from their last World Cup triumph, the All Blacks will win on home turf, according to an poll. Of 600 people questioned, 59 per cent picked the home side to win the final at Eden Park next year.

"The next closest team picked to take top honours was South Africa, a long way behind on 17 per cent. No other team inspires much fear in the New Zealand public it would appear - just 5.3 per cent thought Australia would win, 3.9 per cent England and 3 per cent France.

"Social psychologist Professor Graham Vaughan said the result could be a mixture of patriotism and a belief in the home ground advantage. Prof Vaughan said he recalls similar enthusiasm about an All Black victory in the lead up to the 1995, 1999, and 2003 World Cups, none of which materialised."

August 6, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/06/2009

Time to make history

In The Independent, Peter Bills challenges the Springboks to make history by defending their World Cup in 2011.

"If the Springboks' march towards their first Tri-Nations title since 2004 continues apace on Saturday against Australia in Cape Town, and there seems no reason on earth why it shouldn't, then just one more target will stretch before these Springboks.

"In the 22 years of the Rugby World Cup, no country has ever won back-to-back tournaments. The closest anyone has come to rugby's Holy Grail was Australia, winners in 1999 and runners-up in 2003, and then after extra time.

"Manifestly, these South Africans have the capacity to make history in that regard. By the time of the next World Cup, they should still have most of this side available.

"The only question marks would appear to be against three players: John Smit, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha. Smit will be 33 when the 2011 tournament starts in New Zealand, Matfield 35 and Botha 32. Otherwise, there is an argument to be made that just about every other player in the team will be, injuries permitting of course, virtually at their peak.

"These will be the ages in 2011 of the rest of the team that played in Durban last Saturday: Frans Steyn 24, JP Pietersen 25, Jaque Fourie 28, Jean de Villiers 30, Bryan Habana 28; Morne Steyn 27, Fourie du Preez 29; ‘Beast' Mtawarira 26, Bismarck du Plessis 27, Heinrich Brussow 25, Juan Smith 30 and Pierre Spies 26."

July 30, 2009

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/30/2009

Japan can host, but can they play?

Writing for Rugby Heaven, Duncan Johnstone argues that it is imperative that Japan possesses a competitive national team by the time it hosts the 2019 World Cup.

"Japan has 10 years to get its act together as a rugby nation.The IRB has sensibly - some would add belatedly - awarded Japan the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

“It's a logical move given the desire to grow the sport and the potential of the Asian market.But we've heard 'potential' for many years when Japanese rugby has been discussed. They have talked a good game without ever really producing it.

“Their passion is undoubted but their performance has never matched that.”

July 29, 2009

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/29/2009

England's 2015 World Cup news provokes pride and a touch of envy

Former England international Will Greenwood is delighted by the Rugby Football Union’s successful bid for the 2015 World Cup but admits in The Telegraph to being a little jealous of those who will get the opportunity to try to lift the Webb Ellis Cup on home soil.

"I feel relief that our bid had been accepted by the IRB Council; excitement about what a festival of rugby England will host; humility at the honour we have been given to host the third largest sporting event on the planet.

“I also have to confess to feeling a little envy. It is not an emotion I feel often. I have fulfilled many of my life's ambitions. I have won a World Cup winners' medal and have a great job and a wonderful family.

“But I do envy those England players, and in fact all of those players who will now appear on the global stage at the home of English rugby, Twickenham, and a host of other iconic and world-renowned stadiums around the country.”

July 28, 2009

Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 07/28/2009

Backing England keeps Olympic dream alive

Writing in The Times, David Hands believes that the IRB need today's vote to go England's way for their Olympic hopes to come to fruition.

"If the decision to be made in Dublin today over the hosting of the 2015 and 2019 World Cups is of the utmost significance for England, so it is for the IRB itself.

"A smooth operation that sees its committee’s recommendations ratified by its council speaks of a governing body on top of its brief, three months before an even more critical vote that could mean rugby union is restored to the Olympic Games for the first time since 1924.

"If, however, the council chooses to ignore the dual proposal made this month by Rugby World Cup (RWC) — that England plays host in six years’ time and Japan in 2019 — that will not reflect well on the IRB. Since rugby went professional in 1995, the board has lobbied for the inclusion of sevens in the Olympics; four years ago, it was spurned for the London Games of 2012, but in Copenhagen in October the IOC will vote in two additional sports for the Games of 2016."

July 27, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/27/2009

Sacrificed for the Olympic dream

Peter Bills, writing in The Independent, believes that South Africa's World Cup bid is doomed due to the IRB's desire to the Sevens at the Olympics.

"South Africa's bid for the 2015 or 2019 Rugby World Cup is likely to be sacrificed tomorrow on the altar of the game's greatest desire, entry into the Olympics.

"The full IRB Council, which is meeting in Dublin tomorrow, is set to ratify the recommendation of the World Cup committee that England should host the tournament in 2015 and Japan four years later.

"England, because of their enormous financial capacity, were always bankers for the 2015 event, especially as the 2011 event in New Zealand is struggling financially. The IRB needs a whopping financial bonanza in 2015 and England is the one nation guaranteed to provide that.

"But the reason Japan is expected to win the vote for 2019 ahead of South Africa is the issue of rugby in the Olympic Games, a dream the IRB has had for the better part of 50 years."

May 16, 2009

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/16/2009

Let's get behind South Africa's World Cup dream

New Zealand and Australia should agree to support South Africa as host of the 2015 Rugby World Cup when the issue comes up for a vote shortly says Wynne Gray in the New Zealand Herald.

"England are making a concerted push for the next event and speaking glowingly about the soccer stadiums they will use and the marvels of Twickenham. No thanks. Of the world tournaments so far, those in the UK in 1991 and 1999 were probably the least memorable because of the lack of hype and the absence of facilities.

"They can bang on as much as they like about shifting matches, gaining huge crowds and coining it at Wembley, Old Trafford and Co but they are grounds without any great rugby connections. Twickenham, at least, is a rugby arena with a huge capacity and atmosphere. But it is not a favourite, you are just too far away from the action in comparison to several great venues in France and the great cauldrons in Cardiff and Brisbane."

April 20, 2009

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/20/2009

Australia priced out of Cup bid until 2023

Australia is unlikely to stage the Rugby World Cup for at least another 14 years according to Greg Growden in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"While Australia has shown some interest in bidding for the 2019 tournament, the International Rugby Board's demand that the host union pay all the costs plus a £96 million tournament guarantee fee is a major deterrent.

"Adding to the strain is the fact time is running out, as the IRB will announce the 2015 and 2019 host unions on July 28, six years before the first tournament and 10 years before the next. The 2015 World Cup is expected to be held in the northern hemisphere, with England the most likely host nation, while Japan and South Africa are among those favoured to stage the 2019 tournament."

March 8, 2009

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/08/2009

Italy could kick England's bid for 2015 Rugby World Cup into touch

England's chance of hosting the 2015 Rugby World Cup is coming under threat from a buoyant Italy according to Paul Ackford in the Sunday Telegraph.

"Italy, whose government has underwritten the £80million guarantee required by the IRB, will have access to the right-sized football stadia provided they can do a deal with the Serie A authorities, and they also tick the box of a "developing rugby nation". Following widespread criticism of the IRB's decision to side with New Zealand rather than Japan for the 2011 tournament, rugby's governing body is keen to demonstrate that it is capable of venturing outside the old Five Nations countries and the southern hemisphere big three of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. Italy, a member of the Six Nations since 2000 but with a chronically under-developed domestic league, is still viewed as an emerging nation on the world stage.

"In recent weeks senior RFU officials have had meetings with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham and London's Mayor, Boris Johnson, in an attempt to drum up support for their campaign. However, the Government, whilst indicating they would facilitate the bid and help with security costs, estimated by the RFU at around £8million, have stopped short of pledging the £80million guarantee."

January 4, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 01/04/2009

Financial demands could damage Rugby World Cup

Stephen Jones worries for the future of the Rugby World Cup after new financial demands were made by the IRB inThe Sunday Times

"There are growing fears that the Rugby World Cup, the showpiece of the sport and its financial engine, could fall into the wrong hands because the International Rugby Board is demanding in the middle of an economic crisis that any nation wishing to host the tournament must give a massive financial guarantee before being considered.

"Final bids are now being prepared to host the 2015 and 2019 tournaments, with at least eight nations showing interest, but an IRB directive that they must be guaranteed £80m for the 2015 event (they have moderated their demand from an original £100m) and a staggering £120m for 2019 has stopped many nations dead in their tracks, with even Australia expressing doubts. At present, only Italy appear to be in a position to come up with the guarantee - they have been promised support by the Italian government and Rome’s civic authorities.

"Other unions feel that the guarantee could destabilise them. Martyn Thomas, chairman of the powerful Rugby Football Union, is worried that a dearth of unions willing to put up the guarantees will leave a vacuum that could see bids from outside rugby."

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