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The Rugby World Cup live on ITV was a bit of a surprise, fans of the ugly game not exactly the ITV crowd, but presumably why ITV bought it, the rugby audience one of the most desirable demographics for advertisers to capture, very middle-class. But they did indeed bid for it and beat the BBC and Sky for it and so an interesting move by ITV, especially as the games kicked off early morning on the other side of the world. Maybe the financially strapped ITV people are slowly moving away from its core working-class audience to generate more revenue, Channel Five quickly becoming ITV in the vacuum. With 70 free view channels of the same old films and dramas to pick from premium sport has become a bigger prize to earn that audience.
If you thought the Cricket World Cup was too long then this think again, this thing set to run and run, all the big games taking part at the weekends and so the group stages alone taking three weeks. There are also few quality games in those three weeks and upsets were extremely unlikely, the minnows lucky to score a try, the equivalent soccer scores being 7-0...8-1 every game. There was one surprise, France losing to Tonga, but France still racing on to next weeks semi-finals. The tournament was set up to make it impossible for the big five to make the quarter-finals, which proved the case.
England went into the tournament hopelessly undercooked, their minds ad attitude still at the bar in August, as they were straight after their opening win against Argentina, recently married Mike Tindall caught groping a blonde or two, none of them Zara Phillips. I always thought that was a bit of a sham marriage and Zara too thick to care, an idiot rugby player her level. The CCTV video evidence from the bar in question appeared to show Tindall kissing an ex girlfriend after ten pints. What the grandmother made of that is anyone's guess. Northampton Saints Chris Ashton, also out on the lash that night, was no surprise to me for his antics. Holding two dwarfs aloft in a bar is nothing new to the Saints star on Saturday night in Northampton. This is why Capello locked away his players in South Africa as the predominately young working-class team England have become in the last ten years can't be trusted to behave now. Even when they left New Zealand one player couldn't resist jumping off the ferry into the ice cold water to swim to the dock, Tungulia to stupid to realize there is a ramp for that in the civilised world.
Johnny Wilkinson struggled with the still air in the unique covered stadium in Hamilton for the opening game with Argentina and missed a lot of kicks for a tight victory over the plucky South Americans, a total of eleven sliced wide in the game, unheard of for England's handsome but now old fashioned talisman. Ireland were as equally un-emphatic, beating the USA 22-12. Scotland squeezed a win over Romania 15-6.
Wales played the best of the four home nations but were robbed against World Champions South Africa in their group game 17-16, one missed penalty that may have given them a win judged not over the sticks when it seemed to swerve through, a reverse swing like action that you see in cricket confusing the officials. The referee could have asked for a TV replay but didn't, kicker James Hook clearly seen gesticulating that a replay was needed. ITV certainly didn't want to show it again and only some rough replays remain on the internet, the embarrassing decision scrubbed from history.
The newest international rugby team to make the world cup finals are Russia, who's first game was with an increasingly useful American side, this no Cold War tear up though as the Americans won well. New Zealand annihilated Japan with 11 different try scorers in an exhibition to win 87-7, following up their crunching of little Tonga. No one is going to beat these guys in NZ. But at least the minnows are closing the gap slightly, New Zealand beating them 145-0 in a previous World Cup to set the record high score.
The England player's preparation for match two was white-water rafting, bungee jumping and fly fishing, between a few pints, no doubt. Fabio Capello take note! Ireland got the competition underway proper with a fabulous win over Australia, their first in the Rugby World Cup after five attempts at the Wallabies. It was a real grinding forwards match and has dumped Australia in the southern hemisphere side of the draw that opens up the tournament for a six nation's team to actually win it.
Wales secured their continuation in proceedings with a close thought win over Western Samoa, the huge islanders smashing into their front line like tsunami waves, the Welsh on course for an Ireland semi-final. England again put in a patchy performance with a 41-10 beating of Georgia, the Russian republic the most obscure entrant this year, Chris Ashton getting two tries with his signature one handed slam. South Africa ran up the biggest win of the tournament so far with an 87-0 crunching of Namibia.
England started to go through the gears with a 67-5 victory over Romania with hatricks from Ashton and Quato. The biggest clash of the tournament so far saw the hosts New Zealand face their nemesis in France, the All-Blacks twice knocked out of the World Cup, 1999 and 2007. The French tried to freak them out by effectively playing two scrum-half's, and little guys too, coming against the huge New Zealand forwards, appearing to be not a good idea. The tactic asked question of NZ early on but they were soon overrunning the arrogant French, who knew defeat here would give them an easier route to the final, duly obliging by going down 17-37.
Scotland went down to the aggressive Argentineans in a thrilling game as half-back Jones blew the chance for a Johnny Wilkinson style drop-kick moment to steel the game at the last, spewing his effort well wide from just 20 yards, reminiscent of my golf drive. Namibia completed their fourth game in just 15 days with an 81-7 tonking from Wales, on course now for that Ireland semi-final. It was really harsh on the organisers to make the minnows play their games so quickly and the format sure to change next time.
Two England coaches were banned from the weekend game after being discovered tinkering with Johnny Wilkinson's balls, something most girls would like to do that are reading this. They were caught swapping the new Gilbert Ball with the older one during the Romania thrashing as Johnny has clearly not got to grip with the pressure in his new balls in New Zealand.
Scotland needed to beat England by eight points to get through to the Quarter-finals and that looked on most of the game, until Johnny Wilkinson got his game together and started landing the kicks in the second half, England 12-5 down. But he is not the player he was; the Daily Mail sports hack describing him as a "Johnny Wilkinson tribute act", Johnny but not quite Johnny. Replacement Flood came on and sealed the deal with a great pass to Northampton's Chris Ashton for the games only try, England nicking it 16-12. It was a victory, of course, for the current England coach over the previous England coach, Andy Robinson, now the Scotland top man. Robinson irritates me in the way he tries to imitate everything about the previous England and World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward, his actions, mannerisms, voice and ticks are all strangely there, almost as if that's the reason England went with him. England and Scotland were so unsure who the best side was going into this they had both done their souvenir shopping and packed their bags the day before the game. If England didn't feel they can beat the Jocks they really should have gone home there and then.
England's effectively had a Six Nations run before this game to the final with a quarter-final with France and a semi with Wales or Ireland to come.
1 England (4) 137 - 34 (18pts)
2 Argentina (4) 90 - 40 (14pts)
3 Scotland (4) 73 - 59 (11pts)
4 Georgia (4) 48 - 90 (4pts)
5 Romania (4) 44 - 169 (0pts)
France had a similar conundrum where as long as they didn't lose by eight or more points to Tonga they were also through. But they nearly did go out and eventually went down 14-19 to the physical islanders, one of the biggest upsets in the tournaments history. They weren't deliberately losing to avoid certain teams in the quarters, either, NZ long since winning the group.
1 New Zealand (4) 240 - 49 (20pts)
2 France (4) 124 - 96 (11pts)
3 Tonga (4) 80 - 98 (9pts)
4 Canada (4) 82 - 168 (6pts)
5 Japan (4) 69 - 184 (2pts)
The World Cup is not doing my home team of Northampton Saints any good, all our best players out in New Zealand, seeing us sitting bottom of the Aviva premiership after being beaten by minnows Worcestershire last week. This time last year with our internationals present we were top by three points. If the 2022 football World Cup is held in our winter then how will Manchester United feel if they were bottom of the league because their team was abroad in the desert?
Ireland were superb against Italy with a 36-6 thumping to win their group and move on to a semi-final with Wales. They are still looking good for the final for me.
1 Ireland (4) 135 - 34 (17pts)
2 Australia 4 3 0 1 173 48 (15pts)
3 Italy (4) 92 - 95 (10pts)
4 USA (4) 38 - 122 (4pts)
5 Russia (4) 57 - 196 (1pt)
Wales secured their quarter-final with a superb 66-0 thrashing of Fiji.
1 South Africa (4) 166 - 24 (18pts)
2 Wales (4) 180 - 34 (15pts)
3 Samoa (4) 91 - 49 (10pts)
4 Fiji (4) 59 - 167 (5pts)
5 Namibia (4) 44 - 266 (0pts0
= = = The Quarter-Finals = = =
Another rather grubby off field antic again enveloped the England team with three players sanctioned for harassing a local hotel worker after stealing her walkie-talkie and then taunting her with it, finally taking pictures of her on their cell phones with suggestive comments thrown in. The official line was the girl didn't enjoy it but my Northampton connections suggest otherwise. Nerve-the-less it looked seedy and two of the three were on the bench for the France quarter-final because of it, only Ashton starting.
England were poor and crashed out of the tournament, never looking composed the whole month. France creamed 16 points with no replay for half-time before Foden went over to keep us in it. Jono's insistence to play Wilkinson suggested he was looking for the magic of 2003 as his only hope. France dropped a goal to secure things before Quato stole a try late on to give England a glimmer to tie it with a converted try. But it was not to be as France move forward to face Wales, who saw off Ireland 22-10 in the second quarter-final, the home nation's only survivor.
The omens were not good for current world champions South Africa in Q/F three, no team ever defending the crown, worse still their opponents Australia NEVER Losing to a tri-nations side in the k\o stage in the competitions history, an extraordinary record. And they kept that record as they pinched a two point game in a very defensive match at Eden Park, grinding down an early deficit for an 11-9 win with a 75th minute drop goal.
Q/F Four saw New Zealand overpower Argentina, patience the key here, wave after wave of black shirts producing the requisite number of tries and penalties for a 33 -10 win against an organised defence. Argentina did lead 7-6 early on with a brilliant try and played well but two tries and solid kicking from third choice kicker and NZ captain Piroi (in for the injured Dan Carter) moved the All-Blacks clear and into the semi-finals to play old enemy Australia.
----Previous Winners and Finals----
2007 - South Africa bt England
2003 - England bt Australia
1999 - Australia bt France
1995 - South Africa bt New Zealand
1991 - Australia bt England
1987 - New Zealand bt France 29-9
I still think NZ will win the trophy in two weeks time to get their revenge on France in the final. I was at the 1995 final when South Africa cheated them out of the trophy with a disputed try and they are itching to right that. I have backed NZ to win every game with an accumulator. The odds are not very generous. Come on Wales though!