Wednesday, September 26, 2007

RWC weekend and early-week action!

The Red Terror apologizes for the tardiness of RWC match reports and commentaries. Alas, the Red Terror is at the mercy of Canadian rights broadcaster Setanta Sports, which sometimes means viewing fixtures like New Zealand vs. Scotland delayed 36-48 hours. O-kay, enough bitchin' - here's what I've been watching...

Friday got the weekend started in a big way with FRANCE hosting IRELAND in a critical Pool D encounter. The Irish, under the gun for the past couple weeks, were teary eyed during the anthem "Ireland's Call," except for skipper Brian O'Driscoll who looked like a passive zombie. By way of contrast, French winger Aurélien Rougerie was chuckling during a stirring "La Marseillaise". Fair enough - he was on the reserves bench. An absorbing first half was fairly divided in terms of scoring chances, but the Irish spoiled most of theirs with silly mistakes, touches out of bounds, accidental offsides, and a remarkable front-foot attack at the French 22 stopped by Andrew Trimble headbutting referee Chris White.The French lost a desperate try with fullback Clément Poitrenaud having his leg in over the touchline, but otherwise made good on four penalty goals, to Ronan O'Gara's drop-goal, to lead 12-3 at the break.

Sidebar anger at Setanta sports: This match was broadcast over a day late, and sadly without the pre-game, post-game and half-time analysis. It's bad enough we don't get many of the most important RWC matches live. It's made doubly worse when Setanta short-changes us and gives us less of the content, to boot. More than a few rugby fans would have liked to hear the Irish panelists from Irish broadcaster Setanta analyzing Ireland's first half, especially since Ireland's chances have been the focus (read: obsession) of Setanta's RWC programming from Day One. We got short-changed. Again. Continuing...

The 2nd-half saw Brian "Could Have Died" O'Driscoll destroy Poitrenaud in a clean textbook tackle. Star man Sébastien Chabal had a quiet game and was replaced at the 46th minute, and shortly thereafter French coach Bernard Laporte began playing his hand, pressing the advantage of his deep bench, and Ireland could not compete. The French lineout was working like a song, and Vincent Clerc scored a pair of well-taken tries to see France out. Final score: France 25 vs. Ireland 3. Ireland have their work cut out for them to make the Quarter-Finals. We'll look at those chances later in the week. Silliest nonsense of the match was a defensive Irish 5-metre lineout midway through the 2nd-half, with Irish hooker Jerry Flannery having a brainfart and mis-throwing short into the ground, and having the ball skip into the hands of French No. 8 Julien Bonnaire (in an immense all-around game) who collected and dove over the line to score. For what reason I am not sure even referee Chris White could tell you with a straight face, he blew his whistle, then had a confab with the touch judge, picked up by the microphone, asking, "What happened? Did you see that? Do it again - I'm not having that. We play again." Ireland were very, very lucky for that brief reprieve.

On Saturday, SOUTH AFRICA faced a surprisingly resilient TONGA, who showed they had more more surprises up their sleeve and made the otherwise hot Springboks look sluggish, reminiscent of that forgettable warm-up match against Connaught a couple weeks back. The Springboks bombed many, many great try-scoring opportunities in the first half and only led 7-3 to the changing sheds. The match was level at 10-10 as late as the 58th minute, but South African bench reserves saw the Boks run out a comfortable lead before Tonga valiantly clawed back and ensured themselves a respectable bonus-point, losing only 30-25. 'Bok fullback Percy Montgomery, who is so-far looking like the only goalkicker who can handle the fluttering Gilbert official RWC knuckle-ball, made his 90th test cap appearance - a Springbok record.

ENGLAND then faced SAMOA at Nantes. England got off to a flying start with a quick try to Martin Corry after two minutes, and a few mnutes later booted a penalty to stretch out to 10-0 early. The Samoans made England work hard - indeed, every game at RWC 2007 has so far been a tough slog for the defending champs - but England is showing definite improvements. When flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson is healthy, as he was here, England are a much more cohesive, confident and effective unit, and remain a threat. For a 2nd time, the all-time longest serving player in RWC history, Samoan skipper Brian Lima had another inglorious exit. Lima knocked himself out cold with a dangerous flying tackle minutes after he came off the reserves bench against South Africa. This time he went after Wilkinson's head, and his last World Cup has been cut short early with a suspension for his trouble. Final score 44-22 was not a fair reflection of the contest, but England deserved winners.

Saturday's late game saw Pool D front-runners ARGENTINA dusting off NAMIBIA 63-3 after leading by a more respectable 25-3 at the break. The Pumas were clinical and ruthless. Namibia was tired and listless, 'tho did well enough for the games' last ten minutes to hold out Argentina and staunch the damage. Namibian openside flanker Jacques Burger was once again Namibia's lone shining light, bustling with energy wherever the ball bounced, and probably on his way to a European contract. Argentina is the only team in the entire RWC comp to have not yet conceded a try. The Pumas bonus-point is also a big obstacle to Ireland's slimming chances to advance. More on that later in the week.

On Sunday AUSTRALIA proved too much for FIJI, running away 55-12 winners, but not as impressively as supporters might have hoped. Berrick Barnes, the rookie revelation who replaced injured Stephen Larkham, did not have the kickass game he did a week earlier, but didn't make any mistakes aside from copping a heavy blow to the head from a wicked open-field shoulder shot from Seru Rabeni. The Wallabies racked up the tries, it wasn't always pretty, but the win was deserved and any nutpicking in victory can wait until another day. Quietly, Australia rate a formidible chance.

In Sunday's late game, NEW ZEALAND travelled to Murrayfield to take on hosts SCOTLAND. The All Blacks prevailed easily, skunking the brave Scots 40-0. It wasn't champagne rugby. It was all one-way traffic, but New Zealand bombed enough try-scoring chances they could have easily doubled their margin. Their butterfingers should be a worry. Winger Doug Howlett scored a pair of tries, passing Christian Cullen and becoming the all-time leading record All Black try-scorer. Quick-hits: Leon MacDonald took a knock early and hobbled off the field. Byron Kelleher played his best game in an All Black jersey for a while. Dan Carter's kicking form is woeful, hitting on only four of his nine chances. Incredibly, Scotland had 62% of possession in the first half, yet never looked likely to score, as the All Blacks patiently soaked up the pressure, allowed the Scots to recycle, and then pushed them back. Zaniest side-story: The Scots wore their navy blue jersies, which meant the All Blacks had to wear their alternate strip. The Scots new kit has large swaths of grey along the jersey trim; the All Blacks alternate jersey is silver (i.e. "grey") with large swaths of black along the trim. The result was confusing colour-clash. Apparently at the break the All Blacks were asked to wear their black jersies, but those uniforms never made the trip.

--That was the weekend wrap.--

Week Three began Tuesday with CANADA facing JAPAN at Bordeaux in the Pool B "Wooden Spoon" match. This was another capacity crowd (major kudos to France who have really shown up for ALL the games hosted in their nation). Recent history between the two sides pointed to a close contest --

2005: Canada 15-10 Japan
2004: Japan 34 - 21 Canada
2001: Japan 39 - 7 Canada

-- and that's exactly what we got. Canada started in slow-motion, and the enterprising Japanese opened matters with (another) terrific try to winger Kosuke Endo, aided & abetted by some weak tackling, running over Ryan Smith and through DTH van der Merwe to score in the corner. Smith had a game I am sure he would like to forget, suffering not only the indignity of the Endo try, but being on the receiving end of multiple heavy blows to his body in the tackle and late hits. Canada trailed 5-0 at the break, but rebounded in the 2nd-half with olde fashioned "pick & go" siege warfare and claimed a pair of well-taken tries by Pat Riordan and DTH Van der Merwe and led late 12-5. Canadian captain Morgan Williams, a terrier around the base of the scrum and always covering defense, once again showed he's playing the best rugby of his career, and looked for the world he was going to carry his team on his back. A brutal clearance kick by Smith at the 80th minute (I can't believe Smith even survived all 80 minutes, let alone understand why Canadian coach Ric Suggitt still had him on the field at that critical juncture) allowed the Japanese to pressure, and Williams ran into the VISA advertising boards behind goal after swatting away a high bouncing ball away from the in-goal area to touch - illegal, and spotted by the TMO - that saw Japan awarded an attacking 5 metre scrum deep past the 80-minute mark. In a thrilling last ditch effort at the Canadian line, they swung the ball wide to the short side where there were no Canadian defenders (!!?!?) where Koji Taira strolled to score a try in the corner four minutes into added-time, and Shotaro Onishi slotted a cool-as-ice conversion from the touchline to round off an extraordinary draw. Final score: Canada 12 vs. Japan 12.

Another sidebar: As per their agreement with Setanta, Rogers Sportsnet carried the Canada vs. Japan match live on their national and regional networks. The game was scheduled during the day, when most Canadians were at work. Setanta re-played the match for their Canadian prime time viewership. Sportsnet, however, chose to do otherwise. I might have understood if they had a Blue Jays vs. Yankees game or a marquee MLB match-up with pennant and playoff implications. Instead, Sportsnet elected to broadcast more Poker - a worthless two-hour tournament.

Tuesday's RWC evening game was another close one with ROMANIA downing plucky PORTUGAL 14-10. The sleepy, dour affair played at Toulouse in front of another capacity crowd, reminded this fan of vintage 1970s rugby, minus the legal tap-dance-on-the-head rucking from that era. It's a curiosity the minnows come to test matches they expect to lose with a devil-may-care throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude, but when confonting other minnows, they play the test matches tightly and try not to give anything away.

Similarly, Wednesday's early match saw Pool D bottomfeeders GEORGIA against NAMIBIA in rainy drizzle at Lens. The ridiculous RWC schedule-makers saw Georgia resting on ten days rest, a full week more than Namibia who played Argentina on Saturday. The fatigue showed. Georgia ran wild and won their first ever RWC match 30-0. Flanker Rati Urushadze hailed his teams' first World Cup victory as the greatest moment in Georgia's rugby history.

And Tuesday's late test saw SAMOA finish out their tournament against USA, in Michael Jones last match as Samoan coach. The Iceman's old teammate and fellow Hall of Famer John Kirwan, now current coach of Japan, was livid about the unfair and punitive RWC schedule for Tier 2 and Tier 3 nations. This game is glaring evidence. Samoa came into this game on only three days rest, after playing England on Saturday; whereas the United States last game was against Tonga, a full thirteen (!!!) days ago. The discrepancy is ridiculous, and it's fair to ponder what effect the schedule had on the respective teams. It was already bad enough that Samoa was missing 12 of 15 regular starters through injury. Samoa opened well enough, with two quality tries taken by wingers Lome Fa'atau and Alesana Tuilagi in the games' first ten minutes, then another before the halftime break to Kane Thompson for a comfortable 22-3 lead. In the second half, the Americans woke up after a yellow card offense at the 52nd minute to No. 8 Tasi Mounga for repeated infringments, killing the ball on Samoa's attack. A minute later American winger Takudzwa Ngwenya outraced his cover to score in the rightfield corner. The conversion from the touchline closed the gap to 22-10. Mounga returned from the sin-bin, only to get stretchered off the field minutes later after a long delay that appeared to see him whacked unconscious from a forearm smashing into his head after he slipped into a tackle. At the 65th minute Yankee flyhalf and skipper Mike Hercus, who has played consistently well throughout the tournament, landed a penalty goal to close the score to 22-13, and the Eagles were looking by far the fresher of the two sides and carrying all the momentum. An exchange of penalties, and a late 79th minute try to American blindside flanker Louis Stanfill saw a nerve-wracking finale and Samoa hold out 25-21 winners and finish their RWC 2007 campaign with a win.

Yet another sidebar:

The Setanta announcers and panelists were -yet again- using the Samoan game to get in their whacks against the All Blacks. The refrains are familiar: Boo-hoo, "if the Samoans were allowed to keep their best players, they'd be world-beaters," whinge-gnash, " the "Samoans are lured by money to play for the All Blacks," etc.

As somebody who grew up decades ago playing club and schoolboy rugby (union and league) in suburbs of south Auckland like Te Atatu, Mangere and Otara, I can tell you from firsthand experience that I played plenty of rugby matches against teams comprised entirely of players who were neither Maori nor Pakeha. They were New Zealand-resident Polynesians and children born in New Zealand of Polynesian parenthood, who resided, were entirely educated, employed and played their first-ever games of rugby in New Zealand. I have written previously about the misinformed "raping & pillaging" strawman arguments and British sports journalists' ignorance about New Zealand society. I don't want to retread old ground covered numerous times, but would like to point non-believers in the direction of Jim Kayes' pointedly direct pre-emptive strike:

Time British scribes got their facts right

By JIM KAYES in Marseilles
12 September 2007

It's always good to get your shots in early. So before the [mostly British] scribes starting writing about how the All Blacks are the Pacific Barbarians and the NZRU pillages the southern seas, here's a few facts.

Five All Blacks were born in Samoa - Jerry Collins, Rodney So'oialo, Chris Masoe, Mils Muliaina and Isaia Toeava - and 12 of the Samoa squad were born in New Zealand.

It might be asked, tongue firmly in the cheek, who is pillaging from whom.

Add in Fijian-born wings Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu, and Tonga's Sione Lauaki, and the All Blacks tally rises to eight. [...]

The attacks on the racial make up of the All Blacks have always conveniently ignored the immigration trends of Pacific Islanders moving to New Zealand and the diverse cultural mix in our major cities.

Critics also gloss over the fact many of the All Blacks born in Fiji, Tonga or Samoa moved with their families to New Zealand when they were young. Muliaina, for instance, was just three.

Such facts won't stop the claims the All Blacks have gained an unfair advantage by poaching players from the islands, especially when such critics begin to fear New Zealand might win the World Cup.

Finally, a quick note to help out 'Viz:


A Qantas Wallaby jersey, signed by 30 members of this year's Australian team, is the latest jersey to be auctioned off by the USRFF. The Wallabies, currently 3-0 in World Cup play, are the only two-time Rugby World Cup champions, and are one of the favorites to hoist the Webb Ellis Trophy at the conclusion of this year's tournament.

Signatures on the jersey are from some of the all-time greats in Australian and world rugby including the world's most capped player, George Gregan; 102 capped Stephen Larkham; Wallabies World Cup skipper Stirling Mortlock; explosive backs Matt Giteau and Lote Tuqiri; and dynamic loose forwards George Smith and Phil Waugh. This mint-conditioned jersey was donated to the Foundation by John O'Neill, CEO and Managing Director of the Australian Rugby Union.

"I, along with the ARU, wish the United States Rugby Football Foundation the best of luck in its fundraising efforts and in spreading the game across the States," said Mr. O'Neill.

Photos, a more detailed description of the jersey and more information about this year's Wallaby team can be found on eBay, item #180161439831. The bidding will conclude at 6:00 p.m. (PDT) on Saturday, September 29.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tana Umaga: Up Close

I know what'll be topping Santa's list this year.

Today is the timely release date of Tana Umaga's biography "Tana Umaga: Up Close," published by Hodder Moa (NZ). The New Zealand Herald gets an exclusive excerpt.

In the first extracts of Tana Umaga's autobiography - Up Close, published today - the former All Black captain recalls one of rugby's greatest controversies.

That tackle, O'Driscoll and me: by Tana Umaga

By Tana Umaga

Some choice tidbits:

The Lions leadership and their high-powered spin doctor Alistair Campbell wouldn't take "no case to answer" for an answer and found a way to take the matter much further. The sustained personal attack they launched against me was hard to believe and even harder to stomach. You don't want to take it personally but it's almost impossible not to when another player, a guy you had some respect for, attacks your character in the most direct and damning terms. My first thought was geez, don't be a sook; there's no use crying about it, man, it's over.


Later, when [Paul] O'Connell went down, I went over to him as he was rolling around the ground and said, "Mate, don't give up now, we're just getting started." He jumped straight up. When Stephen Jones came on for Jonny Wilkinson he took the ball up yelling, "For our captain!" like something out of Braveheart. I said, "Are you serious?" You could see how they were trying to motivate themselves but it became quite laughable.

Read the entire excerpt.

Friday, September 21, 2007

RWC late-mid-week Two notes

A few quick hits on the past few days Rugby World Cup France 2007 mid-week matches, and a preview of today's Big One...

On Tuesday SCOTLAND skunked ROMANIA in an error-strewn match without extending themselves, winning 42-0 on the damp evening in front of a sparse attendance at Murrayfield. Except for the occasional butterfingers, Scotland took care of business and looked prepared. On the other side, Romania were worse than disappointing. In a tournament that has already been remarked as "The Year of the Minnow," Romania put in the lousiest effort so-far at RWC 2007. They showed more naivete than commitment, with forwards repeatedly standing by staring at idle ball on the ground and allowing the Scots to walk over it and claim easy possession. Back to the chalkboard and Rucking 101 for Romania, who will be hard-pressed to beat Portugal if they repeat the same effort.

Wednesday saw more Pool C action with ITALY taking on upstarts PORTUGAL. Less than a year ago it was all one-way traffic with Italy pummelling these same Portuguese 83-0, galloping in thirteen tries to none. The RWC re-match looked like more of the same early, until Italian skipper Marco Bortolami was sin-binned for throwing a phantom punch in the games' 8th minute. The Italians were camped in the Portuguese half for most of the match, but couldn't construct much of the possession into valuable points, whereas Portugal's first foray into the Italian twenty-two, as late as the 32nd minute, resulted with a beautifully worked try to Portuguese lock David Penalva. Italy led 16-5 at the half-time break, did not score for another 23 minutes (landing a penalty), then drawing away with a try to Mauro Bergamasco off the back of a strong maul. Somewhat ridiculously, Italy's desperation to score a 4th try for a table bonus-point, saw them kicking the ball away repeatedly. Made no tactical sense to me, either. Italy needs a wake-up call if they are to have any chance of knocking back Scotland and stealing the coveted Pool C runner-up position. Final score: Italy 31 vs. Portugal 5.

Rugby Planet says, "Italy are now clear second favourites in their race to finish as Pool C runners-up behind the All Blacks."

Clear favourites...? - I don't know what they're talking about.

The Guardian's Michael Aylwin makes more sense:

Canny Scots could sneak to the semis and beyond

Right now, dark horses Scotland look the most likely of the four home unions to make the latter stages of the World Cup.

He's got a solid argument. O-kay, so the "... and beyond" headline may be stretching reality "beyond elastic." But do yourself a favour and be sure to check Aylwin's entire commentary, click here.

Yesterday WALES trounced brave JAPAN by a score of 72-18. The mis-match saw a strong performance by Wales in front of (another) disappointing crowd at Millenium Stadium.

(Digression time.... Last November Wales hosted Canada in a "friendly" tour test match in front of a packed 73,000 spectators. Yesterday we didn't see nearly as big a turn-out at that same stadium for a home Wales test in the deepest pool at an actual meaningful World Cup tournament. What is up with that? I was relieved to see the upper stands at Millenium Stadium - the sorts-of-nosebleed sections that we here in Maple Leafs Nation call the "Greys" - where the real grassroots supporters sit, were all packed. It was down closer to the sidelines, in the corporate sections, where seats were noticeably, and embarrassingly empty. Scotland is getting lousy sales for their home RWC tests; Wales is not living up to their usual high ticket sales on their end; and yet France is packing their stadia even for games involving minnows. Surely it is time to make one exclusive host nation and stop gifting RWC matches to nations outside the host nation. Or price the premium tickets cheaper. Or schedule the fixtures at a smaller park - say, Stradey Park in Llanelli. Or keep 'em in Cardiff, but stop giving away comps and freebies to corporate wankers who won't show, and give them instead to Taffie schoolkids who would scream their lungs out if given half the chance.)

O-kay, so Wales win was emphatic, they are looking good value (even if Kevin Morgan and Shane Williams dropped too many simple balls that would've given their side a century), and are giving their fans cause for optimism. The high point of the match however, were the plucky Japanese scoring what must be shortlisted for "Try of the Tournament." In the 19th minute, ahead by 7-3, Wales were camped near the Japanese line and recycling dangerously. Wales then had a lapse of concentration (and not for the first time), leaving unprotected ball sitting like a blinking neon watermelon at the back of their static ruck. Japanese captain Takuro Miuchi claimed the loose ball and set in motion a counter-attack down the left flank, putting the ball through several sets of hands at pace and angles that brought this neutral spectator out of his seat and screaming. 95 metres later, Japanese wing Kosuke Endo dotted down for a classic score. Take a bow Japan, that was genius. High point aside, Wales cruised, and are looking for a win against Fiji to make the knock-out stage. They should get there.

To-day's match is one of the biggest. The Pool D FRANCE vs. IRELAND showdown was always going to be big before the tournament started, but France's opening-day shock loss to Argentina, and Ireland's funereal wins over lowly Namibia and Georgia, have meant the sting of this outcome is gigantic. If France loses, they can kiss their chances at raising the championship trophy goodbye. If Ireland loses - and even their most optimistic supporters are mournfully conceeding it's more than just a distinct possibility - will have only one remaining last-day chance against Argentina to try to qualify for the knock-out, and then it'll all come down to bonus-points. It's a tall order. In an eye-opening decision, Irish coach Eddie O'Sullivan has hit the panic button and dropped veteran scrumhalf Peter Stringer altogether, not even fancying the stalwart veteran's form good enough for a limited bench. The fact is, for France and Ireland, the playoff stage has arrived early. Both teams need the win desperately, the ramifications of this match are massive. Rugby Planet preview here.

FRANCE: 1. Olivier Milloud, 2. Raphaël Ibañez (captain), 3. Pieter de Villiers, 4. Sébastien Chabal, 5. Jérôme Thion, 6. Serge Betsen, 7. Thierry Dusautoir, 8. Julien Bonnaire, 9. Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 10. Frédéric Michalak, 11. Cédric Heymans, 12. Damien Traille, 13. David Marty, 14. Vincent Clerc, 15. Clément Poitrenaud. RESERVES: 16. Dimitri Szarzewski, 17. Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18. Lionel Nallet, 19. Yannick Nyanga, 20. Lionel Beauxis, 21. Yannick Jauzion, 22. Aurélien Rougerie.

IRELAND: 1. Marcus Horan, 2. Jerry Flannery, 3. John Hayes, 4. Donncha O'Callaghan, 5. Paul O'Connell, 6. Simon Easterby, 7. David Wallace, 8. Denis Leamy, 9. Eoin Reddan, 10. Ronan O'Gara, 11 Andrew Trimble, 12. Gordon D'Arcy, 13. Brian O'Driscoll (captain), 14. Shane Horgan, 15. Girvan Dempsey. RESERVES: 16. Frankie Sheahan, 17. Simon Best, 18. Malcolm O'Kelly, 19. Neil Best, 20. Isaac Boss, 21. Paddy Wallace, 22. Gavin Duffy.

Date: Friday, September 21
Kick-off: 21:00 local, 3:00 PM ET (Toronto, New York).
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Referee: Chris White
Touch judges: Dave Pearson, Hugh Watkins
Television match official: Jonathan Kaplan
Assessor: Michel Lamoulie

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rugby World Cup weekend Two round-up

A heavy second weekend of World Cup rugby saw seven fixtures, featuring five of my "fifteen vital pool stage matches." Setanta's regular TV channel only just broadcast the New Zealand vs. Portugal match for North American viewers last evening - two days after the game - and I wasn't prepared to pay their PPV rates for that contest, so only now do I feel comfortable assessing all the matches from the comfort of my living-room.

The weekend got started early on Friday with the titanic heavyweight encounter between world champions ENGLAND (still not exactly comfortable calling them world champions, but they are defending RWC champs) and SOUTH AFRICA. The Springboks were simply lethal, outclassing the moribund English with a comprehensive 36-0 thrashing. Springbok coach Jake White has had a toughtap-dance dodging slings and arrows the past few years, but his RWC template to take U-21 players and develop them for a RWC appears to be paying handsome dividends. They certainly look to have the physical tools to win the championship; one wonders however, about their mental agility and experience come the knock-out stages. Still, a massive squash of the defending champs will have done their confidence no harm. The Boks are looking very, very ominous, 'tho it's difficult to give an analysis without wondering what the hell is wrong with England. Are the many foreign imports plying their trade in England's domestic professional leagues harming the development and new blood of their national program? It's worth a debate. Right now, I haven't written off France, but by-the-day I can only see one of the three Tri-Nations superpowers lifting the World Cup trophy in a months' time. Oft-injured wunderboy Johnny Wilkinson is suiting up for Samoa and back to save the day for England. Or can he...? If not, England is staring down the barrel of an ignominious early departure from France.

On Saurday morning, NEW ZEALAND fielded something like a B-side against PORTUGAL and as expected hammered them by a century, winning 108-13. It wasn't always easy and not always pretty. The All Blacks started disjointed, and ended the same way with too many reserve-bench bodies taking the field, keeping jersies warm and making the 2nd-half a stop-start affair. When you see All-World prop Carl Hayman slotting in at lock, you realize this is a difficult test to assess, even when cruising in for something like 14 tries (although I lost count). The All Blacks were clinical, hardly ever stretched, and it is probably true that Portugal may have been awarded (read: patronized) with ten gift points by referee Chris White, that in a closer and more important test match wouldn't have been awarded. Alas, the quality of refreeing at this RWC has not been especially good. High point of the game was fan reaction when the TMO awarded Portugal's only try. You would've been mistaken for thinking the Portuguese fans thought they'd just won the World Cup - the FIFA World Cup. The All Blacks still look like the team to beat, but when analyzing coach Graham Henry's rotation policies, and for all the talk of New Zealand's depth, there is obviously still a big falloff going from Richie McCaw to backup Chris Masoe, and the All Blacks can ill-afford to lose any of their stalwarts.

Saturday's mid-afternnon contest saw the battle for Pool B with AUSTRALIA topping the feisty WALES at Cardiff 32-20. I am still not sold on Australia's forward pack, but they looked convincing in victory, and rookie Berrick Barnes, their last-second replacement for veteran Stephen Larkham, looks the goods and might be a Wallaby star for years to come. Barnes was a revelation, and not even unsettled on a nasty late shoulder-barge by Welsh skipper Gareth Thomas after offloading to Matt Giteau for an easy try under the sticks. Thomas should have been carded, should be cited, but certainly no more than Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore's late out-of-bounds cheap shot on impish winger Shane Williams. There was a fair bit of niggle and retaliation going on between both sides. Nevertheless, both came out of the game with the expected result, and much credit to build upon.

Saturday's evening match saw struggling IRELAND tie themselves (and their ashen-faced supporters) into even more knots dowing lowly GEORGIA by a shocking scoreline of only 14-10. Ireland has two wins from two games, but the tough contests begin, and even baffled Irish coach Eddie O'Sullivan has conceeded his team has reached a "crisis" point. The Georgians were brave, and an intercept try by winger Giorgi Shkinin off a long mouth-watering gift pass from Irish scrummie Peter Stringer saw furious skipper Brian O'Driscoll with fists balled and spittle flying at his teammates. On Setanta - the Irish broadcaster - it's all doom & gloom, a "wake without a corpse" said one of the panelists.

Sunday morning saw CANADA at the "last chance saloon" having to beat FIJI at Cardiff to have any chance of advancing to the knock-out stage of the competition. First of all, the crowd in Wales was disappointing, especially after the huge enthusiasm we're seeing displayed at ALL the venues in France. Truth be told, in a game that Canada simply had to win, they played their 1st-half with too many mistakes and not nearly enough commitment (although skipper Morgan Williams, bless 'em, played his heart out again for a second straight week). Fiji had a deserved 15-6 lead at the break, then tagged a couple penalties on-top shortly thereafter, but Canada clawed slowly back into the game and scored a great rucking try at the 60th minute to trail only 22-13 with twenty-to-go. At the 71st minute a huge momentum-shifter: Fullback Mike Pyke bombed an easy overlap try and took it to the line himself and appeared to have scored, only to be ruled a double-movement by the TMO.

Rugby Planet breaks down the movement:

The Canada backline was lined up with the biggest overlap the World Cup has seen. But Pyke went on his own and the rest was TMO history. ... At first, it looked like the Canadian was held up and dotted down after two movements. But referee Tony Spreadbury made the right decision to go upstairs and leave the final call to Joubert, who took a good few minutes to make his verdict. After countless replays, it was clear that Pyke had not been held over or before the line and the try was successfully scored in one movement. The South African TMO [Craig Joubert] thought otherwise though and the jeers from the Canada supporters in an empty Millennium Stadium could have matched that of a capacity crowd.

The IRB Laws and Regulations specify:

Law 15 Tackle: Ball carrier Brought to the Ground

(f) If a tackled player’s momentum carries the player into the in-goal, the player can score a try or make a touch down.

(g) If players are tackled near the goal line, these players may immediately reach out and ground the ball on or over the goal line to score a try or make a touch down.

Canadian coach Ric Suggitt is still convinced Canada was robbed of a try. Rugby Canada should request an official clarification on the IRB Law ruling.

Wrong TMO call aside, Canada was guilty of not using the option of the outside-man too many times, and it killed them. Pyke's decision was simply the most glaring and egregious example. That missed score was crucial, and would've had Canada breathing down Fiji's necks by a couple points. Canada then kicked a penalty at the 73rd minute to bring themselves within a chance at late victory. And into stoppage time rugby fans around the world saw a breathtaking finale, with Canada, down six points, patiently recycling the ball, maul-ruck-maul, and attacking the Fijian line mere inches away. It looked for the world that Canada was going to steal the match on the last play of the game, but a fateful turnover at the ruck saw the ball spill to Fijian fullback Kameli Ratuvou who raced 100 metres to touch down at the other end of the paddock. Truly, a 14-point turnaround try if ever you saw one, and the final score of 29-16 was in no way an accurate indicator of the game. Rugby Planet cited their moment of the match as, "The dying seconds of the game must have had Canadians' hearts in their throats with an upset just inches away." *Sigh* Canada is now out of the knock-out stage, but still has a pair of remaining games to play for Canadian pride (and maybe bruise a couple Wallabies, eh?).

Sunday's middle game say SAMOA face TONGA. Although the Samoans showed some heart going down gamely to the Boks a week earlier, and despite their having thumped Tonga by 47 points in a Pacific Cup contest earlier this summer, it was the Tongans who brought the commitment. They also brought noticeably more size, if less professionalism. Both sides played with a more conservative approach than was expected, but the Tongans, down to thirteen men for the games' concluding minutes, held on for an absorbing 19-15 victory. Standout for the Tongans -again- was big-haired No. 8 Finau Maka. Indeed, if the IRB hands out awards for "Best Hair," then Tonga wins hands-down. England can be thankful, as a Samoan victory could have thrown this pool wide open.

In the last match of the weekend, hosts FRANCE needed to make amends for their shocking loss to the Pumas eight days earlier by annihilating NAMIBIA - which they did. It feels right to say on the display of their 87-10 dismantling that "France is Back!" and Sebastian Chabal's Lomu-esque highlight 50 metre try put the fright into the rest of the championship contenders. But in a game already seen as a mis-match before kickoff, referee Alain Rolland spoiled the affair by handing a red card to Jacques Nieuwenhuis for a high hit on Chabal in the games' first ten minutes. It was certainly a yellow-card offense, but not a red. Namibia having to play the game a man short for 70 minutes made a foregone conclusion nothing more than a training run. And with a full eight days since their last match - the Pumas, by contrast, had only three days rest for their second match - it pretty much was a dry training run. France are definitely the high mark of the Six Nations entrants, but more remains to be seen to be fully convinced.

Lastly, time for another swipe at the greed merchants at the IRB and their RWCL organizing subsiduary:

Whether many in Tonga managed to watch a live broadcast was debatable as only 700 families subscribe to pay television, which has the exclusive right to show the tournament.

The local free station, Television Tonga, has not picked up subsidiary rights to screen the matches live because it cannot afford to pay about US$700 ($980) to broadcast one game.

Instead most Tongan fans have been tuning into their radios to pick up the coverage.

Rugby is Tonga's national sport. The RWC is the biggest event in that national sport. One would imagine that for a Tongan, any match against Samoa is presumably a huge geographical and cultural rival. Perhaps it's true that Television Tonga are cheapskates, being, after all, free-to-air public broadcasters. But when the IRB believes the fatter wallets of 700 cable subscribing homes are more valuable assets to them than all of the other eyeballs in Tonga, there's something terribly wrong.

I thought the RWC was supposed to be about growing the game, hmm? Again, and I repeat: Selling broadcast rights beyond the affordability of the markets to broadcast them is not a positive sign for the promotion and development of the sport. If Tonga brings more benefit to the global "brand," identity and excitement of the Rugby World Cup than the mere value of $700 per game - and they do - then surely it behooves the IRB to reward their participation by giving their market television broadcast rights at prices they can afford, and allow their - let's face it - impoverished supporters and countrymen to see the actual games. The short-sightedness continues to exasperate me.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

RWC: Mid-week fatigue and intrigue

The World Cup organizers have done some unfortunate souls no favours whatsoever scheduling several teams only three days rest before their second Pool stage matches. The fatigue is showing on the field with some comically ragged play from players who should know better, and yet at the same time, ironically, keeping matches tightly competitive and highly entertaining.

On Tuesday, ARGENTINA came off their high of Friday upsetting host nation France and had to lift themselves after a very short recovery to face GEORGIA at Lyon. The match turned out to be an enthralling game of stone-age battering ram rugby. As expected, the Pumas prevailed, but were made to work extremely hard and were only rewarded with a 4th-try bonus-point at the games' last minute. Where the Pumas 1-15 looked oversized a few days ago, against Georgia they appeared creaky, tired and lethargic, particularly during the games' first half, where they crawled to the sheds leading only 6-3. Georgia, playing their first match of the tournament, were inspired, but weary legs and lack of polish let the game slip away from them in the last quarter. FT: Argentina 33 vs. Georgia 3.

Wednesday's first match saw the USA likewise having to pick themselves up from a huge effort against England on Saturday and face TONGA's opening match on three days rest. The Eagles were hurting in more ways than one, having lost centre Paul Emerick to suspension for five weeks after a dangerous tackle on England's Olly Barkley. The match was scrappy and featured many mistakes, but also featured many spectacular moments, including Viliami Vaki's Blanco-esque try (Serge was seated in the stands watching) under the sticks at 70 minutes to put the game away against the run of play. The United States should be kicking themselves for allowing a game they could have won - and indeed, having controlled most of the game, probably should have won - slip away. FT: Tonga 25 vs. USA 15.

Japanese coach John Kirwan was bitching for months about the short stick some teams were dealt by IRB schedule-makers. Kirwan started an entirely different JAPAN XV from the side that was slaughtered by the Wallabies to face FIJI in Fiji's opening match. Sadly for the rugby world, Fijian flier Rupeni Caucaunibuca is ineligible, serving a suspension for an unspecified drug offense, supposedly recreational drugs and rumoured to be Marijuana. Why the IRB and WADA even tests for that non-performance-enhancing substance is a mystery. In any event, Caucau's jersey on the wing was covered by Vilimoni Delasau who is lucky he's not serving a suspension for own dangerous tackles. This game was a firecracker. Half-time Fiji led by a single point, 10-9. The game came right down to the wire, Japan trailing 35-31 and playing a FULL FIVE MINUTES extra-time after the 80-minute conclusion by keeping possession and recycling. The Fijians got their hands on the pigskin twice, and either didn't know the time elapsed on the clock or can't kick straight, because twice they immediately turned ball over to Japan via the kick instead of ending the game by booting it across the touchline. It was breathtaking stuff, and Japan ran themselves off their feet and did everything they could except score the winning try. Amazing stuff! FT: Fiji 35 vs. Japan 31.

In the evenings' final match, a stiff and sore ITALY, who were spanked by the All Blacks on Saturday, had great difficulty getting the measure of ROMANIA, who were playing their opening match and looked clueless about the laws governing the breakdown. Italy looked like they should have been up by many points, but leading only 8-0 at the break, allowed Romania to grab a pair of tries from nowehere, take an inexplicable 12-8 lead, before the humiliated Italians reasserted themselves, gave themselves some daylight, then allowed Romania to claw back some respect. The less said about this error-prone comedic abomination, the better. FT: Italy 24 vs. Romania 18.

The RWC organizers had better rethink their schedule in a big way for 2011. John Kirwan has a dead serious point, where the playing fields are tilted against teams with minimal depth.


Tomorrow's fixture is a HUGE one:


ENGLAND: 1. Andrew Sheridan, 2. Mark Regan, 3. Matt Stevens, 4. Simon Shaw, 5. Ben Kay, 6. Martin Corry (c), 7. Tom Rees, 8. Nick Easter, 9. Shaun Perry, 10. Mike Catt, 11. Paul Sackey, 12. Andy Farrell, 13. Jamie Noon, 14. Josh Lewsey, 15. Jason Robinson. RESERVES: Replacements: 16. George Chuter, 17. Perry Freshwater, 18. Steve Borthwick, 19. Lewis Moody, 20. Andy Gomarsall, 21. Peter Richards, 22. Mathew Tait.

SOUTH AFRICA: 1. Os du Randt, 2. John Smit (c), 3. Brendon Botha, 4. Bakkies Botha, 5. Victor Matfield, 6. Wikus van Heerden, 7. Juan Smith, 8. Danie Rossouw, 9. Fourie du Preez, 10. Butch James, 11. Bryan Habana, 12. Francois Steyn, 13. Jaque Fourie, 14. J.P. Pietersen, 15. Percy Montgomery. RESERVES: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. CJ van der Linde, 18. Johann Muller, 19. Bob Skinstad, 20. Ruan Pienaar, 21. André Pretorius, 22. Wynand Olivier.

Date: Friday, 14 September
Venue: Stade de France, Saint Denis
Kick-off: 21.00 local, 3 PM ET (Toronto, New York)
Referee: Joël Jutge
Touch judges: Kelvin Deaker, Carlo Damasco
Television match official: Simon McDowell
Assessor: Ian Scotney

Rugby Planet preview click here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rugby World Cup weekend round-up

The opening weekend of the World Cup was an overdose for rugby starved fans in Canada. The way it works on Setanta, the Irish broadcast rights holder for RWC in Canada, is to give all of Saturday's live coverage to FIFA Euro Cup or World Cup soccer qualifiers (Malta vs. Faroe Islands, or something like that) and delay Saturday's RWC matches until Sunday following Sunday's live matches. That meant a day-long camp on the couch, beginning at 8 A.M. with Wales vs. Canada, and not clicking off the TV set unil Setanta began their repeat of the same test 15 hours later.

So, after rubbing the sleep outta mine eyes after sixteen out of the twenty participants have played their opening round matches, what do we see?

Three themes prevail:

1. The Southern Hemisphere is kicking arse.

2. The Americas are acquitting themselves respectably.

3. The European nations are bloody awful.

Friday's opener was the best-and-worst start the RWC could have imagined.

Best, because ARGENTINA defied the experts and pulled off a monumental upset to beat FRANCE, the host nation and most punters second-choice to claim the championship. The Puma win has stirred intense excitement and brought a mood of optimism to every underdog in the tournament.

Worst, because France's shock loss means a wave of pessimism drowning the host nation and threatening to bleed the RWC of local enthusiasm and support.

France made a critical mistake starting winger Cédric Heymans at fullback, a position he is not experienced at the highest levels of international rugby, and the tactic backfired. The Pumas tactic was to put Heymens under a barrage of up-and-under bombs. Although at least half were shallow, undercooked high balls that served no more than NBA 50/50 tip-balls, they put so many on top of him, and so many French mistakes made off those balls, that the crowd went quiet, the French collars tightened, and an upset was on the boil.

The game was ignited in the first half by Argentine fullback Ignacio Corleto collecting the ball on the burst mid-field, counter-attacking against flat-footed French defenders. Corleto raced a breathtaking 55 metre chase to score in the corner and bust the game open.

A tremendous Puma defensive goalline stand to keep France out shortly after the halftime break was equally as big a turning point.

If fans thought the Pumas wasted any mental and physical energy crying during the pre-match anthems - and almost to a man Argie players and fans seemed to be bawling - they were wrong. Mind you, the French seemed to be equally drained by all the blood seeping out of their bandaged heads.

The only thing the Pumas will be disappointed about afterwards is missing a pair of penalty shots in the games' last minute, allowing France to escape with a bonus-point in the table standings (by virtue of a loss by 7-or-less) which could play out to be significant to which team advances from Pool D, the toughest of all pool groups.

And truthfully, as thrilling as the result was, and without wanting to take anything away from the Pumas greatest win ever, it has to be said the conclusion of the game was spoiled for the neutral spectator with professionally-cynical Puma players grinding the game to a virtual standstill with rest stoppages and all manner of phony time-wasting injuries. Final Score: Argentina 17 vs. France 12.

The Pumas next opponent is Georgia, on Tuesday. Japanese coach John Kirwan is right to gripe about the pathetic short turn-around the RWC organizers have scheduled for some of the "minnows" and supposedly weaker nations. Les Bleus get several more days rest to rebound against Namibia on Sunday.

On Saturday NEW ZEALAND torched ITALY for five tries in the games' first 20 minutes, and the result was never in doubt, the All Blacks drawing away to an impressive 76-14 win.

AUSTRALIA started slowly against JAPAN before turning on the afterburners and scorching the Cherry Blossoms to run away 91-3 victors.

The day closed with defending RWC champions ENGLAND stumbling and bumbling their way to a 28-10 win over USA, where the Americans closed out the match not tiring, as expected, but actually on the ascendancy.

Sunday started with the game Canadians have circled for months: CANADA vs. WALES. The previous 24 hours must have had the Canucks in mentally good frame of mind. After all, the Pumas defeated the Six Nations champs; Italy, who had won a pair of matches in this years' Six Nations, brought significantly less fight to the All Blacks compared to Canada's strong showing against them at Eden Park in June; and the United States, a team Canada currently owns, fronted well and put defending World champs England on the back foot.

Indeed, Canada were buoyed. Despite missing early drop-goal attempts, and then falling behind 9-0 on three silly penalties, Canada got themselves into the match at the 25 minute mark off patient and ruthlessly effective rucking at the Welsh line, with Jamie Cudmore squirting through the mass of piled bodies to score. A near-intercept by DTH Van Der Merwe almost gave them another try, before Craig Cuplan, the Canadian center, made sure of his intercept off a Welsh attack on Canada's goalline and raced the length of the field to score at the 36th minute. The Canadian backline had been playing suspiciously offside (or close to the line) most of the first-half, but Culpan's intercept was fair, clean and well-deserved.

Canada playing in their red jersies meant Wales played in their alternate strip, in this case, black. But these Welshmen did not play like men in black, and trailed 12-9 at the break. At 45 minutes Canada scored another try, this time to captain Morgan Williams who was on fire all afternoon, through another series of sustained rucks, and led 17-9, having scored 17 straight points, three tries to none, and probably having blown several chances (missed conversions, blown Van Der Merwe intercept) to put even more on the scoreboard.

Then it all came unglued, ten minutes of madness between the 58th and 68th minute where Wales got a bonus point for their first four tries. At least two of those tries came off the back of ridiculous, appalling, chicken-with-the-heads-cut-off defensive tomfoolery. Then it was all over, with Canada and their elusive grasp on a famous victory, flashed before their eyes. To their credit, they finished strongly and never quit. Final score: Wales 42 vs. Canada 17.

SOUTH AFRICA sustained some early strong physical contact from SAMOA as well as conceding the games' first try, before prevailing rather easily 59-7. The Boks are looking quietly ominous. Star-man was Bryan Habana who collected four tries, albeit some of them by pisspoor weak tackling, the Samoan defenders seemingly mesmerised by Habana's twinkle-toes and electrifying speed. The sight of Samoan legend Brian Lima running onto the paddock as a second half replacement and stamp himself as the first player ever to play in five World Cups was dampened only minutes later when he commited what looked like a dangerous illegal tackle and came off second-best, seeing birdies and stars and clearly concussed, departing the field only minutes after taking it.

SCOTLAND then dispatched PORTUGAL 56-10 that was on the one hand an easy win, and on the other not nearly as impressive as the scoreline might suggest. Scottish fullback Rory Lamont was simply too much for the Portuguese to handle, but the newcomers showed plenty of pluck and grit, and came away with a heroic try to winger Pedro Carvalho for their troubles.

In the weekend's last match, a rusty and unimaginative IRELAND defeated world 24th-ranked NAMIBIA 32-17 in a match that Irish Setanta broadcasters and analysts were describing as "shocking," a "nightmare" and "disaster."

The Irish can consider themselves extremely lucky that referee Joel Jutge inexplicably refused to go to the TMO on a controversial try awarded to Irish hooker Jerry Flannery. The score looked dodgy. The Namibians were incensed. Jutge refused to go to the TMO. And television match replays showed Flannery did not properly ground the ball. Sorry Jutge, your RWC has got to be over, there's no way you deserve to officiate any more matches. With fifteen minutes remaining, Namibia trailed Ireland only 27-17 and a truly enormous upset loomed, before the natural order resumed. No mind that Ireland claimed the win and a full five points on the table, their victory was a clueless debacle, and Irish fans have everything to worry about after the earlier results of their pool opponents. If anything, the rusty Irish can count their four-leaf clovers that the RWC draw favours them facing Naimbia and Georgia before heavyweights France and Argentina.

Friday, September 07, 2007


FRANCE: 1. Olivier Milloud, 2. Raphaël Ibañez (captain), 3. Pieter De Villiers, 4. Fabien Pelous, 5. Jérôme Thion, 6. Serge Betsen, 7. Rémy Martin, 8. Imañol Harinordoquy, 9. Pierre Mignoni, 10. David Skréla, 11. Christophe Dominici, 12. Yannick Jauzion, 13. Damien Traille, 14. Aurélien Rougerie, 15. Cédric Heymans. RESERVES: 16. Dimitri Szarzewski, 17. Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18. Sébastian Chabal, 19. Julien Bonnaire, 20. Thierry Dusautoir, 21. Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 22. Frédéric Michalak.

ARGENTINA: 1. Rodrigo Roncero, 2. Mario Ledesma, 3. Martín Scelzo, 4. Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, 5. Patricio Albacete, 6. Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 7. Lucas Ostiglia, 8. Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 9. Agustín Pichot (captain), 10. Juan Martín Hernández, 11. Horacio Agulla, 12. Felipe Contepomi, 13. Manuel Contepomi, 14. Lucas Borges, 15. Ignacio Corleto. RESERVES: 16. Alberto Vernet Basualdo, 17. Santiago Gonzalez Bonorino, 18. Rimas Alvarez, 19. Martín Durand, 20. Nicolás Fernandez Miranda, 21. Federico Todeschini, 22. Hernán Senillosa.

Date: Friday, 7 September 2007
Kick-off: 21.00 local / 02:00 P.M. ET (Toronto, New York)
Venue: Stade de France, Paris.
Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)
Touch judges: Stuart Dickinson (Australia), Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Television match official: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Assessor: Michel Lamoulie (France)

Rugby Planet predicts France to win by "ten points or more," which sounds about right to me.

Of curious note, Argentina have a win-loss record of 4-1 against France in the 21st century. France won the last contest between the two sides, last year at tonights' same venue, but by the slimmest of margins.

2006: France won 27-26 at Stade de France, Paris
2004: Argentina won 24-14 at Stade Vélodrome, Marseilles
2003: Argentina won 33-32 at Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires
2003: Argentina won 10-6 at Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires
2002: Argentina won 28-27 at Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires

RWC: Rugby Planet pool previews

Rugby Planet has their World Cup previews up, grouped by pool, and with each teams' complete squads listed.





Friendly reminder: if your appetite for World Cup news is insatiable, be sure to check all the links in the box at the upper-right corner of the blog (scroll up). Those are sources that track rugby around the calendar, not simply bylines you see once every four years.

RWC: Canadian line-up for Wales named

Canadian coach Ric Suggit has named his starting line-up for Sunday's crucial opening pool match against Wales:

1. Rod Snow
2. Pat Riordan
3. Jon Thiel
4. Luke Tait
5. Mike James
6. Jamie Cudmore
7. David Biddle
8. Sean-Michael Stephen
9. Morgan Williams
10. Ander Monro
11. James Pritchard
12. David Spicer
13. Craig Culpan
14. DTH Van der Merwe
15. Mike Pyke


16. Aaaron Carpenter
17. Dan Pletch
18. Mike Pletch
19. Mike Burak
20. Colin Yukes
21. Ed Fairhurst
22. Ryan Smith

The starters line-up include three forwards and five backs who faced the All Blacks in June.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Rugby World Cup 2007: Fifteen vital pool-stage matches

T'was the night before Rugby World Cup!

In case you've been asleep, the IRB Rugby World Cup tournament kicks off tomorrow (Friday, September 4) with host nation France facing Argentina, straight away a vital Pool D stage match that will have major implications toward the knock-out stage in a month's time.

First off, here are the Pool groupings:

RWC 2007 Pools

South Africa


New Zealand


Second of all, the complete fixture list, with my highlighted 15 vital test matches of the first months' pool stage (be sure to circle!) and short previews (below):

Full Rugby World Cup 2007 Schedule

ALL TIMES EASTERN DAYLIGHT TIME (North America: New York, Toronto)

Friday 7 September:
France vs. Argentina, Stade de France, St Denis, Pool D - 3:00 pm ET (1)

Saturday 8 September
New Zealand v Italy, Marseille, Pool C -- 7:45 am ET
Australia v Japan, Lyon, Pool B -- 9:45 am ET
England v USA, Lens, Pool A -- NOON ET

Sunday 9 September:
Wales vs. Canada, Nantes, Pool B -- 8:00 am ET (2)
South Africa v Samoa, Parc des Princes, Paris, Pool A -- 10:00 am ET
Scotland v Portugal, St Etienne, Pool C -- Noon ET
Ireland v Namibia, Bordeaux, Pool D -- 2:00 pm ET

Tuesday 11 September:
Argentina v Georgia, Lyon, Pool D -- 2:00 pm ET

Wednesday 12 September:
USA v Tonga, Montpellier, Pool A -- 8:00 am ET
Japan v Fiji, Toulouse, Pool B -- Noon ET
Italy v Romania, Marseille, Pool C -- 2:00 pm ET

Friday 14 September:
England vs. South Africa, Stade de France, Pool A -- 3:00 pm ET (3)

Saturday 15 September:
New Zealand v Portugal, Lyon, Pool C -- 7:00 am ET (4)
Wales vs. Australia
, Cardiff, Pool B -- 9:00 am ET (5)
Ireland v Georgia, Bordeaux, Pool D -- 3:00 pm ET

Sunday 16 September:
Fiji vs. Canada, Cardiff, Pool B -- 8:00 am ET (6)
Samoa vs. Tonga
, Montpellier, Pool A -- 10:00 am ET (7)
France v Namibia, Toulouse, Pool D -- 3:00 pm ET

Tuesday 18 September:
Scotland v Romania, Edinburgh, Pool C -- 3:00 pm ET

Wednesday 19 September:
Italy v Portugal, Parc des Princes, Pool C -- 2:00 pm ET

Thursday 20 September:
Wales v Japan, Cardiff, Pool B -- 3:00 pm ET

Friday 21 September:
France vs. Ireland, Stade de France, Pool D -- 3:00 pm ET (8)

Saturday 22 September:
South Africa v Tonga, Lens, Pool A --8:00 am ET
England vs. Samoa, Nantes, Pool A -- 10:00 am ET (9)
Argentina v Namibia, Marseille, Pool D -- 3:00 pm ET

Sunday 23 September:
Australia v Fiji, Montpellier, Pool B -- 8:30 am ET
Scotland vs. New Zealand, Edinburgh, Pool C -- 11:00 am ET (10)

Tuesday 25 September:
Canada vs. Japan, Bordeaux, Pool B -- NOON ET (11)
Romania v Portugal, Toulouse, Pool C -- 2:00 pm ET

Wednesday 26 September:
Georgia v Namibia, Lens, Pool D -- Noon ET
Samoa v USA, St Etienne, Pool A -- 2:00 pm ET

Friday 28 September:
England v Tonga, Parc des Princes, Pool A -- 3:00 pm ET

Saturday 29 September:
New Zealand v Romania, Toulouse, Pool C -- 7:00 am ET
Australia vs. Canada, Bordeaux, Pool B -- 9:00 am ET (12)
Wales vs. Fiji
, Nantes, Pool B -- 11:00 am ET (13)
Scotland vs. Italy
, St Etienne, Pool C -- 3:00 pm ET (14)

Sunday 30 September:
France v Georgia, Marseille, Pool D -- 9:00 am ET
Ireland vs. Argentina, Parc des Princes, Pool D -- 11:00 am ET (15)
South Africa v USA, Montpellier, Pool A -- 2:00 pm ET

6 October:
QF1: W Pool B v RU Pool A, Marseille -- 9:00 am ET
QF2: W Pool C v RU Pool D, Cardiff -- 3:00 pm ET

7 October:
QF3: W Pool A v RU Pool B, Marseille -- 9:00 am ET
QF4: W Pool D v RU Pool C, Stade de France -- 3:00 pm ET

13 October:
SF1: W QF1 v W QF2, Stade de France -- 3:00 pm ET

14 October:
SF2: W QF3 v W QF4, Stade de France -- 3:00 pm ET

19 October:
3rd place play-off, Parc des Princes -- 3:00 pm ET

20 October:
Final, Stade de France
-- 3:00 pm ET

Click here to view the full Rugby World Cup 2007 playing schedule.

Fifteen vital pool-stage matches

1. Three great teams in Pool D, but only two can advance to the knock-out stage. The matches between France, Ireland and Argentina will all be huge. France should prevail at home. The defending Six Nations champs are looking nicely settled, having dispatched England (home-and-away) and Wales in the run-up to the RWC, whereas Argentina has run into some bothersome last-minute injuries and replacements that may have unsettled the Pumas. Still, a "can't-miss" opening blinder!

2. If Canada has any realistic chance of advancing to the 2nd round, they have to beat Wales (or keep the score close and rely on mathematical finger-crossing and the fortunes of Japan and Fiji in Pool B) on Sunday. Wales may be looking past the Canucks at Australia next week, but they know they have to win, they are playing at home and should win. Nevertheless, Canada will have circled this date and targeted this match as their biggest and most vital of the tournament. It's their first-up encounter, there should be huge commitment across the XV on the field, and if the Canadian back three get some swift ball on the counter-attack they may surprise some people. I expect Wales to be too strong when the legs get weary after 60 mins and their deeper bench emptied, and see them stretching a respectable 7-10 point lead comfortably to 20+ points. I'll be cheering hard for the Canadian boys, and see Wales carrying bruises into the Wallaby test next week worse for wear.

3. England vs. Springboks is a straight-up heavyweight brute force contest decider for the winner of Pool A. Winner gets to face (presumably) Wales in the Quarter-Final. Loser faces the much stiffer Wallabies in other QF. Both teams will be bringing their A-Teams.

4. Bookies first choice New Zealand is in a pathetically weak Pool C, and should sleepwalk to four easy wins. Their Pool match against Portugal could be the ugliest match in RWC history and may decide whether RWC 2011 falls back to 16 teams. The odds of an upset here are astronomical, and one questions the benefit, if not the sanity, of such a fixture. The Portuguese coach has already conceeded the loss and said he'll be pencilling in the names of his second-stringers (!!) to face the All Blacks, rationalizing his team will be better prepared to compete against Romania. All Blacks hardman Jerry Collins is on record saying he won't be taking any mercy on the minnows, for fear he'll lose his test spot to Reuben Thorne. He needn't worry. The Portugese will be. Let's pray nobody gets hurt.

5. Australia should top a competitive group. And if form and pedigree is anything to go by, then Wales should be runner-up. This match then, a probable Pool B championship decider - whether or not Wales sends out their best side.

6. See note 2. Canada simply has to beat Fiji to stand any chance in Pool B. This should be a highly competitive and entertaining match, with consequences unforeseen.

7. Samoa vs. Tonga. Polynesian Derby in Pool A. Get out the popcorn.

8. The Pumas will have a lot to say staking claim to the Pool D standings (see note 1), but the France vs. Ireland encounter is massive and may decide the group winner. A thriller in the making.

9. England were pushed hard in RWC 2003's pool stage by Samoa, with Johnny Wilkinson's championship side actually trailing the Samoans going into the last quarter of their match before coming back to win 35-22. Both teams are joined at the hip again in Pool A. Is an upset on the cards...? Not likely. But this England side isn't nearly as good as the 2003 champion vintage.

10. So weak is Pool C that it is presumed New Zealand's second-stringers can beat the best o' the rest of their group opponents without raising too much of a sweat. Their match against Italy might be entertaining, but the result will never be in doubt. Scotland will presumably be the Pool runner-up, so this match is highlighted as the tournament fave's stiffest test.

11. Pool B: Canada vs. Japan. At this date, it could be pointless . . . or it could mean everything. Either way, this is a match Canada will think it can win, will want to win, and probably will win. See notes 2 & 6.

12. Pool B: Canada vs. Australia. The Wallabies should win comfortably, and Canada will probably concede this match. Still, every game is vital for Canada, we rarely see them play the Wallabies, so, see notes 2, 6 & 7, and circle it.

13. Wales vs Fiji in Pool B is a game Wales should win, but could lose, and that possibility would have enormous consequences for Canada. A scenario such as Wales beats Canada; Canada beats Fiji; and Fiji beats Wales, is not beyond the realm of - there's that word again - possibility. Should Canada lose their first-up match against Wales, this is the (slim) mathematical lottery they'll be hoping for.

14. Scotland vs Italy is the pivotal contest of Pool C, with both sides' First XVs playing to advance behind the All Blacks. This is a must-win game for both nations. The loser goes home.

15. The playoffs get started early with a classic last day of the preliminary Pool stage round ending with Ireland vs. Argentina and everything to play for. Both teams already have a nasty rivalry. If the hot host side France takes Pool D as expected, then this match looms as the runner-up decider, and indeed, could serve as a defacto knock-out test. Runner-up likely (read: almost certainly) faces the All Blacks in the QF.

In North America, SETANTA TV will be broadcasting some matches live, others on tape. They also offer a Broadband ($14.99) and Premium TV services ($199) with all games broadcast live. Check your local cable provider, and visit Setanta North America click here.

France vs. Argentina just a little over 24 hours away . . .

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

RWC: Mail your support to Team Canada!

Rugby Canada wants fans to link up with the Canadian boys at the World Cup in France, so they have created a venue where messages can be posted and read by the team, with the kind thoughts and words printed and posted in the various team rooms at the hotels where Canada is staying.

Send your words, photos or other forms of support and we will post it onto this page where everyone will see the overwhelming feeling people have for their
national team.

The email address is

Also if you are at the World Cup we would like to see your pictures - and how you are showing your Canadian -ness. Send your pics (no high res pics please) at the above address as well. If you are in Canada watching the boys play also send us the photos from your local watering hole, or maybe it is in your living room with a few of the lads.

Alternatively - you can use our message board to communicate with other fans of the Canadian team.

Source link.

RWC media kerfuffle

(Updated below.)

The Sunday Times reports the threat of a media walkout from the World Cup:

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The row with the IRB over arrangements for coverage of the Rugby World Cup escalated yesterday as French news agency AFP threatened to pull out of reporting on the tournament. The dispute, involving news media organisations across the world that are determined to safeguard press freedoms and to protect their material, concerns the rules imposed by the IRB on journalist activities and use of content.

The lead has been taken by Agence France-Presse and other major international agencies are reviewing their positions in a row that covers all branches of written and graphic reporting including websites. AFP is one of more than 40 media bodies – including Reuters and Associated Press as well as publishers and journalists — who have formed a coalition to resist commercial encroachment by sports federations into the media’s right to free expression.

The IRB has attempted to tell editors how pictures can be displayed in newspapers, have sought an entitlement to use news organisation pictures and to impose quotas on how many pictures can be used on newspaper websites during tournament games. Matters came to a head this week when, despite some progress in negotiations, the IRB decided to impose new rules.

The IRB had conceded ground on issues restricting the use of photographs in newspapers but one of the key outstanding issues centres on the use of match photographs on websites.

At an August 21 meeting in the Irish capital the coalition of the world’s leading agencies and newspapers requested the right to send their clients a maximum of one photo per second during each match on the understanding that this could not threaten the commercially-sensitive area of broadcast rights.

In a letter addressed to all members of the media coalition on Wednesday, to formalise the agreement reached in Dublin, the IRB announced that only a maximum of 50 (20 for each half and five for each extra time period) photos would be allowed to be sent to rugby World Cup clients.

Also contrary to the agreements of August 21, the IRB has maintained that each photographer’s accreditation for the event will be distributed only on the condition that he/she waives all photo credit rights to the benefit of the IRB.

Read the whole story.

(Wonder if the IRB will be going after live-match bloggers...?)

UPDATE: The IRB strikes back!


Canada's new rugby song

They got a winner. Not a bad ditty if Irish sea shanties are your thing - you can listen to it here - but crossing my fingers it doesn't become an official anthem.

Via Rugby Canada:

Guinness, the official beer and major sponsor of Rugby Canada, received over 100 submissions in its nation-wide 'We Need a Song' contest, from Vancouver, Regina, London and St. John's and many spots in between.

The winning song, from Clint Harris of Murray Harbour, PEI, proclaims: "When we don our nations colours / In the quest for rugby's crown / We'll be brothers all."


"Our thanks go out to everyone who submitted a song. It's excellent that we actually have an official song now, to take with us to the World Cup. We've got a song we can sing and know that the fans are behind us," said Canada Rugby World cup squad member Derek Daypuck.

Click here to read the complete press release.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

RWC: How to beat the All Blacks

Long Spiro piece here, some excerpts, and a half-arsed excuse to post the Derby Council pics again.

Via Sydney Morning Herald's Rugby Heaven:

How to beat the All Blacks

by Spiro Zavos
Sydney Morning Herald
September 2, 2007

THE GOSPEL about the Rugby World Cup, according to Phil Kearns, a World Cup winner as a Wallaby and now an ebullient rugby commentator, is this: "If they play the World Cup for 1000 years, the All Blacks will always be favourites to win it."

Not win it, which has only happened once, but favourites to win it.

Perhaps 3007 is too far away for us to make predictions. For this year, though, Kearns is right. The All Blacks are favourites, according to the bookmakers. And it's a justifiable favouritism. In the four years since their 22-10 defeat in Sydney by the Wallabies in the semi-final of the 2003 World Cup, the All Blacks have played 43 Tests for 38 wins. This is one of the great winning streaks in world rugby. [...]

Kearns's comment about the perennial favouritism of the All Blacks to win the World Cup has, if I'm not mistaken, a hint of irony in it. For New Zealanders, Kearns suggests, the All Blacks will always be favourites to win the World Cup, even when they don't deserve to be.

And here we get to the heart of the strength and weakness of New Zealand rugby. The New Zealand rugby public always insists on a successful All Blacks side. Players and coaches know they have to succeed to survive. But the other side of the coin is that this success (a 74 per cent winning record in Tests since 1903, far and away the best in world rugby) comes at a cost. There is often an unrealistic pressure placed by the New Zealand public on the All Blacks to succeed.

This pressure in world cups since 1987 has fractured the All Blacks, rather than uplifted them. This is the origin of the "choking" allegation, that the All Blacks choke at world cups because the public expectations for the side are too high. [...]

Source link.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Canterbury reclaim Ranfurly Shield

This makes last week's thrashing taste ever-so slightly less sour. Early this morning, via NZH:

Canterbury blasted Waikato off their own ground in the first half tonight to cut their Ranfurly Shield reign to one of the shortest in its history.

In the process they also took maximum Air NZ Cup rugby points to maintain their lead in the competition alongside Auckland.

Canterbury rocketed off the blocks at Rugby Park and maintained a staggering momentum for the entire first half in which they scored all their points, including five tries.

They wrapped up the bonus point on offer by the end of the first quarter and led 33-13 at halftime. [...]

A week earlier Waikato had shown a similar game to Canterbury's when they took the shield off North Harbour.

Canterbury 33 (Tim Bateman, Corey Flynn, Rico Gear, Scott Hamilton, Hamish Gard tries; Stephen Brett 4 con).

Waikato 20 (Roimate Hansell-Pune, Stephen Donald tries; Stephen Donald 2 pen, 2 con).

Halftime 33-13.

It was almost a year ago that North Harbour upset Canterbury to win their first-ever Ranfurly Shield.