The waiting is over and finally the real stuff is here
IT is a bit like waiting for a bus or a policeman. You twiddle your thumbs and consider the true meaning of life – then lots arrive at the same time. Rugby has been like that. We have acres of coverage on who is going to do what but there has been no action and September is nearly done. Then the equivalent of a fleet of Routemasters and a Handcuff House full of the boys in blue turn up together – and we have the start of Rugby World Cup plus the resumption of hostilities in the Premiership with their cup competition to give us all something to cheer/moan at. London Irish are welcome visitors to Kingsholm on a weekend when the (truly) World Cup gets going.
The tournament in Japan will probably be better than ever and the television coverage will surpass previous efforts. The technology keeps developing and the coverage will be every bit as good as domestic matches.
We all have our favourites and hours will have been spent on discussions (arguments?) on who is likely to do what.
The remarkable thing ihas been how New Zealand are out of many pundits’ reckoning. Disregard them at your peril, but when you look at the groups it is easy to see how they have taken a bit of a back seat.
The opening match will ease Japan nicely past Russia, but there are fireworks to follow soon afterwards.
Japanese supporters will turn their opener into a memorable occasion, but that will pale into insignificance when New Zealand and South Africa lock horns on Saturday.
This has the potential to be one of the great games in RWC history, but the truth is that a loss does not mean the end of the world – it might even afford the losers an easier route in the tournament.
However, it would require a supremely confident coach to try to manipulate a loss to open up a slightly easier route to the final.
That will not happen and we can reasonably expect a cracker between these two outstanding teams.
The Kiwis have not been at their excellent best all of the time, but they are capable of reaching corners other teams can’t reach.
France and Argentina are capable of anything other than a degree of certainty.
The Pumas threw the baby out with the bathwater when they went for an all-singing, all-dancing style. In this game you can only sing and dance when there is forward control, but the once feared front rows are consigned to the history books.
France too used to have props to die for, but their top teams seem to think that an expensive foreign import is better than a homeproduced block of granite.
Their domestic scene is awash with expensive imports and they have a system where French players are not coming through in the numbers they once did.
There is that quality of Gallic flair that often emerges against all the odds and this may be their time, when they are together for long periods and can get their act together.
On the very same Saturday Australia and Fiji will battle it out.
Australia have spluttered recently yet they are capable of inventiveness beyond the scope of mere mortals.
They will need it and more to overcome Fiji, who will be underprepared in international terms but will be a box of tricks.
One of the wonderful aspects of this tournament is the teams capable of throwing a very large spanner in the works of fancied opponents, Samoa will leave injured opponents in their tackling wake; Tonga will probably not last 80 minutes ibut the opponents will be battered and very bruised; and Fiji could be the team to stop others from flourishing.
Our domestic scene is full of big hits – well, we ain’t seen anything yet!
And that leads neatly into the most important aspect of the game.
Referees were once the sole judge of law, but there is an ever-growing conveyor belt of officialdom with back-up technology to get the ‘right’ decisions.
We can but hope that the referees do what they are there for – to make quick decisions on what is happening in front of them.
If that happens, this could be a blockbuster of a Rugby World Cup and get a couple of quid on Gloucester to beat London Irish.