James Griffin 's Opinion

James Griffin is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

James Griffin: Go hyperbolic for the minnows

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James Griffin. Photo / Dean Purcell
James Griffin. Photo / Dean Purcell

So here it is. Just when everyone is over it, it is time for it to begin. It seems like it has been going on forever but in reality it is just about to start. The time for hype is over, the time for more hype with the occasional bout of rugby union football in-between the torrents of hyperbole is upon us. Yes, just in case you've missed it, the 2011 Rugby World Cup is about to kick off.

It feels like billions of words have already been written about this tournament, without there actually being a tournament yet. Television pundits and commentators, without a ball having been kicked, are already having to reach for a whole new level of cliche to describe their sense of excitement and expectation as the hours tick down to the Greatest Ever Sporting Event in New Zealand.

So there is undoubtedly no need for me to join the clamouring masses, to commit even more words to paper on the subject. Except that as a New Zealander who has never played rugby in his life but is a New Zealander and, therefore, instinctively knows everything about rugby, I feel it is my national duty to do so.

But I don't want to write about the All Blacks, nor Australia, South Africa nor any of the teams everyone else is writing about, as the scribes/prophets-of-doom attempt to pick a winner from the hordes who are gathering to take the Cup away from the One True Rugby Nation (i.e. us).

No, instead I want to ponder for a moment upon the minnows, those teams who travel all the way here with no hope of winning the whole damn thing; who will more than likely get hammered by the big fellas but without whom the tournament would fail to be a truly World Cup. Which of these minnows is likely to be the surprise package? And which one will become the darling team of the tournament, the one we can root for (now that Telecom have said it's okay for us to root again), safe in the knowledge they will never beat the All Blacks?

Usually New Zealand's default most-beloved minnow is Samoa. But I would argue that this time they are anything but minnows. If you don't believe me, ask Wales, who have been knocked over by Samoa a couple of times at RWCs and who really cannot be looking forward to playing them in Hamilton on September 18 - and not just because it's Hamilton.

The opposite of the elevation of Samoa to major player status, could very well be the demotion of someone like Ireland to minnow status, simply because they've been playing so crap lately. But while it would be fun to have Ireland as our feelgood team for RWC 2011 it would be insulting to the fighting Irish and lead to too many hangovers.

Namibia are probably the most minnow-like of all the minnows, in that they have never won a RWC match in 11 attempts and hold the record for the biggest losing margin (0-142 against Australia in 2003). But the problem with clutching Namibia to our collective bosom is that they're a bit like South Africa, only not very good. And cuddling up to anything South African is not something that sits well with the touchy Kiwi rugby psyche.

Georgia look very promising contenders for the Most Loved Small Fry Award. In fact, in terms of the best minnow versus minnow game, it'd be hard to go past Georgia v Romania, in Palmerston North on September 28. To see Arena Manawatu full of people on that Wednesday night, all of them with Georgia-team-coloured buckets on their heads, singing the Ray Charles song of the same name during the boring bits, would certainly be a sight to see.

But I suspect the team that will steal our hearts in 2011 could very well be Japan - and not only because they have John Kirwan coaching them. There's something about the way the Japanese have played rugby in the past that I think we can easily embrace - and not just because they are no threat to us. They run around like mad things, passing the ball here and there while trying to avoid getting mashed into the turf by opponents seemingly twice their size. Even better they wear their cherry red uniforms with such pride, while also making them stand out as targets. Watch out Tonga, watch out Canada, the Land of the Rising Sun is in the house.

So if you're over the hype, if you're sick of the corporate seriousness of it all, pick a minnow and send them your love by cheering them on. It's a good way to remind yourself that people play sport because they enjoy it.

It's also a good way of taking your mind off whether we're going to choke or not.

- NZ Herald

James Griffin

James Griffin is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

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