David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: An upset would be a win for the game

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Mihai Macovei of Romania celebrates during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match between Scotland and Romania at Rugby Park Stadium. Photo / Getty Images
Mihai Macovei of Romania celebrates during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match between Scotland and Romania at Rugby Park Stadium. Photo / Getty Images

Still the wait goes on for the first genuine boilover: the result which makes the rugby world sit up and take notice.

Plenty of rousing contests between the lesser nations (and let's drop the M word, with all its patronising connotations) and the heavy mob, lots of vigour, endeavour and no little skill either.

Will we get it in the next fortnight? Keep your fingers crossed but don't put a tenner on it, might be the best policy.

This is a shame because consider what it would mean in terms of self-belief; a feeling that they are on the right track, that most things are actually possible for countries like Romania, Georgia, Japan and the Pacific nations.

The question now is how resilient those unfancied teams are in the next two weeks of pool play; how much is left in the tank?

Can Romania, for example, go a step further than they did against the Scots in Invercargill against Argentina this afternoon, or England next weekend?

But for the second-tier nations, a glance at the turnaround times between games gives one reason why the odds are stacked against them.

Namibia conceded 49 points against Fiji last Saturday, then had to turn around and tackle another Pacific nation of large, bruising opponents, Samoa, four days later. Result? Shipping another 49 points.

Or Canada, thrilled at their win over Tonga last Wednesday. A four-day break, then its France tomorrow night.

Georgia? Three days off between Scotland and England.

Indeed in this respect Romania have done all right. They've had a week to get ready for Argentina and have another week to prepare for England.

Contrast this with the All Blacks, who have a week off between assignments. Ditto Australia and France. South Africa have a nice spacing between their pool D games too and as for the Scots, for heaven's sake, they have time to tour the country in their 11-day break between stumbling past Georgia and playing Argentina in a key pool B game next weekend.

What's fair about all this? Not a lot. We get plenty of noise about the quality modern conditioning of the top nations so why not put it to the test?

It does not follow that if the lower-ranked teams had the same scheduling breaks it would mean a vast shift in the results but at least they could feel the playing field is more level.

What cannot be allowed to happen is for these teams to flounder for the next four years, risking a falling away in standards. The competitiveness of most games has been one of the best features of the cup thus far.

Now the second-tier countries need games against the leaders in between every quadrennial get-together.

Shamefully the All Blacks have played a total of 14 games - outside World Cups - since 1980 against Samoa, Fiji and Tonga combined.

Would Japan relish more activity against Australia? Too right.

How much benefit would, say, Georgia or Romania get from even two internationals against the British and Irish unions in their autumn window? Russia against England A? No space available, they say? Find it.

Hopefully, we've seen the last of the avert-the-eyes horror scorelines.

"For the game to truly go global we need 20 teams to be competing to win the World Cup, as you have in soccer," Scotland coach Andy Robinson said this week. "There should not be any easy games."

Of course Wallaby, All Black or Springbok tours north at the end of each year are money-spinners and no argument on the importance of that.

But doing nothing other than offer a cheery "see you in four years lads" is not the way forward.

That's why an unheralded team getting close to one of them is one thing; but victory would be quite another, more substantial and hugely welcome leap forward.

- NZ Herald

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