10 things we've learnt from Rugby World Cup

Ten days into the Rugby World Cup, Hugh Godwin notes the biggest lessons
Photo / Brett Phibbs
Photo / Brett Phibbs

Black jokes are funny

New Zealanders do have a sense of humour about their long wait to regain the Webb Ellis Cup. The radio broadcaster Miles Davis has re-written the 1970s Smokie hit Living Next Door to Alice and has re-recorded the song that rather handily features the same agonising period of time, as in: "Because for 24 years we've been trying to get our hands on Webb Ellis / Ellis, where the f*** is Webb Ellis?"

North v south must go west

The former All Black wing Marc Ellis - known to most as the answer to a quiz question, by dint of his World Cup record six tries against Japan in 1995 - appeared on TV to quote 1.8 tries per match scored by northern hemisphere teams in their first games, compared to 4.2 each by southern hemisphere sides. Rugby remains obsessed with this north-south divide, to no useful advantage. It is about time the equator was erased from the analysis.

Television calls the tune

While viewers at home settle into the sofa watching advertisements for beer in television's 90-second break between the anthems and the kick-off, the players are having to pace themselves. Breaking away from the line-ups after singing their anthem, they have been caught adopting their starting positions only to have to wait, statue-like, for a minute before the referee gets the nod from TV bosses.

Balls worries are ... balls

Thanks to Jonny Wilkinson's first-night woes we found out more about the World Cup ball than we ever planned. Rubber-compound panels here; co-polymer bladder there. But the Scotland No 10 Dan Parks booted the subject dead, despite missing three penalties against Georgia in the rain of Invercargill on Wednesday. "The balls certainly aren't to blame," Parks said. "I missed two from long range because I hit them too hard. The next two were sweet."

Feeding frenzy is unchecked

Before the tournament the referees' manager, Paddy O'Brien, re-affirmed the "five key areas" of officiating, including players arriving through "the gate" at the breakdown, which caused problems to England among many others. But the crooked feed is a different matter; it appears a matter of whim as to when a chuck into the second row is whistled up.

Safety still comes first

Staying with the breakdown but giving the referees a break, the contrasting halves of Australia v Italy last Sunday told a story. When the Wallabies were busy diving over rucks, sealing the ball off and generally killing Italian ball, there was little that was free-flowing. When both sides became committed to rucking and counter-rucking at the expense of losing their safety-first structure, the match opened up. Players who are prepared to play without fear take the onus off the referee. Don't hold your breath for much of it later in the competition.

Complaining is a global pursuit

An Englishman travels 19,000km from the Olympic city of London to New Zealand and guess what? They are all moaning about dodgy transport and the cost of the stadiums. Aucklanders stuck on trains on opening night have been given a hotline to ring to claim compensation, and Dunedin residents will bend your ear on the lack of consultation over the building of the $190 million indoor stadium that has put a few quid a week on everyone's rates.

The eye in the sky is not infallible

James Hook's missed penalty against South Africa - and that is what it was, according to the blokes with the best view under the posts, the assistant referees - highlighted the fallacy that television pictures can always prove marginal decisions one way or the other. One view from a TV camera that may be placed up to 50 metres away cannot possibly be definitive.

Minnows are still minnows

Pundits had rushed to proclaim this World Cup as the one in which the smaller nations closed the gap. But none of the bottom 10 teams have defeated any of the top 10 to date, and since Friday we have had Japan, Romania and Fiji thrashed by New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa. Much has been made of some sides' quick turnaround between matches, as with Georgia playing Scotland last Wednesday and England yesterday. "I don't disagree with a lot of the comment," said Martin Johnson, "but the Georgians will have no sympathy for us and we'll have none for them."

Style could be hosts' undoing

The suspicion that the All Blacks took one look at Japan's mostly second-string line-up and pulled Richie McCaw out of the firing line is unconfirmed. Graham Henry's squad rotation is under intense criticism - many would like to see the best XV or most of them running out every week - but another prevailing conviction among locals and visitors alike is that the All Blacks' style of play, as much as any injuries that might befall McCaw or Dan Carter, could be their undoing. It is a kind of union-league hybrid - always going wide, with no great set-piece structure - and it could be vulnerable against the forward-dominated sides, even if New Zealand's skill and organisation in the backline has no equal.

- Independent

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