Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Intriguing Rugby World Cup contests

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Cartoon / Rod Emmerson
Cartoon / Rod Emmerson

France v the All Blacks
Nervous, nervous, nervous. Forget the Webb Ellis - this is our Rugby World Cup. Just kidding, but Saturday night's game has an aura beyond all others. There is an assumption that all those dastardly past injustices will be put right.

What have those two famous World Cup defeats taught us? Well, for one thing, we're world champs at drumming up excuses. In 1999, the French were dirty. In 2007, the referee was dirty. And yet on both occasions, France were magnificent. They produced the single most fantastic stanza of an all-out, comprehensive attack in World Cup history to blitz the All Blacks at Twickenham, and their defence was equally magnificent in Cardiff. South Africa remain our most feared foe in a rivalry the Bledisloe Cup can sometimes match. Yet World Cup clashes with France have developed a special place of their own. All hell will break loose if France wins again.

All Blacks v Wayne Barnes
Or will they be kept apart?

Ireland v the tryline
And the tryline won.

The new-look Springboks v their stereotype
And the Springboks won.

Victor Matfield v Father Time
Father Time is winning - but don't count out lineout ace Matfield come selection time.
Brad Thorn v Father Time
Father Time wins again - he's not the Thorn of old around the field.

The Romanian scrum v the Argentine scrum
Hard to believe, but the Romanians pummelled the mighty Argentine scrum a couple of times.

The Springboks v Fiji
The best team performance so far.

The TV commentators v unfamiliar names and the bleeding obvious
The identification of players and pronunciations by Tony Johnson and Co has been impressive. (Not that I can actually vouch for the correct versions of the Georgian players' names, but the commentators have sounded excellent). You might say "well, that's their job". But learning about so many unfamiliar players, and being able to pick them in an instant out of the rugby shambles, is still a fair deal to cope with.

I've long criticised some New Zealand commentators for their outrageous All Black bias, but in general, the world tournament is bringing out the best in them. One criticism, though: a few (and not necessarily our own) are soft on the dreadful games. Turgid rugby is turgid rugby, and England and Scotland in particular have played plenty, although you wouldn't know so from the commentaries. Come on lads - call a spade a spade because the rest of us aren't fooled. Leave the PR up to the IRB, troops. The warm fuzzies around a world in union doesn't mean all is perfect. The excellent games shouldn't be lumped with the duds.

Marc Lievremont v his team and the press
The French coach gives wonderful quotes that aren't all that complimentary about his players, and he also stormed out of a press conference. How Gallic. Lievremont is more popular than crazy Raymond Domenech, the coach of the French team at last year's soccer World Cup, but maybe not by much. Then again, the French sporting psyche has always been mysterious to us. This could be a plot.

Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu v the IRB
The Samoan centre deserves a medal. His "stop exploiting my people" tweet should ring in rugby's ears until something is done to stop the rort. The IRB bangs on about spreading rugby, but handicaps the teams capable of threatening the favoured few.

The Pacific Island countries need equal opportunities, not patronising handouts. The World Cup scheduling which deliberately favours the so-called top-tier nations is a disgrace and even Kiwi referee Kelvin Deaker, a RugbyHerald columnist, admits the whistlers are influenced by reputations. Watch how the IRB and their mates marginalise Fuimaono-Sapolu's message by emphasising the misguided aspects of his Twitter statement.

Ma'a Nonu versus the Springboks' umbrella defence
Should New Zealand and South Africa meet in this tournament then this will be a key contest. A good pincer move has long been a favourite in battle and the South African defensive plan appears based on this idea.

Nonu is the All Blacks' key line breaker, while the Boks - with big centre Jaque Fourie leading the advance - try to encircle everyone else's wagons.

If the Boks don't get this right, Nonu will prosper. The up-and-in defence suits the aggressive instincts of footballers, but can go horribly wrong.

Robbie Deans (and John O'Neill) v Australian rugby
Unlike New Zealand, Aussie rugby can't afford PR disasters with so many rival codes about. The NRL is giving rugger a helping hand at the moment with a convoluted finals system that gives undeserved second chances to teams like the Warriors.

One might suggest that the NRL is more interested in wringing every last dollar out of the battered players rather than running a legitimate finals series. Anyway, rugby is the winner, but not for long if the Wallabies repeat the Ireland debacle.

Deans' protector O'Neill knows that as much as anyone.

Zac Guildford v The Bottle and the Mighty PR Machine
What on earth was that press conference in Christchurch all about? It came across as a tawdry show trial. All that contrition. All that moralising. In case you missed out, All Black wing Zac went out on the booze in a manner that he shouldn't have, and there are suggestions of a drinking problem. Wow.

Word must have got out, so he was dragged before the public to confess his alleged sins.

But does eliciting public promises out of Guildford help when he has already been unable to meet private pledges to the coaches? The whole thing was quite sick.

The All Blacks may have to face a devastating truth - the world is too powerful for the myth of the mighty black jersey and they do not have all the answers to the mysteries of life.

If the All Blacks had to say anything at all, which is highly debatable, they should have said they are trying to deal compassionately with something they don't fully understand and would not be exposing Guildford to public interrogation and humiliation. Guildford didn't even break any laws or disturb the public.

Or was this a pre-emptive strike against events that we have yet to be told about?

The whole production created an uneasy feeling of being a PR exercise, especially with poor young Zac talking about having to improve as a person.

Hey Zac, stand up for yourself, young fella. The next time the machine wants to turn you into sausage meat, tell it to bugger off. You are a complex character, like all of us, and being forced to give yourself a public bashing is the last thing any of us needs.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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