The start of the Rugby World Cup…

Originally from Belfast, John Connolly now lives in Dublin and is retired…

It began last night with a game between the hosts, France, and New Zealand. Buoyed on by the home crowd, France had an easy win 27 – 13.

Much of the commentary so far has been on the imbalance between the two sides of the draw. Of the current ranked top five countries, Ireland, France, South Africa (the holders), Scotland and New Zealand, one cannot even get past the group stages. So Ireland, South Africa and Scotland will be fighting it out for two places.

Meanwhile, our other neighbours, England and Wales are on the “easy” side (easy being a relative term). Both of them have been pretty uninspiring of late yet I suspect one of them will be a semi-finalist.

Who’s going to win it on 28th October?

Short answer -I haven’t a clue.

France, being the hosts (and also an excellent team) are favourites but not by very much. South Africa with their two monster packs each half strategy are formidable. The All Blacks can never be discounted.

As for Ireland, I think I’ve read that we have won 25 or our last 27 matches – the exceptions being the Springboks and France (both of whom we have also defeated during that period). But we’ve never got beyond the quarter-finals anyway (assuming we get out of the group).

Scotland, on their day, can be lethal. And, like New Zealand, the Rosbifs cannot be underestimated. And Australia have won it in the past.

In the “Irish Times”, Matt Williams has something to say about the possible South African tactic of loading their bench with seven forwards. His article starts with this stark sentence:

To those who played through rugby’s dark days, when reprehensible scrum laws caused catastrophic spinal injuries, the Springboks’ selection of seven forwards on their bench literally sent chills down our spines.

He remembers a day from 1984 when a 24-year-old recently married friend of his became a quadriplegic in a game where he was playing at tighthead. His thesis is that the laws of rugby were changed since then in order to ensure this kind of thing doesn’t happen. He thinks the Springboks’ approach is cynical. He reckons that international player will be able to cope but is worried about players further down the food chain.

Today’s nightmare scenario is that teams at the lower levels of the game begin imitating the Springboks selection tactics with seven fresh forwards on the bench. Exploiting a loophole in the laws that was never envisaged by its creators.

He thinks that World Rugby should act and say that you have to have at least three backs on the bench. That doesn’t sound unreasonable to me.


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