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Rugby World Cup 1999 :
Forecasts and a Guide to the Game

By Adrian Porter

LONDON, 30 September 1999 - Barely three months after the conclusion of the cricket world Cup comes another such competition this time it’s the rugby World Cup which will be played in Britain, Ireland and France.

Beginning on October 1st, twenty national sides, ranging from the mighty All Blacks of New Zealand to the rank outsiders of Uruguay, will engage in a crunching display of one of the most physical games of all.

The arcane horrors of the gouging, butting , and hiting that takes place among the forwards in the front row of the scrums are best left undescribed, but they are an almost accepted part of a rough, tough game - and are revealed by the toothless grins, cauliflower ears, and puffy eyebrows of the participants.

There is, however, another side to what has actually been called "the culture of rugby" and that is the skill of the men outside the scrum - the fly halves, the centre and wing three-quarters and the full-backs.

With new rules which have eliminated most of the game’s robotic, stodgy and time-wasting elements and with players who are dedicated full-time professionals, rugby has now become a constant high-speed game encouraging swift, darting moves, accurate passes and relentless movement forward.

To watch the break away of a fly half, his pass to a centre three-quarters who dodges at high speed through opponents’ tackles and then his pass to a winger who accelerates like a sprinting heifer to touch down for a try is to witness an art form.

This art form, among the many other aesthetic pleasures of the game, should be seen at it highest level in the 35 matches of the tournament to be played at 18 different venues.

As official host of the World Cup, Wales will stage the opening game at its brand-new Millennium Stadium in Cardiff where the Welsh XV will play Argentina. From then until the final on November 6th, the competing nations will progress through games in live "pools" - or groups - of four teams, quarter-finals playoffs, quarter-finals, 3rd place playoffs and semi-finals.

Bets on New Zealand and Australia

Few experts doubt that New Zealand’s All Blacks will be one of the teams in the final but there is a understandable uncertainty about which nation will face them.

The bookmakers have most second-place money on Australia at the moment but the last World Cup champions in 1995, South Africa, although not on form recently, are likely to be reach.

From these forecasts can be gauged the perceived dominance of the three southern hemisphere countries with their fast-moving, robust, in-your-face style of play. Of the European teams, England and Wales, perhaps, come nearest to the southern hemisphere ethic and they should benefit from playing on their home turf.

What appears to put the "Southerners" ahead, however, is the sheer star quality of their leading players.

One name to stand out is Christian Cullen, the New Zealand full-back, who can also play at centre or wing. He is reckoned to be the best rugby player in the world and his reputation is built on his blistering pace and power and his brilliance in cutting through opponents’ defense.

Beware any player who kicks high and hard and finds Cullen waiting to take the ball and run. He either glides past defenders or bounces off them. Tackles seem to slide off him.

But, of course, there are others. Cullen’s teammate, the New Zealand fly-half, Andrew Mehrtens, exerts control over most of the All Blacks’ moves. His tactical kicking is almost flawless and he has the ability to get his three-quarter line moving quickly to exploit weaknesses which he almost intuitively spots in opponents’ defenses.

And talking of kicking, a fair number of the games will be won on a tally of penalty goals kicked by specialists like Neil Jenkins, the Welsh fly-half, who has won tight games on the points he has scored from his boot.

As for gliding through defenses and opening up the game for his colleagues, not many can match fly-half Gregor Townsend of Scotland. He doesn’t so much bounce off tackles as evade then completely.

So much for the backs. How about the forwards: the stokers in the boiler house of the scrums and their swifter teammates - the flankers? It’s hard to believe that these rough toughies can perform a kind of muscular ballet as they hoist one of their big men almost shoulder high to snatch a line-out hall form the air.

Lawrence Dallaglio, the former England captain, stands out as one of the fittest and fastest of the big men. He was recently suspended for a while following a tabloid newspaper’s allegations that he had admitted taking drugs. Dallaglio said he had merely been boasting and telling white lies and he has been reinstated.

He has actually improved on his superb physical fitness and muscle power during his enforced lay-off and he has a lot to prove in the World Cup.

A real all-rounder among the forwards is Australia’s captain, John Eagles, who not only towers - physically and skillfully - above others of his ilk but he can kick goals as well.

And then, of course, there is that archetype of the massive brutal, bullheaded forward - Os du Rand of South Africa. I need say no more about him that his nickname is "Ox".

These players and their teams will all be on show in the preliminary three days of the tournament as follows:

Pool A: Spain v Uruguay; Scotland v South Africa
Pool B: England v Italy; New Zealand v Tonga
Pool C: Fiji v Namibia; France v Canada
Pool D: Wales v Argentina; Samoa v Japan
Pool E: Ireland v U.S.A.; Australia v Romania

The following round of games begins on October 8th.

Finally, I append what must best be describe as a "titbit" of extraneous information. The sponsors of the competition, the beer brewers, Guinness, have made available a black and white sack in the shape of a pint of their best known brew. It is to be used by stewards to cover up those naked streakers - male and female - who love to haunt their assets in front of rugby crowds.




Adrian Porter spent a working lifetime as a foreign correspondent for the BBC and other news organisations in various parts of the world. He writes on rugby and cricket for Culturekiosque.com.


Read Adrian Porter's archive articles on the Cricket World Cup

Opening article: Domination is the Name of the Game
Results of 1st Week: A Commonwealth Row and High Tech Foul Up Cricketing Traditions
Results of 2nd Week: Umpires Upset Bookmakers With Excessive Wide Balls
Results of 3rd week: Zimbabwe and Bangladesh topple giants to make "Super Six" round
First week of the "Super Six" Pakistan and South Africa in arm-pumping finish
Second week of the "Super Six"Australia snatches victory from South Africa


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