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Rugby World Cup 1999 :
Opening Games Wrap-up

By Adrian Porter

CARDIFF, WALES, 7 October 1999 - The opening games of the rugby World Cup, hosted by Wales, turned out much as predicted The heavyweight nations - in experience and skill as much as the muscled might of their professional players - trounced their opponents from the marginal members.

Some idea of the predominance of the former was reflected in the scores: England beat Italy 67 - 7, Australia beat Romania 57 - 9, Ireland best USA 53 - 8, New Zealand beat Tonga 45 - 9.

After the chauvinistic Welsh emotion, the glitz, and the fireworks of the celebrity-studded opening ceremony at the impressive new Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, these games were damp squibs.

They were so one-sided that it was impossible to gauge the true form of the major players but what they did achieve was the moulding of the new boys in the cauldron of rugby at its fiercest heat and the encouragement it gave them, even in the face of humiliating defeat.

None of the minnows expected much else, but some of them showed tremendous spirit against the odds. The fledglings from the United States, for instance, showed gritty resistance and they gave the partisan home crowd in Dublin a few anxious moments at the start by making the Irish struggle to dominate.

But the Americans - mainly amateur players, including four from the quality-named team, "Gentlemen of Aspen" - were gradually overwhelmed and finished the match trying to hold a ragged defense together.

Also, as expected, the game involving two major contestants, Scotland and South Africa, provided the best rugby of the three opening days of the tournament. South Africa were the favorites but Scotland, on their home turf of Murrayfield in Edinburgh, were well-fancied outsiders.

In the event, the first hour saw the play swing from one end of the field to the other and, early in the second half, Scotland were actually ahead at 19 - 18. Most of the points, however, had come from kicks scored form penalties incurred by pressure near goal lines.

Then, the Scots lost their way. Constant pressure by the South Africans forced needless errors, particularly from Scotland’s star, fly-half Gregor Townsend. In one play, he floated a long pass through the air to one of his men but it was intercepted by the South African winner, Deon Kayser, who sprinted fifty yards for his try.

Scottish heads drooped. Townsend saw his kicks take the ball into the arms of mobile South Africans who charged into wide space to score three times in the last five minutes of the game.

One of the triumphant moments of the game was the sight of 280 pounds of all too solid flesh in the form, not of Hamlet, but of "Ox" le Roux, the South African prop forward, galloping over the line for one of his few tries in international rugby.

Among outstanding individual performances was that of Johnny Wilkinson, the 20-year-old fly half, who notched up 32 points - a record for international games played by England. He showed the head and heart of an older, more mature player with his accurate kicking: penalty kicks for points, kicks out of hand to push his team up the field and to drive opponents back. To top it all he scored a try as well.

Wilkinson demonstrated tactical skill in controlling the game against Italy and bringing all his players into motion. He was a pivotal tactician in the mold of a top American football quarter-back.

He will be an important factor in the prime clash of this weekend’s second round games. England against New Zealand - when the tone will be set at the start by the All blacks’ traditional challenge of the Maori war-cry- the Haka.

This call to battle will be dramatised by the glowering presence’s of Jonah Lomu, a giant of a wing three-quarter with muscles like steel cables and the explosive speed and power of a runaway steam engine. It usually takes three or four men to stop him in full cry.

His enthusiastic agent has said, "If you tried to hammer a nail into him you couldn’t". The story goes that the point of a syringe used to take a blood sample from him was blunted and bent when it was pulled out of his hide.

Only the bravest would try any funny business with Lomu but in any case, the authorities have given notice that foul play - an unacceptable trait in the raw trade of rugby - will not be tolerated in the tournament.

They have already acted. The Welsh flank forward, Colin Charvis, has been suspended for two weeks and the Argentine prop forward, Roberto Grau for three weeks for their unseemly bout of fisticuffs after some unidentified dirty work in the scrum.

Siua Taumalolo of Tonga will not be playing for 21 days because of his dangerously high tackle round the neck of a New Zealand opponent.

In the meantime, the Irish team is nursing its bruises and stiff muscles with a course of "thalassatherapy" in a state of the art health centre. The course includes sessions in various kinds of sea water Jacuzzis, inhalation of "negative: ionised sea mist" and the wrapping of marine algae around tender areas of the body. They’ll probably emerge looking like sushi.

There are only two games of any note this coming weekend. Ireland meets Australia in Dublin and of course, its England versus New Zealand at Twickenham, London.

The other matches are: Scotland v Uruguay, France v Namibia, Fiji v Canada, Wales v Japan, USA v Romania, Argentina v Samoa.

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

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

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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