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
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
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
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.
Scots lost their way. Constant pressure by the South Africans forced
needless errors, particularly from Scotlands 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.
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 weekends 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-
This call to battle will be dramatised by the
glowering presences 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 couldnt".
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
Siua Taumalolo of Tonga will not be playing for 21
days because of his dangerously high tackle round the neck of a New
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. Theyll 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.