I must admit that I had almost forgotten that the Rugby World Cup is almost upon us – the first match (England versus Fiji is TODAY as it happens). I suppose with all the other sporting stuff going on, and we are spoilt for choice these days, such as the recent Ashes cricket series, it is easy to overlook until it starts to happen. But for yours truly it is one event NOT to be missed, on par with the Olympics and Football World Cup. And it is going to last SIX whole weeks, and no doubt there will be excitement and thrills galore and, as far as this armchair sports fan is concerned, will serve as an agreeable antidote to some of the weightier matters that need attending to. While I would prefer it were shown on BBC, I understand ITV will be covering the games as in previous years and I hope to view many games from my computer as well as follow on the BBC radio and whatever snippets I can pick up. I look forward to it!
I well recall the first Rugby World Cup, back in 1987, and was impressed that for the first time we had all the top nations playing one another, and in the right spirit, intent on winning the coveted trophy. I have followed every tournament since then and have been overall satisfied with what has taken place. While there have been upsets (there always are), generally the cream rises to the top and the best team has won each time. While the gap between the big guns and minnows remains wide, the lesser rated teams have still by and large done the tournament credit. One of the big changes since the competition was inaugurated is the move toward the professionalization of the game of rugby union. While I have noted the negative impact in other sports, notably football, (and rugby is by no means immune) it has been less in the case of rugby and likely it has helped to raise standards. One glaring statistic stands out though – in the seven tournaments played thus far, six have been won by southern hemisphere sides (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa – two each) and only one by a northern hemisphere side (England). I sense there is a gap but maybe less than it once was. If I am to stick my neck out, and given many pundits think the same, I would predict that New Zealand will win the trophy they won the first time the tournament was played and also a last time, for they have impressed. But who can say for certain – that is the relishing prospect awaiting us. As for England, being in the pool of death doesn’t help. Their two main rivals, Australia and Wales, are rugby heavyweights and you can’t discount the likes of a team like Fiji (who I rather like because of their style of rugby and the team pray together). No other group features more than two nations from the top tier and one would expect these to prevail.
Of all the sports I have followed in my sixty odd years, if I were to be asked what is my favourite, it would likely be rugby union. In my first year at secondary school, I played rugby and even made the school team as hooker, but then we moved away and the school I attended did not play rugby. While I later I got to play competitive hockey and lots of not quite so competitive football and cricket, I never got to play serious rugby again, which is a shame, but such is life. I have followed the game of the years, especially the six nations rugby played each year, and have generally rooted for my own team – England. I still remember the day they won the Rugby World Cup, back in 2003. They were a good side, even approaching a great side, and they were worthy winners. I have sporadically followed their fortunes in recent months but have to conclude the current side, while showing promise, is not of the same caliber as their 2003 predecessors. But we can never tell and it is often a matter of peaking at the right game, with all departments of the game clicking at the same time. I will be keeping my fingers crossed and am looking forward to a veritable feast of rugby excellence and drama, starting tonight, hoping the best team will win and do so in a sportsmanlike manner, and that best team will be England.