Ready to roll to thwart three-in-a-row all black quest
RUGBY UNION is set to unleash the most spectacular sports show on Earth in Japan this month when the supremacy of the superpowers of the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa will be challenged by Europe’s elite, Wales, England, Ireland and Scotland – each nation carrying the hopes and aspirations of their respective rugby-mad populaces, propelled by wild waves of public expectation as they set sail on an epic voyage of discovery to the Land of the Rising Sun, a fevered quest to claim the greatest prize in global sport, rugby’s World Cup, the Webb Ellis Trophy – so named, legend has it, after the schoolboy said to have inadvertently invented the game when he picked the ball up and ran with it during a football match.
Forget football’s World Cup, stuff Super Bowl, that risible stop-start bore-fest where the obscenely overpaid participants are kitted out better protected than wartime frontline troops, above all bin the boring, powder-puff, illegitimate offspring league version practised up North, the ridiculous ring-a-ring-a-rosy, chase me, catch me and I’ll fall down six times monotony of the 13-man non-event. Instead, celebrate the thinking man’s sport, where the magic moves and thrilling strategies come straight from the grandmaster’s table, rugby union’s World Cup – fearless hand-to-hand bone-crunching combat, no protective gear here, save for a flimsy jock-strap to keep meat and two veg intact, no doubt to quell the fears of girlfriends and wives waiting fretfully by the sideline, a game of chess with violence, the gladiators weaponised by both brain and brawn, no quarter asked, no quarter conceded, each side hell-bent on crossing the try-line, failure not an option, resistance heroic but futile – the spectacle irresistible to the mesmerised sell-out stadiums and global TV audiences of billions.
The ultra-exciting extravaganza kicks off on Friday 20th September when hosts Japan take on the dour Russians, a tie the home side will certainly win, although possessed of fleet of foot and fleet of hand, further progress for Japan will be inhibited by lack of height in that vital aerial area of the game – the Lineout, the playpen of the almost 7ft giants, and with the male height of the average native being just a tad over 5ft 7ins the problem seems insurmountable, nevertheless, ball in hand, they are a very exciting team to watch.
Defending champions New Zealand approach this tournament looking for their fourth title and third in a row, but with recent defeats to Australia and Ireland twice, plus a very lucky win over England, the All Blacks at last look vulnerable, and I’ll be looking to one of the Six Nations sides, European leaders Wales, England or Ireland to slay the mighty Kiwis. I have dismissed Scotland’s chances, even though on a good day they are more than capable of beating any side, the trouble with the Jocks being that they are more adept at plumbing the depths far more often than scaling the heights. What must not be allowed to happen again though is a repeat of the fiasco of the 1915 event when the semi-finals were contested by all four Southern Hemisphere countries, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina, and this despite the fact the tournament was hosted in England – a truly shameful episode for European Rugby.
So, the burning question is, which of the three home nations will I be burdening with my pony (£25) to raise aloft the Webb Ellis Trophy in Yokohama on final day, Saturday 2nd November? Reigning Six Nations grand slam champions Wales will fancy their chances of ruling the world, but the grievous loss of the talismanic Toby Faletau so soon after inspirational Lions skipper Sam Warburton was forced to retire probably is a bridge too far for the Men from the Valleys. Ireland, who have scalped the All Blacks twice recently, won’t be lacking in confidence, and I can see the Green Machine surge towards the final, but after hours burning the midnight oil, I’m entrusting England with my wager at odds of 11/2 to win the World Cup for the second time.
Note to Gibraltar pubs and clubs: The action starts just after dawn each day and lasts for six weeks, and as the home nations race closer to their final date with destiny and the excitement mounts to frenzy level, stock up on the cider and the beer, open early, I and thousands of others will be there, to share in another celebrated chapter of the world’s greatest game.
GROUP GAMES INVOLVING THE HOME NATIONS
(TV Coverage: All Games ITV; All Kick Offs UK times)
Facts & Stats
RUGBY UNION’S 2019 World Cup takes place in Japan, starting on 20th September with the final due to be played on 2nd November. It is the first time the finals have been staged in Asia.
The contest is held every four years, this being the ninth in the series since the tournament was introduced in 1987.
New Zealand won the inaugural World Cup that year and the All Blacks have dominated the competition, winning three of the eight trophies including the last two, with antipodean neighbours Australia sharing second place with South Africa on two apiece and with just one for England, the epic Red Rose victory of 2003, the sole occasion the Cup has been won by a Northern Hemisphere country.
Twenty nations contest the event this year with five in each of the four qualifying pools, the top two group teams advancing to the quarter finals and knockout stage.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup Final takes place in Yokohama on Saturday 2nd November (KO 9.00am)