Weblog: Try lines - the rugby union review
So, what do you think of the World Cup so far?
WE’RE in full swing now with every team having played at least once, so let’s have a look at what we’ve seen so far ...
Best things: Well, everything really. Although there have been a lot of close games there have been no real stinkers. Even England’s laboured win over Argentina was gripping viewing and Scotland’s tryless victory over Georgia was every bit as good. And the atmosphere in the stadiums has been a real highlight. There had been fears that the New Zealand public are too obsessed with their own team to give anyone else much attention, but hearing the neutrals getbehind Romania and Japan when they ran Scotland and France close was cheering.
Worst things: Nothing to complain of on the pitch or with the coverage, it’s just the early starts that are takinga toll. But bookmakers say they have been pleased with turnover, with some saying that rugby punters are used to the time difference from following the Super 15.
Favourite stadium; Rugby Park in Invercargill, a proper rugby ground – sadly Saturday’s game between Argentina and Romania is the last to be staged there in this tournament.
Least favourite stadium: Otago Stadium, Dunedin. Why put a roof on a stadium in Dunedin, one of the wettest and wildest areas to host rugby and a paradise for points sellers over the years?
Favourite team: Georgia. When it was part of the Soviet Union Georgia was credited with producing the best Olympic wrestlers. Now the country is independent, they’ve been fast-tracking them into the pack of their national team. It was great watching them relishing the physical challenge against Scotland and seeing the Scots up their own game in response.
Least favourite team: The England press pack for somehow deciding that grown men going bungee jumping or having a few beers is worthy of turning into amedia issue.
Best anthem: Again, the eastern Europeans – Russia, Romania and Georgia all got the hairs on the back of the neck sticking up.
Worst rendition of ananthem: New Zealand does have a reputation for belting out rubbish versions before matches, with weak, schmaltzy background tracks that sound like elevator music. Flower of Scotland sounds brilliant with a stirring pipe-and-drum band accompaniment. Whoever thought a bunch of lady madrigal singers could do it justice wants his ears syringed.
Best commentator: Simon Ward, who did both of Scotland’s games and peppered both with frequent utterances of the much underused and underrated word ‘conduit’.
Best beard: Adam Kleeberger of Canada. His bushy growth looked like an ice hockey player’s ‘play-off beard’ – a lot of NHL players stop shaving once they’re in the play-offs, vowing to let it all run wild until they’re knocked out. If it is, and in the unlikely event that the Canucks get to the final, his features won’t be visible under that monstrosity.
Best bets: Not too hard to work out is it? The underdogs covered the line in 11 of the first 12 matches. Why? Well, there will be a host offactors but some of them must be improved fitness, greater emphasis on defence, the increased physicality of the game (which also means that the top teams are rotating players more and using their full benches, happy to get the win in the bag and not pushing their luck), the weather, the lesser teams getting more and more exposure on the world stage, and perhaps, just perhaps, a bit of hazard.
Bookmakers may look to bring their lines down for the remaining games but will be wary of going too far, especially after getting punished when the All Blacks ran riot against Japan. It will be fascinating to see the final tally of handicap results at the end of the group stage.