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Rugby World Cup

by Frank Schnittger Thu Sep 24th, 2015 at 01:28:21 PM EST

OK, so I know that Eurotrib.com isn't exactly a hotbed of sports fans, never mind professional rugby fans.  But who amongst us is perfect? I've long been an armchair rugby supporter even though my own experience of the game is decidedly limited and mixed. So for the very afew readers here with a passing interest in rugby, what follows is my take on the Rugby World Cup which has just gotten under way.

  1. Although World Rugby Limited (the Governing Body) like to claim the Rugby World Cup is the third biggest sporting event that ever takes place on this planet, rugby still has relatively limited appeal.  Only four countries (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England) have ever won the quadrennial World Cup in its 28 year history, and there are, at most, 7 or 8 countries with any realistic prospect of winning the Cup, and anything other than a New Zealand win this time around would be an upset.

  2. The fact that a "second tier" nation (Japan) has actually beaten one of the major powers (South Africa) in this years tournament is, already, one of the greatest shocks of World Cup history. Of course the playing schedule, designed to suit the "tier 1 nations", then immediately pitted the Japanese against an improving Scottish team with only  three rest days in between.  Not surprisingly, Japan then lost to a team much less accomplished than South Africa. Rugby is a much more physical game than soccer, and it simply isn't possible to peak for two games in a row within 5 days. Professional boxers, by way of comparison, often only have 2 or 3 fights in a year.

  3. If you want to predict the relative standard of each rugby playing nation, the following table is instructive:

New Zealand outperforms based on its player numbers because it is the no. 1 sport in New Zealand, and practically defines New Zealand's identity, whereas, say, in Ireland, Rugby is only the no. 3 or 4 sport, behind Gaelic football, Soccer, and Hurling.

4. The other key determinant of playing standard is whether a country can support or participate in a professional club league.  New Zealand, South Africa, France and England have their own fully professional indigenous leagues whereas the Celtic Nations, Italy and Australia have a share in multi-national professional leagues.

5. Overall, however, there are only a few hundred fully professional players in even the leading nations, with the vast bulk of the players being amateurs.  And even the top professional players only earn in a year what a top soccer player can earn in a week. Players in many nations like the Pacific islands or eastern Europe have to migrate to New Zealand, Australia, France or England to earn a living, and often end up playing international rugby for their adopted country. The advent of professionalism in the 1990's has therefore only served to accentuate the divide between the leading and second tier nations.

So who is going to win this year's tournament?  If you can't contain your excitement, please follow me below the divide...


New Zealand have been the top team since the dawn of professionalism in the 1990's, but despite this, have only won the Cup twice, along with South Africa and Australia, with England winning once, in 2003.  These countries remain the top contenders, with England having home advantage on this occasion.

France have been in contention several times, and were unfortunate to lose in the final the last time around.  However their record under their current manager, Phillipe Saint-Andre has been appalling and many people fancy Ireland to beat them in the current group stage. (Ireland have won the last two 6 Nation European Championships in a row, albeit narrowly, under the astute tactical direction of their recently naturalised New Zealand born coach, Joe Schmidt). The French record at world cups is much superior to Ireland's, however, so their meeting on October 11th. will be one of the crunch matches of the tournament. The loser will probably go on to play New Zealand and face elimination by them at the quarter final stage of the tournament.

England,  Australia, Wales, and Fiji are all in Group A, labelled the group of death, and only two of them can proceed to the quarter-finals. The first three are relatively evenly matched, but I would fancy England, with home advantage, and Australia, perhaps the most improved team, to advance to the next stage. This Saturday's England vs. Wales encounter will be seismic, and pivotal in deciding the outcome.

The most likely quarter-final matches would then pit:

England vs. South Africa
Australia vs. Scotland
France vs. New Zealand
Ireland vs. Argentina

On current form, I would then expect the semi-finals to be contested by:

England vs. Ireland
and
Australia vs. New Zealand.

However sport is nothing if not unpredictable, and any number of other permutations are possible.  For what it's worth, I would expect the above matches to result in a New Zealand vs. Ireland final, with New Zealand winning comfortably. But who knows?  After Japan beat South Africa, anything is possible, and rugby is a game generally won by whoever wants it more and is prepared to fight the hardest.

However before you put money on Ireland, consider the following:  To win, Ireland have to win four key matches each with an approximately 50:50 chance of success.  That translates into a roughly 1 in 16 chance of winning! Much the same can be said for the other contenders bar New Zealand, still, on current form, clearly the best team, and perhaps England, if refereeing bias is added to natural home advantage.

One of the flaws of rugby (compared to other sports) is that the laws are extremely complex and very open to interpretation by a referee who may be influenced by his surroundings. It is the one flaw which may prevent rugby from ever challenging soccer as the world game, because the spirit it is played in is generally far superior to soccer.  

For all the brutal collisions, there is generally little play-acting or simulation by players, and TV scrutiny has eliminated most of the deliberate foul play. There are concerns about performance enhancing drug abuse, but generally the level of sportsmanship is still high, which is why I follow the game in preference to soccer.

But each to his own, I suppose.  Have a look at some of the games.  Perhaps you will enjoy them.  It's quite a mixture of brutal power and skill. But even at it's worst, it is preferable to war - which it can sometimes resemble!

Display:
What a shit, that "nasty piece of work" who, as ostensible referee, tripped you up on your way to glory.

i watched a touch of rugby on youtube recently, and was impressed, but as i have no tv, can't follow the Cup. I believe there are others here who won't miss a match. Thanks for the reminder.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Sep 24th, 2015 at 02:17:37 PM EST
Thanks for the comment Crazy Horse.  For the benefit of our US readership I should have added that the USA are a growing force in World Rugby, both in playing numbers and standards, but are handicapped by not having a professional club league of their own.  They are well capable of causing an upset, but I doubt they will reach the quarter finals...(famous last words)

PS
For those who are wondering, Crazy Horse's comment is in the context of the Linked diary, which dates back to 2008 and chronicles my rather inglorious rugby playing career.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Sep 24th, 2015 at 03:39:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I played rugby for several years and still love to watch.  15s, that is.  You can keep 7s; I always hated track.
by rifek on Tue Sep 29th, 2015 at 10:50:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Comments - Rugby World Cup
New Zealand, still, on current form, clearly the best team, and perhaps England, if refereeing bias is added to natural home advantage.

In the first round of matches, the most likely upset, on paper, was Italy beating France (nobody gave Japan a chance...)  Organisers don't like upsets. So they gave the match to ... Craig Joubert. The proverbial safe pair of hands : the man who handed the last world cup to NZ, in spite of the superiority of the French.

Overall France was the better team and deserved their win, but we'll never know what would have happened if at the end of the first half, Italy had not been buried under penalties. One of the Italians diplomatically said afterwards that they are always eager to learn and improve their game, but it would help if they understood what they were being penalised for...

So, in general, refereeing bias is more about protecting the big teams rather than a specific home advantage.

One bright spot : cousin Richie McCaw got the third yellow card of his illustrious career against Argentina. Maybe his cloak of invisibility is wearing thin...

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Sep 25th, 2015 at 07:05:22 AM EST
I finally took the time to watch the historic Japan-South Africa upset. I expected to see SA play badly -- they didn't, they were generally excellent. But the smaller, lighter Japanese managed to impose their game for long periods -- very fast, very skilful -- and never gave up. The game is beautifully structured in terms of dramatic tension : when the Japanese, trailing by three points with two minutes to play, are awarded a penalty, they are expected to kick it, and achieve a historic draw. Instead, in a moment of "pure fiction", as JK Rowling commented, they chose a scrum, and scored a try for a win.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Sat Sep 26th, 2015 at 12:27:48 PM EST
Yes it was a great match  - but also one which the underdog rarely wins. Like today when Canada almost beat Italy, and perhaps should have...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Sep 26th, 2015 at 02:55:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"This Saturday's England vs. Wales encounter will be seismic, and pivotal in deciding the outcome"

The match has just finished, and Wales against all the odds, and several debilitating injuries, have just won by 3 points.  It was indeed a seismic encounter.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Sep 26th, 2015 at 05:02:25 PM EST
It was the match the English couldn't lose, and they couldn't believe they'd lost...

Nothing's over in that group. My prediction : England beat Australia, then Australia beat Wales. Bonus points decide the first, second and third (eliminated) places.
In a group containing two ancestral enemies, I'm supporting the Welsh... but I wouldn't put money on them. Hell, they have to play Fiji on Thursday. I hope they have enough fit players.


It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Sat Sep 26th, 2015 at 05:46:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You couldn't hear Swing Low at the end, could you? Har-har-har.

No predictions from me about Australia, I haven't seen them play and I don't know how improved they've become. As for Wales-Fiji, these three-rest-day intervals between fixtures are ridiculous. I expect Wales will win that, but at what injury cost?

I used to be afew. I'm still not many.

by john_evans (john(dot)evans(dot)et(at)gmail(dot)com) on Sun Sep 27th, 2015 at 01:24:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, England showed the same lack of cohesion against a very impressive Australia, and were bundled out of the competition they are hosting, 33-13.

Australia have to be seen as serious contenders for the Cup. Meanwhile, Wales will go through to the quarter-finals even if they lose to Australia.

I must admit I enjoy seeing the Twickers arrogance humbled.

I used to be afew. I'm still not many.

by john_evans (john(dot)evans(dot)et(at)gmail(dot)com) on Sun Oct 4th, 2015 at 05:11:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes I was quite amazed at how poor England were, especially in the scrum, ruck and maul. Its hard to make out from this performance quite how good Australia are, but they are now certainly at least the no. 2 contenders.  I doubt a depleted Wales will be able t hold them, in which case I would expect Ireland might meet them in the Semi with the outcome perhaps depending on the weather -  a wet and windy day suiting Ireland more than the Australian style of play.

Never having been in Twickenham I can't comment on their arrogance. ITV seems to have toned down their coverage somewhat, but some of the expectation that England were serious contenders seems to have originated from the media as much as anywhere else.  (As has the subsequent anger). I wonder would the  outcome have been any different had Armitage, Hartley and Tuillagi been included in the English squad. No other country leaves some of their best players out - witness Giteau and Mitchell in the Austraian squad,

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Oct 4th, 2015 at 11:16:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
in which case I would expect Ireland might meet them in the Semi

Ahem. Might.

Until this weekend, my expectation was a final between the All Blacks and (diplomatically) whoever wins next weekend's France/Ireland. (And after Ireland's display today against Italy, perhaps we can envisage that it might be France).

But indeed, and it pains me to say it, Australia will be a serious obstacle to either one.

Other notes from this weekend : South Africa are back, they looked very decent beating Scotland. This result knocked Japan out of the competition (they needed Scotland to win, in order to qualify ahead of SA). That's a shame; but with their rate of progress, I would be very surprised if, like England, Japan were to be eliminated in the group stage of the World Cup they will host in 2019.

I'm looking forward to seeing SA playing Wales in the quarters (assuming Australia beat Wales. But one should never assume anything with the Welsh.)

On the whole, I fancy France to beat Ireland next weekend, thus getting an "easy" quarter final against Argentina. On the other hand, if Ireland win, France are capable of knocking out the Blacks in the quarters (yes, it's happened before). Then losing in the semis (they did that too).

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Sun Oct 4th, 2015 at 04:37:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Based on Ireland's performance against Italy today, I wouldn't expect them to beat France, or Argentina for that matter, if they got that far. But France haven't been great either, and I expect both to up their game considerably next week, with the result hinging on a few tight (or mistaken) refereeing decisions.   Mind you, I think the refereeing has been quite good so far compared to previous World Cups, so the better team on the day might actually win!.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Oct 4th, 2015 at 06:39:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And it was a superb match to watch.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sat Sep 26th, 2015 at 06:13:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I bet Cardiff was Party Central last night

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Sep 27th, 2015 at 06:34:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And France will beat Ireland... ;-)

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sat Sep 26th, 2015 at 06:14:27 PM EST
Good luck with that thought!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Sep 26th, 2015 at 06:54:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the introduction to the world of rugby.

European Tribune - Rugby World Cup

Although World Rugby Limited (the Governing Body) like to claim the Rugby World Cup is the third biggest sporting event that ever takes place on this planet, rugby still has relatively limited appeal.  Only four countries (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England) have ever won the quadrennial World Cup in its 28 year history, and there are, at most, 7 or 8 countries with any realistic prospect of winning the Cup, and anything other than a New Zealand win this time around would be an upset.

A few major nations and then the also-rans. So sort of like icehockey.

European Tribune - Comments - Rugby World Cup

Overall, however, there are only a few hundred fully professional players in even the leading nations, with the vast bulk of the players being amateurs.  And even the top professional players only earn in a year what a top soccer player can earn in a week.

I think not earning fantazillions might be good, and a reason for this:

European Tribune - Comments - Rugby World Cup

For all the brutal collisions, there is generally little play-acting or simulation by players, and TV scrutiny has eliminated most of the deliberate foul play. There are concerns about performance enhancing drug abuse, but generally the level of sportsmanship is still high, which is why I follow the game in preference to soccer.

Because if the difference between top-notch and second-tier player is getting rich in a few years, then the temptation to cheat, by drugs or other means, is much greater then if it is just that you can quit your day-job. Plus what the players earn generally reflect the general flow of cash through the sport, so the incentive for coaches and managers to accept or encourage cheating is also much greater if there are ridiculous amounts of money at stake.

by fjallstrom on Sun Sep 27th, 2015 at 04:10:34 AM EST
Yes but the baleful influence of private money is increasing with a few multi-millionaires buying up a few French and English clubs, buying up the best players, and managing to force the Unions to allow core competitions like the European Club Champions cup to be run more in their interest.  Up until mow then game, even after it went professional, has been run by the national Unions which are made up of representatives of both amateur and professional clubs.   Unfortunately, commercial interests, TV companies, and egotistical owners are taking more and more control.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Sep 27th, 2015 at 11:12:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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