Posted by: Gerry | October 22, 2007

Signing Off

Well that’s it then for another four years. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short, we see the dreary steeples of the Magners League once again.

It was a great World Cup for some. For South Africa, of course, who won it, having won seven games out of seven. They were by no means my favourite team, but it would be mean-spirited of me not to congratulate them on their win. For England, who completely defied the odds and somehow managed to find spirit and cohesion, even though their world was collapsing around them. For Argentina, who conquered the Pool of Death and dazzled us with some scintillating rugby. For Fiji, who showed that Pacific Island rugby can compete on the world stage, even if their small pool of players gets plundered by New Zealand and Australia.

For others it was not so good. The Webb Ellis should have been on an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland today, but once again, the All Blacks choked. Today, they suffered the final indignity of having their place as the top-ranked team in the world taken from them by the newly-crowned world champions. The next World Cup will be in New Zealand, so there will be even more pressure on them next time around.

France probably thought that they should have been the ones to win, given that they were the hosts. But the opening night loss to the Pumas hobbled them, and even though they managed to put the All Blacks away, they succumbed to the old foe from across Le Manche.

Wales got turfed out of a group in which they were expected to comfortably finish as runners-up. But Fiji thought differently, and with a stunning 38-34 win over the Welsh, they booked a quarter-final berth for themselves.

And of course, Ireland, who just didn’t show up. We were in the toughest group of the tournament, and at the start of the competition, Ireland, France and Argentina were in the top six in the IRB rankings. One of the three had to blink, and unfortunately it was us. Now, there is no shame in losing against either France or Argentina, but what disappointed was the manner in which we lost those games, allied with the completely unconvincing performances against Namibia and Georgia. There is also the annoyance felt in Irish rugby circles that this World Cup campaign is just going to be written off as a “blip” and things will carry on as normal.

So we look forward to the Six Nations, which gets underway in just over fourteen weeks. Can Ireland get it together in time, or will the ennui of the World Cup linger into the spring?

OK, that’s my lot. Even if the World Cup was an unsatisfactory experience for me as an Irishman, this blog went some way to make up for it. The Fear of God was a collaborative effort from Day One, and I reckon it would not have lasted the pace if I had set it up as a solo effort. I would like to thank all my fellow writers – The Swiss Job, John Cav, Rambling Man, Fence, Munstermad, and of course Flirty for their contributions over the last ten weeks or so. Also thanks to all who took the time to leave comments, even those who reckoned we were talking through our arses. And of course, all who sent traffic our way, not least the BBC Rugby blog which probably accounted for about 95% of the hits that we got.

I intend to canvass opinion amongst this fine team of scribes to see if there is the desire or the inclination to continue The Fear of God post-RWC. If the consensus is positive, then I will post a link here to the new home.

Otherwise, see you all in New Zealand in 2011!


Posted by: Gerry | October 20, 2007

Poor End To A Great Tournament

After seven weeks and 48 games the world cup has come to an end, and South Africa have been crowned world champions for the second time in twelve years.

As is often the case in major finals, the game it self was poor. Both sides played cagey rugby, neither of them willing to risk making a mistake that could cost them the chance of glory. In the end England lost a slew of players to injury and completely lost their shape. They were also desperately unlucky to have had what looked like a perfectly good try disallowed by the TMO. If Alain Rolland had chosen to go along with his first instincts, the try would have been given. He asked TMO Stuart Dickinson of Australia if there was any reason why he shouldn’t award the try. After a seemingly interminable deliberation, Dickinson came down against the Northern Hemisphere team.

Rugby World Cup 2007 will be remembered for many things, like England’s incredible renaissance which got them to the final against all odds; like Argentina’ double defeat of hosts France; for Ireland’s utterly cack performance; for New Zealand’s premature exit. The final will not be on that list of great memories.

Posted by: Gerry | October 19, 2007

Los Pumas Finish With A Flourish

I missed the match completely, but Argentina continued where they left off on 7 September, with a comprehensive five tries to one demolition of France. The match finished 34-10 in favour of the Albicelestes.

Posted by: Gerry | October 18, 2007

Why I Will Be Supporting England On Saturday

Back in 1990, I was working in a pub in the City of London. As the Five Nations that year drew to a conclusion, England and Scotland were due to meet in Murrayfield for a winner-takes-all encounter. The Calcutta Cup, the Triple Crown, the Championship and a Grand Slam were all up for grabs for whoever won. The British media were at one that it was to be England’s day.

The pub where I worked was frequented mainly by City-type bankers and stockbrokers, many of whom were committed rugger buggers. The night before the match was chaos, punctuated by occasional choruses of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” The one dissenting voice that could be heard all night was an ebullient Scot called Danny. He was having none of it. “I tell ye, we’re goin’ tae win!” he repeated incessantly, as he took bets from anyone who was willing to take him on.

The following day, Scotland held out for a 13-7 victory. On Monday, Danny arrived in at lunchtime with the biggest grin I have ever seen on any face. He held court in the middle of the pub as he collected his winnings. The banter was good natured, but one English guy was getting narked.

“Your problem Danny,” he remarked, “is that you’re prejudiced.”

“Me? Prejudiced?” replied Danny. “I couldnae gie a fuck who beats England!”

Danny could have been Irish or Australian and his attitude would probably have been the same. For some reason, our three nations have this “Anyone but England” attitude written into our DNA. The Welsh and the New Zealanders have it too, but to a lesser degree.

Speaking from an Irish point of view, it seems to me to be a knee-jerk reaction. For years, I was the same. I couldn’t stand to see England do well at anything. Even if Ireland were doing really badly, it didn’t feel too bad as long as England were having just as torrid a time. There was also the satisfaction in seeing the former colonial overlord getting one in the eye.

In recent years, I have forced myself to reassess this attitude. Why should I feel this way about a country I lived in for all of my twenties, and for which I have very fond memories? Could it be the English media who famously go over the top whenever England win something? Well, the Irish media do the same whenever an Irish sporting triumph happens. We beat a weak England in Croke Park this year on the way to a Triple Crown, er, triumph, and there were pull-out supplements, wall posters and the like in the newspapers the following Monday.

In the 2003 World Cup I gave my grudging support to England in the final. As far as I was concerned, it was better than Australia winning it for the third time and at least England were a northern hemisphere team. But I couldn’t muster any sense of jubilation when Martin Johnson lifted the Webb Ellis. It was a stupid attitude to have as England fully deserved that win, as they had been the best team in the world for quite some time, and had closed out the deal by winning the world cup. I think it was to do with the pre-World Cup hubris that surrounded the team, much of which was generated by the media. There was also Protocolgate at Lansdowne Road the previous spring, which was still fresh in our minds.

I was lucky enough to board the Prawn Sandwich Express to Twickenham for Ireland’s match against England in March 2004. It was England’s first match back home since winning the World Cup, and they hadn’t been beaten at Twickenham for something like five seasons. But Fortress Twickenham fell that day to a rampant Irish side, who won 19-13. Ireland could just as easily have lost, as Ben Cohen had a try disallowed for a double movement, and another ref or TMO might have given it.

There was no bitterness about the loss among the England fans. I had my hand shaken by dozens of white-shirt clad fans, who had no issue with our win, or the manner in which it was achieved. That night, our group of Irish fans partied hard with throngs of English fans. We had drunken reminiscences about past successes and failures. I think it was that weekend that my attitude changed completely.

It is entirely healthy to want your own team to beat arch-rivals. But it is an entirely different matter when you wish those rivals to be beaten in any circumstances. I have many close ties to England, friends, extended family, etc., not to mention my time living there. I have no ties to South Africa whatsoever, have never been there, and have no overbearing desire to go. Maybe one day I will, but it’s not on the agenda right now.

So on Saturday night, I will be supporting England to retain the World Cup. I know that to some this is like an act of betrayal against Ireland’s patriot dead. But you gotta admire the English. They got hosed by South Africa in the group stages, but came back to beat Australia and France in the quarters and semis. If they win, it won’t have been the best team in the world that will be world champions, but that would be true of a South Africa win too. England are rank underdogs and have nothing to lose. No-one expected them to get this far. There was nothing like the pre-tournament hype we saw in 2003.

But there is another (selfish) reason. Our record against England as world champions stands at P4 W4 D0 L0. It would be nice to have another four years of annual pops against the world champions. Unlike Danny, I do give a fuck who beats England. I prefer them to be beaten by a team wearing green, just not the shade their opponents will be wearing on Sunday.

Posted by: theswissjob | October 16, 2007

What’s next

I know this may be a little premature, we still have a few days till this thrilling competition comes to a close but I have to wonder about what we will see in four years time. I think there are big decisions to be made between now and then.

Twenty countries took part this year in the world cup and there was a visible gap between what are seen as the super powers (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, France and England) and the minnows (Namibia, Georgia, Portugal, Japan). Scorelines such as 91-3 to Australia against Japan and 108-13 for New Zealand against Portugal seem to bear testament to the fact that there is huge imbalance.

To combat this there have been a few ideas bandied about, the one with the most weight seems to suggest cutting the world cup to 16 teams and having the minnows battle it out in a pre-world cup tournament for a place in the actual world cup. I think this is wrong for numerous reasons.

The success of Fiji and Argentina this year in reaching the latter stages of the tournament shows that teams who do not compete on a regular basis (or, in some cases are still amateur) can still give the “big boys” headaches. The same can be said for Georgia who nearly turned us over. Everybody deserves a run at it and on the day can cause upsets.

Establishing an elite group and a second tier group goes against the ethos behind rugby union in the first place. Indeed the theme tune to the IRB’s showcase tournament states “The world in union, the world as one”. Surely, you can’t go and then decide that some teams have the right to enter the world cup whereas others have to go through the “back door”?

The issue of safety has also been brought up. The worry was that the well drilled and conditioned forward packs of the professional countries would decimate the minnows and risk serious injury. I can understand this concern and for the most part the professional countries did have the upperhand when it can to scrum and line out. But, to my knowledge at least, the amateurs came away without serious injury and in some cases gave the professional teams a good going over.

What needs to happen is these “smaller” teams must be given more competition, not less. Argentina should be put in the Tri-Nations and allowed to improve. They could easily join the elite, they’re fourth in the world at the moment without an annual competition! The world cup is an unpredictable affair and the success of the lesser known teams gives everyone something to cheer about. There’s nothing like getting behind the under-dog. Take that away from the world cup and all you’re left with is a predictable procession to the final.

Posted by: Gerry | October 14, 2007

Argentina Bow Out

The Argentinian odyssey came to an end tonight when they were well beaten by a clinical South Africa. The final score flattered the Boks though, as fourteen of their 37 points came from two intercept tries.

Sadly, Argentina found themselves up against not only the might of the Springboks, but also themselves. The Pumas’ play was littered with errors, and they needlessly coughed up possession and field position from knock-ons and poor kicks. They were their own worst enemies at times. There was one incident where Ledesma thought that a kick from a South African boot had gone over the touchline, and he gathered the ball to take a quick throw-in. It turned out that the ball was actually still in play, and by taking it over the touchline himself, he gave South Africa a line-out in the Argentinian 22.

Argentina still have one more game to play, as they are meet France in the 3/4 place playoff on Friday night, for a reprise of the opening match of the tournament. Win or lose, Argentina can hold their heads high leaving this World Cup. Reaching the semi-final was a major achievement for a team that has no regular annual tournament.

South Africa march on to meet England, a team they beat 36-0 in the pool stages, in the final. They are now the overwhelming, red-hot, unbackable favourites to lift the Webb Ellis.

Posted by: Gerry | October 14, 2007

France – The Real RWC Chokers

Much has been spoken and written about New Zealand being the champion chokers of the World Cup, but after last night that title should really go to France. In all six world cups so far, France have been there or thereabouts, but have never won the title. Their record is as follows:

1987 Lost to New Zealand 29-9 in the final
1991 Lost to England 19-10 in the quarter final
1995 Lost to South Africa 19-15 in the semi final
1999 Lost to Australia 35-12 in the final
2003 Lost to England 24-7 in the semi final
2007 Lost to England 14-9 in the semi final

Now if that doesn’t make them world choking champions, then I don’t know what does. At least New Zealand have won it once.

Another interesting observationette from the above record – in four of the five previous world cups, France were knocked out by the eventual winners. I wonder have Brian Ashton and his squad copped that…

Posted by: Gerry | October 14, 2007

Champions Oust The Hosts

Imagine going into Paddy Power’s the day before the World Cup started, putting €100 on the counter and asking for an accumulator on the following series of events:

– France to lose their opening match to Argentina
– Ireland to fail to progress from Pool D
– The All Blacks to be beaten at the quarter final stage
– England to beat Australia in the quarter final
– France to be knocked out by England
– England to reach the final

Any one of the above on its own would have yielded a tidy profit for that €100 stake, but if you had all of them together, you could be contemplating early retirement this morning.

England’s renaissance continued last night, with another dogged performance that consigned France to the third place play-off. They now face either South Africa or Argentina for a shot at being the first team to successfully defend their world title. Now I would love to see Argentina come through their semi, as there is great rivalry between England and Argentina, although much of it is away from the rugby field. The football world cup of 1986, the Falklands/Las Malvinas, etc., etc. However, I think my head must overrule my heart on this one, as it looks like the South Africans will be too strong for an Argentine side that have performed way beyond all expectations so far.

If it does end up as a rematch of the Pool A decider, then Die Bokke will more than likely have their victory speeches in their back pockets running out onto the pitch next Sunday night. They humiliated England 36-0 on 14 September. But they would do well to remember that this England team were destroyed by France in two matches in the run up to the tournament. (From an irish point of view, it’s also essentially the same team that our lads beat out the gate at Croke Park last February.) An England-South Africa final would be a very different prospect to the pool match.

Posted by: theswissjob | October 11, 2007

The worm is turning?

So it seems that the IRFU may not be as daft as they look to the outside world. Or at least they could be seeing the error of their ways in forking out a four year contract to “our Eddie” before the disaster that was the world cup.

Immediately in the aftermath of the “pool of death” where we didn’t show up against the minnows, let alone Les Bleus and the Argies, the IRFU stated in no uncertain terms that they would honour Eddie’s new contract and that his job was safe. Tammy Wynette would have been proud.

And while international rugby boards around the world were dropping their head coaches like hot potatoes the IRFU made their bed and climbed in with O’Sullivan. All was well and we resigned ourselves to another four years with the same coach, and team if his previous selections are anything to go by.

But, low and behold, today the first cracks in the relationship seem to have appeared. The big cheese of Irish rugby, Philip Browne, has claimed that the IRFU “will not be held to ransom by contracts or anything else”. While not exactly ground breaking in itself, the sentiment seems to point to a little domestic argy bargy in the IRFU ranks. He goes on to say:

“I think we must sit down in the cold light of day and once the dust has settled actually do a professional review of the team logistics, medical fitness, players and coaching staff and the administration. We will make an assessment then.”

That’s more like it. Never mind a U-turn, I get the feeling we could be seeing a “big illegal three point turn on a busy motorway” soon. Has anyone got Eddie Jones’ phone number?

Posted by: Gerry | October 9, 2007

News ‘n’ Blogs Round-Up, 9 October

The new IRB Rankings are out following the quarter-finals. Even though they got no further than the quarter-finals of rugby’s prestige global competition, the All Blacks are still officially the best team in the world. New Zealand’s tormentors of last weekend, France, are now up to second place. South Africa and Argentina remain third and fourth respectively, while Australia slip to fifth. All the rest stay as is.

Ireland’s squad may have no further part to play in the tournament, but there will at least be some Irish representation on the field for the final. Ireland’s top referee Alain Rolland will be manning the whistle for the showpiece game. It’s a great honour for the former Leinster scrum-half, but wouldn’t it have been nice if he had been ruled ineligible?? (Indo)

Team of the tournament so far, Argentina, feature in the news twice today. Their centre (and Leinster out-half), Dr Felipe Contepomi along with his international out-half colleague Juan Matin Hernandez, have both been nominated for the IRB Player of the Year Award. The three other nominees are New Zealand’s Richie McCaw, South Africa’s Bryan Habana and France’s Yannick Jauzion. (Irish Rugby News)

Due recognition of Argentina’s place in world rugby could be on the horizon, with IRB chairman Syd Miillar voicing his opinion that Los Pumas should be included in an expanded Southern Hemisphere Four Nations competition.

More on that remarkable France-New Zealand match from Mick Cleary in the Telegraph today. He reckons that the French had the game won before a ball was even kicked. The French stood on the half-way line and reflected the belligerence of the haka back at the All Blacks.

An Spailpín Fánach gives his take on the weekend’s action, bemoaning the schadenfreude evident in the media surrounding the All Blacks’ exit.

The cheap sniggering that’s accompanied the spectacular crashing to Earth of the best team at the Rugby World Cup™ has been unedifying, and the one bum note in what’s otherwise been a spectacular weekend for the game of rugby football.
The New Zealanders like to big up their team, but your close-attention-paying correspondent doesn’t hear much whinging out of them. Chris Jack was interviewed on Newstalk last night, before the Scotch game. He sounded like a man at his own funeral, but never once did he whinge or whine. To do so would have been the work of a “sook,” and the All-Blacks were never that. They have been able to dish it out, but now they’re taking it, and taking it like men. It’s hard not to feel that the tournament is poorer without them.

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