Crozier on rugby - not for fence sitters!
I LIKE rugby. I like rugby a lot. But even I have to say that the prospect of a six-week World Cup running all the way to October 20 doesn't do it for me.
Between now and September 30, when the last of the group stage games finally are played, there will be more of the mis-matches which saw Australia hammer Japan 91-3, New Zealand trounce the Italians 76-14, South Africa cane Samoa 59-7 and Scotland tank Portugal 56-10 in the opening fixtures.
The expectation - at least on the part of the English media - was that England would do something similar to the USA. As things worked out, the holders won 28-10. The margin - and, more significantly, the nature - of their victory was less than convincing, however.
Mind you, given just how hard-to-stomach those smug Wapping and Manchester-based scribes and their broadcast media counterparts can be, I wasn't crying.
Quite the opposite, in fact. I make no bones about it, nor do I apologise; I don't want England to retain the trophy they won in such dramatic fashion four years ago in Sydney.
Why? Well, the prospect of having to endure another four years of Ian Robinson describing a trophy-clinching drop-goal would be the end of me, I fear, for in terms of overkill, his last-kick outburst about Jonny Wilkinson now has eclipsed Kenneth Wolstenholme's "There are some people on the pitch. They think it's all over. It is now!" wrap re: Geoff Hurst in 1966.
Wolstenholme's line I can accept, (a) because it was a magnificent, instinctive, off-the-cuff change of direction in his commentary and (b) because he is English. Robinson, however, is a Scot, for which reason I cannot forgive his crowing and drooling over a Sassenach triumph.
Of course, we Irish can't gloat about England's failure to deliver against Uncle Sam, for our lot weren't any better against Namibia. Like the English, we'd been expected to pummel our opponents; in truth we were relieved to win 32-17. Mid-way through the second-half we would have broken the arm of anyone offering such an outcome.
In both instances, the pre-match talk had been of winning margins akin to cricket scores. Both England and Ireland will have to improve somewhat if they are to progress to the quarter-finals three weeks hence.
Three weeks? Ye Gods, endurance awards have been presented for much less....
I could understand and warm to the World Cup if it was an attractive tournament featuring nations of comparable ability. Alas, we are not. Instead, everybody knows that between now and September 30 there will be further drubbings and humblings for the minnows, for rest assured that the Springboks will do what England could not by battering the USA and Tonga en route to a place in the last eight. Ditto Australia at the expense of Fiji and Canada and, quite possibly, Wales.
And the All Blacks will blow Romania and Portugal off the map, with the Iberian Peninsula half of that particular duo in danger of shipping a record number of World Cup points on Saturday afternoon in Lyons.
I have yet to hear a persuasive argument for rugby's advancement in outposts like Portugal or Japan as a result of utter humiliation before a watching world audience. Nor am I convinced that youngsters in those chastened countries will be writing 'Rugby ball, scrum-cap and jockstrap' on their Santa lists in the near future.
On a more serious note, though, I am genuinely concerned that there is a very real possibility of serious injury to some of the no-hopers. For while boxing is brutal, at least it pairs like with like in terms of physique and it is a sport in which a referee can call a halt to a non-contest in order to stop unnecessary suffering.
Of course, as a spectacle, the Rugby World Cup will improve as the wheat and chaff are separated. Before that, however, we face a few more of those mis-matches and non-events.
Group matches worth watching? They're thin on the ground, but pencil in England v South Africa (Pool A, Friday, September 14); Wales v Australia (Pool B, Saturday, September 15); Scotland v New Zealand (Pool C, Sunday, September 23) and Scotland v Italy (Pool C, Saturday, September 29); Ireland v France (Pool D, Friday, September 21); Ireland v Argentina (Pool D, Sunday, September 30).
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Weather for Ballymena
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 14 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 7 C to 14 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North west