TEN rugby thoughts after one round of rugby's 10th World Cup? Let's begin with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Cheesy video, cheesy drums, but such a lovely voice just before her beloved All Blacks' first big World Cup choke in 1991:
Thought No 1: The alternative jersey
I have discarded my initial snide comment about the dyspeptic peppermint colour of the alternative Springbok jersey, because it is simply so annoying to so many people who now annoy me so much that I'm considering acquiring one, just to rub salt in their wounds.
If the Springboks win the World Cup in it, dyspeptic peppermint will become one of South Africa's favourite colours overnight. I love it in advance. Mwah, mwah, dyspeptic peppermint.
No 2: The Scots
Scotland being number five in the world, yeah, sure. South Africa smothered and buried them so comfortably in second and later third gear last Sunday that the game might have been boring if you weren't a Bok supporter.
In the pre-tournament victory over the All Blacks, the Springboks used two sharp new moves from the lineout which led to tries. There was no need to demonstrate these against the Scots, but expect a whole lot more that we haven't yet seen. There are still some new aces up their sleeves, and the later they become necessary, the more they will make us cheer.
Finn Russell has now proven not to be the best attacking flyhalf in the world and, please, none of Scotland's South African-born players would have made this Springbok team on merit. Number four on earth these days is officially and clearly New Zealand; there's a freaking big gap before number five comes into play.
No 3: Last weekend
Yours truly got two out of eight predictions wrong (Fiji and Argentina to win, wishful thinking remains a bugger), which at least indicates slightly more unpredictability than we have become accustomed to in the group phase of this tournament over the years.
Argentina were astonishingly stupid in all aspects against 14 Englishmen, and after Fiji lost their first-choice flyhalf, Caleb Muntz, before the tournament, their decision-making has reverted to amateur levels.
No 4: This weekend
We all knew in July that France would win last night. In fact, we already knew this in July 2022.
Today New Zealand will win; Samoa, Wales and Ireland will win tomorrow; and the day after tomorrow South Africa and England will win. The question is by what margins, but a points difference of 20-plus will be the norm, once again underlining the extent to which the World Cup has failed for almost four decades in its stated aim of making the sport more internationally competitive.
On Sunday at 6pm it is Fiji against the Wallabies, and in this round it is the only game with a result in the balance. But if Fiji weren't smart enough to outwit Warren Gatland, old Eddie Jones will surely be too wily for them.
No 5: Romania
Poor Romania. In the 1970s and 80s they were rugby's most promising emerging power, largely because the “communist" dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu nudged the state machine in that direction.
After he and his wife were executed by firing squad for complicity in the deaths of 60,000 people, the Romanian rugby appetite largely disappeared. If they lose against South Africa by fewer than 40 points on Sunday, it will be one helluva effort. The fly half, Hinckley Vaovasa, has some snap, crackle and pop, but he is a New Zealander by birth, for clarification.
No 6: South Africa
I don't really have words to describe what I think goes through the mind of a poor guy who has just taken punishment from Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert and then faces Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane, Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman, who are raring to go on the sidelines. Or vice versa.
The simplest question in rugby is who places whom under pressure. If you have two of the best forward packs in the world in your squad, the chances are excellent that you are going to make it very uncomfortable for all the fancy hairstyles and tattoos on the other side.
I don't want to be too boisterous about South Africa's chances, but how can I not? No one else really regards the Springboks as favourites, but we are becoming rather bigheaded over here. Fortunately, the team are more humble than their compatriots, myself included. And anyone who still can't see that Manie Libbok is a wizard is a nitwit.
No 7: Ireland, France and New Zealand
New Zealand will not remain mediocre, and I fear they will save their one outstanding performance for the quarterfinal against the Boks. But hey, you don't win this cup without a bit of agony and the All Blacks will have to find better props and locks somewhere.
Ireland are very different with Johnny Sexton than without him. Next Saturday is the big hoo-ha about who wins the group, but I reckon the Boks have this one.
It doesn't really matter: the winner and the loser face either France or New Zealand in the quarterfinals. Both are nasty challenges, but the relative ease with which the French shrugged off the All Blacks means you want to face them as late in the tournament as possible.
No 8: The organisation
Yes, the French stole the tournament from us and I'm bitter about that. But the French electricity supplier is not threatening stage 7 load-shedding. On Saturday I will be without power for more than 12 hours. And I'm even more bitter about that. Then again, our beer supply wouldn't have run out just like that: https://www.planetrugby.com/news/the-fans-drank-a-lot-more-rugby-world-cup-organisers-address-beer-blunder
No 9: The refs
Englishman Tom Curry's suspension of two matches for an accident which was hardly his fault was a chilling reminder of the exaggerated influence an invisible official can have on the tournament. Fortunately for England, Argentina were too feeble to make headway, even with the advantage of one extra player for 77 minutes. Fingers crossed for less of this, but I won't hold my breath.
No 10: The temperature
The weather in southern Europe is sweltering and the guys are sweating like fresh cheese even before they run onto the field. It makes life a little easier for teams who are used to heat, especially if they have a reserve bench that is at pretty much the same standard as the select XV.
Bonus No 11: Tunes for Friday
The All Blacks:
And all parties are better with a few Irish. Hey, even Van Morrison was young once:
♦ VWB ♦
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