November 01, 2005

International month in rugby union.: There's an awesome month of international rugby union to be played this month. All the top rugby-playing nations will be in action, as New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Samoa, Tonga and Argentina visit Europe. Can the All-Blacks, currently the best team in the world, remain unbeaten on this tour? Will England finally look like a team that can retain the world cup? Will Argentina make an unarguable case for inclusion in more top-class international rugby competition?

posted by salmacis to other at 12:50 PM - 14 comments

Just to let you know there are some people out here who watch rugby union. I went to Brian Lima's last game in Apia and my 10 yr old son even sports a Manu Samoa jersey. However my biggest problem with the 'international' game is that since it became professional, the smaller countries keep getting the daylights beaten out of them on a regular basis. There is a big design flaw in modern rugby (apart from all the other technical ones) in that upsets are now so few and far between. You can pick the semi finalists at each RWC years in advance (England, Australia, New Zealand and either S. Africa or France). And the matches themselves are also too predictable. Moving the defensive lines back 5 metres from the rear of the ruck/maul would provide more space for back line play. It worked in (dare I say it) rugby league, which is now a far more entertaining game.

posted by owlhouse at 08:14 PM on November 01

Excellent example of another way insisting on absolute capitalism/free markets drive simple pleasures out the back door. Enjoy as much as you can, owlhouse.

posted by billsaysthis at 11:08 PM on November 01

"You can pick the semi finalists at each RWC years in advance (England, Australia, New Zealand and either S. Africa or France)." Fair enough, but can you point me in the direction of team sports where this is not equally true? There have only been 5 Rugby World Cups, and in the past two decades we have seen evidence that the Wales and Ireland and Argentina's of the world can foot it with the world's best teams. Soccer is far-and-away the most popular team sport in the world and has had only 7 different champions in 17 World Cups. One of those winners was Uruguay, who last won in 1950 and haven't been a force in world soccer for the past four decades. So, realistically, we see the same club of teams (Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina) winning virtually all the tournaments. Now, you may say it's alwasy the usual suspects in world rugby, but there have been five RWC tournaments and 4 different winners. Wales was a pushover until professionalism picked the game back up. They were relegated to minnows, and now they are 6N champs. It's certainly true that professionalism hasn't helped some smaller nations, but I see the exact same things happening in international cricket, ice hockey, volleyball etc. where the elite level is always occupied by only a few teams.

posted by the red terror at 08:21 AM on November 02

As for the games themselves, I believe the All Blacks will have a tough time pulling off the Grand Slam. A slam is a hard four weeks and every home team is targeting the ABs as their biggest test. And since that is the focus, I believe the Boks and Wallabies will mop up and demolish their distracted opponents. The Aussies are in some turmoil right now, but they are flying under the radar and will be looking to quietly set their side right. I believe they will surprise the NH sides who believe they have gone soft. The Boks have been playing great rugby all year, which is not good for the home sides eyeing the New Zealanders. The Boks will make them pay for their lack of focus and respect. The All Blacks have the bullseyes painted on their backs, they will be in for a tough time, especially since coach Graham Henry is looking to bleed rookies into the test side. This is the conclusion of their very long season; I predict they will win the Slam, but I suspect by razor-thin margins.

posted by the red terror at 08:32 AM on November 02

Red Terror: I agree that the cream always rises to the top, but: Semi finalists at the last 5 football World Cups were 02 - Brazil, Germany, Korea, Turkey. 98 - Brazil, France, Holland, Croatia. 94 - Brazil, Italy, Bulgaria, Sweden. 90 - Germany, Argentina, Italy, England. 86 - Argentina, Germany, France, Belgium. It would be hard to even suggest the top four for next years' tournament at this stage. Maybe SpoFi can run a competition? And remember that teams like France, Holland, England, Spain etc and some of the ones above do not even qualify for some tournaments.

posted by owlhouse at 04:18 PM on November 02

Well yes. Professionalism has benefitted those countries where rugby union was already a major sport. No shit, huh? It was one of the reasons the IRB resisted it for so long, even though it became increasingly untenable. In terms of the global appeal of the game, we will be much enlightened by the decision of the IRB as to where to hold the 2011 world cup. Choose South Africa or New Zealand, and you could assume the game's authorities are quite content to let things continue as they are. Choose Japan, and maybe the IRB are serious about spreading the word around the globe. Anyway, I'm going to settle back and enjoy some damn fine rugby over the next month.

posted by salmacis at 04:35 PM on November 02

I'm not sure the IRB resisted professionalism to keep the international competition more even. I think the disparity is an unintended outcome of professionalism, caused primarily poor revenue distribution coupled with a terrible policy regarding national representation. If I look back at my family tree, and apply the rules of qualification, I am eligible right now to play for Australia, New Zealand, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and, if I wanted to move for a couple of years, just about anywhere else you could name. But I agree that if the IRB doesn't pick Japan, they are missing a huge opportunity. Wouldn't you rather see a match near Kyoto than Palmerston North?

posted by owlhouse at 08:25 PM on November 02

Actually, to provoke Red Terror, change 'Palmerston North' to 'Takapuna'. You're not related to Pamela Stephenson, by any chance are you, Big Red?

posted by owlhouse at 08:32 PM on November 02

Owlhouse -- I'm a bit confused. You say professionalism has hurt the global game, and yet you want the next RWC in Japan, a nation with no history or culture in international rugby, presumably because it's "good for business." I don't have a problem with the tournament being held in Japan, any more than holding a World Cup of Ice Hockey in Brazil might help spread the game into the southern hemisphere (yeah, right). (Seriously, wouldn't you rather see a World Cup of Ice Hockey in Rio de Janiero than Calgary? Sure, Calgary has a hockey culture and a ready-made fan base, but Rio has nicer beaches.) It is my belief that the best way to show people what the future of rugby is, is to take them somewhere where they can drive through a city or a small town on a Saturday morning and see rugby paddock after rugby paddock filled with young boys, young men (and women) hammering the tar out of each other. That's the grass roots of rugby union. I can assure you that of the three 2011 RWC host contenders, Japan does not fit that profile. On the other hand, if promoting the big corporate dollar option is the plan, then Japan is a good option. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking a RWC in Japan is a reward for the little guy, 'cos that's laughable. Japan is a big player, because they have deeper pockets than NZ. When it comes to ka-ching, NZ is small potatoes. Simple observation: the nation that has (arguably) popularized international rugby more than any other continues to get penalized for being too small, whereas a nation that has done jack-all by contrast gets a huge advantage. Why do you think this is? Simple answer: tv and money. Ignore all the propaganda about "growing the game," that's an ancilliary sham. It's always about the money first, second and third, and any other positive spin-off or effect is simply a bonus.

posted by the red terror at 07:53 AM on November 03

I remember very clearly looking at a results sheet from the last RWC and thinking 'If I had put a fiver on the favourites in every game throughout the whole tournament on some kind of accumulator bet, I'd have won a fortune.' I'm now questioning myself - I'm not sure there wasn't the odd upset - but if my dodgy memory serves, every single game in the last one went by the form book. The excitement (and I thought it was an exciting tournament) came from what nearly happened - Wales nearly beat NZ, Ireland nearly beat the Aussies, England nearly choked.

posted by JJ at 08:33 AM on November 03

"The excitement (and I thought it was an exciting tournament) came from what nearly happened." Yes, that's called suspense. And when you are in the thrall of suspense while it is actually happening, it can be as exciting as anything in sports. If upsets happened all the time, they'd lose their magnitude when the truly colossal ones actually occur. NZ losing to Australia in the semi, and Australia losing to England in the final went against the book. So too the previous tournament, when NZ was shocked by France. So, yes, at the championship rounds, there are no certainties. As I said earlier, 4 different winners in 5 tournaments at the very least demonstrates a competitive battle for the title of World Champion, and that is how it should be.

posted by the red terror at 10:57 AM on November 03

'If I had put a fiver on the favourites in every game throughout the whole tournament on some kind of accumulator bet, I'd have won a fortune.' Do they still have straight accumulator bets? To me picking straight winners is peanuts, but if you play the point-spreads and over-unders, &tc., you can get yourself some tantalising wagers. They'll take bets on who scores the first try to the time the first try is scored, they'll take bets on almost anything in rugby, but I wasn't aware of anyone taking accumulator bets (I could be wrong, I follow the odds but don't place bets myself, fool's game).

posted by the red terror at 11:03 AM on November 03

You can run your own accumulator - just keep betting the winning stake on the next game until you lose (your bottle or your money). I suppose there's an issue there with games being played at the same time, but there are ways around that. I think the RWC is a great tournament - i think taking it to japan would be a mistake because (and I think someone already said this better) it should go to the places where people want to see it, not where we wish more people wanted to see it.

posted by JJ at 01:33 PM on November 03

Dudes - the reason I favour Japan is not for 'business reasons', other than they have fantastic stadia and great TV broadcasting coverage (football WC 2002). And the tournament would be a wonderful social event with lots of overseas supporters able to travel around a great country (and culture) to visit and experience. And its in my time zone. This does not apply to Sth Africa (or NZ for some of it), who have both hosted the RWC before. NZ has crappy stadia and overall the place is hokey. Sth Africa has better facilities, but worrying crime stats (we'll have to see how football WC 2010 goes). Anyway, they will get another turn. And as far as you accumulator goes, my recall of the bookies' odds were that NZ was favoured (slightly) to beat Aust, however England were very warm favourites in the final.

posted by owlhouse at 03:50 PM on November 03

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