Two of spring’s great mysteries were solved over the weekend. Firstly, the ever present flag waver Sonny Shaw has prioritised the rugby world cup over the 20:20 world cup, though this bizarre website indicates he will make it to the Republic in time for the Black Caps tests and one dayers. I am sure they are thrilled.
Secondly the question as to whether the All Blacks reconditioning programme had any benefits. In just over quarter of an hour they scared the bejesus out of the rest of the rugby world. Sure, we can carp about how weak the Italians looked at times, the loss of structure as the game went on, some Carlosesque brain explosions from Luke McAlister, but that quarter hour, five try blitzkrieg was a class above anything else in this opening weekend.
The support play was superb. I wonder in awe sometimes just how remarkable Ali Williams, Chris Jack and Carl Hayman are in terms of their contribution in all phases of the game. Richie McCaw looked a bit embarrassed to be named man of the match. It could have been any one of them. If I were choosing I actually would not go past Leon McDonald. His positional play was faultless and his energy and invention led to numerous attacks and directly to one try. It begs the question as to whether we just accept that Muliana at centre is the way to go.
We now interrupt the programme for a message from Rupert Murdoch. There is of course no difference between the kind of rugby you can play with the sun on your back, on a dry ground in the middle of the day and night rugby with variable temperature, dew and cold hands. Sadly for Rupert a couple of the All Blacks, including Doug Howlett, went way off script in the interviews after the game noting how great it was to play in daytime conditions. Hear, hear.
Obviously we can not get carried away. The Aussies were clinical in dispatching Japan. They built steadily and wore down the Japanese until they could score at will. There was no blitzkrieg- it was a slow and painful experience. George Gregan had a tremendous game as referee.
Argentina looked every inch a quarter finalist. It does not bear thinking about the French not being in the final eight in terms of the health of the tournament, but it has to be contemplated.
Apparently England eked out a ponderous win over the US. England are irrelevant at this World Cup. They will lose to Samoa and not make the quarter finals. You heard it here first. (Actually you heard it here, from Zinzan)
The Poms are seriously worried -- mostly about the All Blacks and what might happen against Portugal and Romania, but also about the cup as a whole. The Daily Telegraph warns against disrespecting the haka. Not certain we will get further tikanga lessons from them as the cup goes on
Meanwhile in the commentary box Hamish McKay threatened to go all Mike Moore on us uttering random words like ‘atmosphere’, ‘occasion’ and ‘athlete’, interspersed with French or Italian names that may or may not bear any relation to the player who has the ball, but he was ok, especially at the Cambridge pub in Wellington on Saturday night where we couldn’t hear a word.
Andrew Mehrtens and Grant Fox actually look like they could add something to watching the games -- both are reading the game well and make us grateful that Murray is relegated to the NPC for the rest of the year. It was also strangely comforting to find James Ryan perched on a rooftop in Paris with Mike McRoberts. Just hope he has his boots. Ryan that is, not McRoberts.
To pre-empt the naysaers -- yes there are going to be some shocking mismatches in this round. Put simply that is because rugby is not a global game. There are not the teams around to make the competition even all the way through. But the World Cup is actually about creating a global game- exposing our favourite game to the world. And it is getting better. The USA, Namibia and to some extent Portugal were competitive against their professional opposition. It will take many years to create a global game, but you have to start somewhere.
So we are on our way, and it feels good. My favourite moment of the weekend, however, happened a long way from Marseille or Paris. It happened near Westport when Keith Robinson’s mother landed a 280kg tuna, the biggest ever caught by a woman anywhere in the world. Superb- now does she jump at number two or number four in the lineout?