On the evening of Sept. 22nd I met up with long time buddy Dave Farrar. Dave and I were two of the early members of New Orleans Rugby Football Club back in 1973. In the 38 years we’ve known each other we have had some exceptional evenings out and at some point I should tell those stories, but this article is about the 2011 World Cup. Dave and I started with a few glasses of New Zealand merlot in the Te Papa Museum in Wellington which was having “USA Day”. As a special event they had some Kiwi teenagers doing gymnastic formations as a salute to American cheerleaders. We moved to a bar on the edge of the Wellington Fanzone for the first half of South Africa vs Namibia. Over a couple more glasses of NZ merlot/cabernet blend we chatted with a Quebeckian (person from Quebec – I think they actually call themselves something like Quebecquois, but I don’t think I can spell that) and his father. As we watched Namibia get annihilated, we discussed a very common theme of World Cups ‘how the minnows can narrow the gap with the tier 1 teams’. Although there are many people with simplistic views like getting a nation’s top athletes into a professional team in Europe or the southern hemisphere, the reality is more along the lines of years of moving the sport down into the elementary schools and getting kids enthusiastic and playing the game at the age of 5 or 6 like they do in New Zealand. The guy from Quebec said he played rugby maybe twice in school and both times it was introduced by British teachers. No French Canadian teacher ever even mentioned the sport to him. Somewhere between leaving an Irish bar, where we watched the second half of Namibia’s 87-0 humbling at the fists of the reigning world champ Springboks and encountering a “sex worker” I lost my glasses and voice. As it was explained to me by a Kiwi, sex is legal in New Zealand. This youngish lady came strolling up behind us as we headed back to where Dave was staying in the bar and restaurant area called Cuba Street and introduced herself as a “sex worker”. She let us know her union rates for services. We thanked her for the menu and headed on for more merlot. The next day voiceless and semi-blind I picked up my press ticket to USA v Australia. If you are reading this you already know that the Eagles took a good thumping by the Wallabies, 67-5. Some people seem to think the USA put up a good effort. Several of the usual starters were not even in the 22 picked to be eligible to play. Maybe coaches and USA rugby leaders are saying this was a good effort for the USA B team and possibly it was. I had a great seat in the covered press section away from the cold and damp that is prevalent in this part of New Zealand in the early spring. Next to me were Dave and Chris from the Deadspin.com website. We were the USA supporters in our area of the press table. I haven’t read their stuff yet, but from the little discussion we had about USA play and what I overheard them muttering and saying among themselves there wasn’t a lot of good stuff going on. The half time match summary listed the USA as making 30 tackles and missing 10. That is missing 1 in 4 tackles. It only got worse in the second half. There were several times in the second half when forwards would lie down with the ball before going into contact. Yes, this made it easier to maintain possession, but what good is possession if you are just falling down and moving backwards .Hopefully the strategy of resting some key players during this match so we can be more competitive against Italy on Tuesday, Sept. 27th, will pay off. If so, it was a great Eagle effort. Before I move on I have one other observation about the game. On my left were the Deadspin guys and on my right were some Argentinian (I guess because they were speaking Spanish) journalists and journalist groupies. These guys didn’t stand up for the anthems!! If they weren’t from Argentina, I apologize, but if they were, Argentineans you need to teach your journalists and other citizens better manners. Even if it is not your anthem you stand-up. Last night we stopped at a fantastic spot on the “Surf Highway” in a place called Otokapane (or something like that) . After parking the camper van we strolled into town for some great pub food and England’s 67-3 dismantling of Romania. The people in the pub were fantastic. Everyone came up and said hello to the 2 strangers in town. They were genuinely happy to have World Cup visitors in their local. They were all supporting Romania against England because they said they always supported the underdog. When I whispered the question would they be supporting the underdog French against the All Blacks, they looked at me like I was bonkers. They all advised me to drink more to get over my laryngitis; although, no one offered to buy me a drink. They thought it was funny when I croaked out that drinking too much was how I lost my voice in the first place. We watched the rumored 2nd string French team go down to the All Blacks 37-17 from the comfort of the tv room at the travel park with an old Welsh school teacher and a Swiss medical student. Today we returned to New Plymouth ahead of tomorrow’s Wales vs. Namibia match. We met up with our friends Huw & Celia. I played with Huw in Ecuador in 1979-82. We strolled the coast walkway from our Top 10 travel park to the New Plymouth Fanzone. Huw informed us New Plymouth was alleged to have been selected as the United Nations best small town in the world largely based on the coastal walkway. It was a pleasant stroll. The Fanzone was packed as was the famous local Irish bar, Peggy Gordon’s. We found a deserted Italian restaurant across the street and settled down to pizza, beer, and Samoa’s victory over Fiji. We then walked down to the Devon Hotel for Ireland vs Russia. Ireland’s 62-12 win was entertaining, but the Welsh team was staying in the hotel. Every couple of minutes one of the players would come walking through the bar and sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans. (Shane Williams is really short!) Hanging out on a sofa in the bar were former Welsh greats and current Welsh coaches Neil Jenkins and Rob Howley. With so many Welsh rugby stars hanging around we were a bit like teenage girl groupies at a Beatles’ concert. We came back to the travel park to catch Argentina’s one point victory over Scotland (13-12). Scotland kicked away possession and their 6 point lead and now have the almost impossible challenge of beating England on Oct. 1st to stay in the tournament. By my calculations they have to beat England by more than 7 points (to deny England a bonus point) or they will still be out of the tournament. Currently in Pool B the tournament points are as follows for the top 3 teams: England = 14, Scotland = 10, Argentina = 10. Argentina’s last game is against Georgia and the Pumas will most definitely win and probably score 4 tries. That will give them 15 points. If Scotland beats England but doesn’t score 4 tries they will get 4 points for the win and have 14 points. If they tie England’s points, the winner of the match in which the two tied teams played moves ahead. This would mean England would be out of the tournament, unless England loses to Scotland by 7 points or less and then they would get a bonus point and be tied with Argentina. Interesting to punder the possibilities but the probability is that England wil beat Scotland and the Scots are on their way home before the quarterfinals. Argentina will head to Auckland to face the All Blacks in an Oct. 9 quarterfinal and England and France will meet on Oct. 8th in the other quarterfinal in Auckland, Wellington quarterfinals will see South Africa against Australia on October 9th and Wales vs Ireland on October 8th unless Italy upsets Ireland in pool play on October 2nd.
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