WITHOUT A football tournament to breathe life into a drab summer, it’s up to its posh cousin rugby union to spruce up the autumn with some World Cup thrills and spills from New Zealand, in a tournament that could be tighter than an All Black’s top. You can follow all the home nations and Ireland live on ITV1 and ITV4, and if you miss games or want to relive the action, catch up with ITV Player. Now, here are a few things to look out for…
The Team: New Zealand
Despite Australia’s recent hot streak – which stretched to victory in the Tri Nations – it’s hard to look past the host nation. Yes, they’ve only won it once, but examine the facts: the last time they hosted the tournament in 1987, they won at a canter; they haven’t lost at home since 2009 and they’re really, really good. History bodes very well for them – just don’t mention the word “choke”.
New Zealand born, had Quade opted to play for the All Blacks, Dan Carter might at least have ONE challenger for the fly-half berth. As it is, Cooper pledged allegiance to the rowdy neighbours, and could yet prove to be the real star of the World Cup. A dazzling runner.
The Dark Horse: Ireland
The oft misinterpreted adage about “the luck of the Irish” is laced with irony. They’re unlucky. Really unlucky. Hence they are yet to make it past the quarter-finals at a World Cup. But with the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell slowly tugging at the curtains on their illustrious careers, now would be a nice time to buck the trend for the jolly green giants.
The Whipping Boys: Namibia
Yet to win a single World Cup match from three previous appearances in the competition, Namibia are in the same group as South Africa and Wales, who will be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of tries galore. But before anyone gets too carried away, here’s a scary fact – they beat Ireland TWICE in 1991.
The Move: The Chris Ashton Swan Dive (England)
Slightly frowned upon by England’s top brass, who prefer their try celebrations to involve firm handshakes and no eye contact, Ashton’s swan dive was one of the features of the last Six Nations. It’s a fairly simple move, which involves soaring over the try line, limbs akimbo like a startled frog leaping from a pond. England fans will be hoping for much more of the same.
Only the Kiwis and the Welsh can boast rugby as their country’s number-one sport, so expect rabid behaviour from their fans. For the most part, the Welsh like to paint themselves RED, or occasionally wave their national vegetable – the leek – approvingly at their players. One fan once decided to perform a celebratory self-castration after beating the English. Probably the less said about that the better.
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Get in the rugby mood by taking a look back at some great Five and Six Nations Grand Slams