The World Cup of Rugby

I will never forget my introduction to the World Cup of Rugby. The year was 1995 and I was living in Brisbane, Australia. It was around dusk and I was taking a leisurely walk down the quiet inner-city neighborhood of Hawthorne.

As I was enjoying the evening and my surroundings I noticed a poorly dressed man pacing up and down his driveway nervously chainsmoking a pack of Windfields. He stopped pacing every once in a while when he got near the steps of his home only to enjoy a gulp or two of some xxxx malt liquor from a "stubby bottle" which was sitting on the veranda of his rundown Queenslander-style house. He appeared very unsanitary, and extremely crusty–just my style. So I forsook my walk for a moment to engage this disturbed fellow in a little conversation.

I approached the Aussie.

"How ya’ goin’ mate? You’re looking a little rough tonight," I said.

"Yea mate, yea. I’m a little uptight tonight. The game is on and she’s close. Makes me nervous. Too nervous to watch," replied the Aussie in a very neurotic tone.

He took a long hard drag on his Winfield and finished his thought; "So I come outside and me wife watches the game. She lets me know when anything important happens."

I was clueless as to what he was referring to so I inquired: "What game is it that you’re talking about?"

The moment I asked the question, my Aussie friend turned and looked at me like I was the most absurd person he had ever set eyes on (and I probably was).

"You from America or something?" he asked me, disgusted.

I was so embarrassed. I couldn’t let him know I was Canadian, so I took one for the team. "Yeah. I’m from America," I said with a sense of shame, not truly believing what I had just admitted.

"Yeah, I thought I heard an accent when you came over here. Anyway, it’s the World Cup Rugby on tonight mate–the Wallabies and the Springboks live from South Africa, Cape Town, I think. The ‘Boks are damned good, too, mate. I’m really worried about the Aussies."

He paused for a moment and then questioned: "I guess you’s don’t play Rugby over there in America?"

"Well, there is a little rugby at home, but it isn’t like anything you have over here," I replied. "We are more into what you would call gridiron."

The Aussie was not impressed.

"Gridiron. You mean with all those pads. That’s a sport √ět to be played by a pack of girls, I reckon." I briefly tried to explain some of the reasons pads are worn and to illustrate that gridiron was a different game altogether, with a completely different type of contact, but I was very unsuccessful and quickly terminated that line of conversation realizing that my attempt was futile.

I stayed with my newly acquired Aussie friend for a while that night and talked, interrupted every once in a while by game updates from his dear wife. While Australia ended up losing the game to South Africa, they had gained a new fan, something my friend took little solace in, I’m sure.

That was four years ago, and once again the World Cup is upon us. The 1999 World Cup tournament takes place in a handful of European countries, with the final match being played in Wales. It is truly an international tournament with teams from all over the globe: from Japan, to Samoa, to Argentina, to Namibia, to Wales. There will be 20 teams competing for the cup this year, the best represented World Cup to date.

Canada is well-represented, as in World Cups past, although they could not be considered a favourite. They have a solid side which is captained very ably by Gareth Rees. This year Canada drew a fairly tough pool in the tournament with Namibia, Fiji, and France in the mix. The squad played very well in their first game Saturday against France, one of the top teams at this year’s tournament, but lost 33-20 despite leading at half-time. They play again Saturday against Fiji in what promises to be a great game, and that game should decide which of the two teams will join France in moving on from the round robin. The team finishes off the round-robin portion of the tournament against Namibia the following week, which should be a sure win for the Canadians.

This year’s World Cup promises to be one of the most exciting ever, with a number of teams capable of winning it all. While France, Ireland and especially England promise to be very competitive, they are real dark horses when it comes to winning the World Cup. The true powerhouses of international rugby hail from the Southern Hemisphere.

The Tri-Nations, as they are known; Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, are the dominant teams in rugby today and have taken turns winning the last three World Cups in 1987, 1991 and 1995. Although South Africa is still a very strong team with a chance of going deep into the tournament they are a step behind this year and need some work to return to their top form.

As for the final, it looks like it will come down to the match that all rugby enthusiasts want to see–The Australia Wallabies vs. The New Zealand All Blacks in the World Cup final, Nov., 6, 1999 in Cardiff, Wales. It promises to be one of the most epic showdowns in World Cup Rugby history.

I’ll leave you with my fearless prediction: Australia wins a close game against the All Blacks after beating England in the semis. In the meantime, you can catch World Cup action on CTV Sportsnet via Fox Sports.

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