Friday, September 09, 2011


Yes, it’s that time once again, when the warriors strap it on, take the field, and commence another march to the coveted trophy.

Except that there isn’t much to strap on, it’s a pitch, and the trophy is the Webb Ellis, not the Lombardi. Yeah, it’s Rugby World Cup time. It’s 3:30 AM EDT, and the first match of the 2011 Cup is about to kick off in Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealand versus Tonga. Crouch, together, engage.

Here’s a highly uninformed preview to brief you with just enough backstory so that, hopefully, you will develop some rooting interest and follow along. I’m guessing that the only regular reader who will be watching any of the Cup might be Jerry, and he probably knows as much or more, but here goes.

Your Cliffs Notes Rugby World Cup Preview

The Rugby World Cup

  • Founded all the way back in 1987
Previous Winners:
1987 – New Zealand
1991 – Australia
1995 – South Africa (spoiler alert: you know, like in Invictus)
1999 – Australia
2003 – England
2007 – South Africa, defending champs
You sense a domination of just a few nations. It’s true. Only France has been a consistent contender outside this list.

The Format
If you watch World Cup soccer, you sort of know the drill. We begin with a group stage, except that instead of eight groups of four teams, there are four groups of five, so 20 nations make the tournament. You play everyone in your pool, so you have four pool matches, with two teams from each pool advancing to the knock-out stage.

How The Game Is Played
Okay, you probably kind of already know, and none of us wants me to transcribe the book of laws here, but here are a few basic facts as you watch:
  • 15 dudes on a side (in this variety; sevens is the more lively nephew of this game)
  • 40 minute halves
  • Lots of running-about advancing behavior, as it’s a game of possession with the goal of touching the ball down in the try zone or kicking it through the uprights. Sound familiar?
  • Can’t pass the ball forward, can’t even drop it or hit it forward accidentally. This is called a knock-on, and it results in a change of possession. Americans changed it so you can throw it forward and therefore not get hit so much. Some say smart, ruggers say lazy and sissy.
The mass of dudes binding onto each other and pushing has different names:
  • Scrum – general term, but the organized variety is a scrumdown, after a knock-on, tie-up, or whenever the ref doesn’t know what to do.
  • Ruck – ball’s on the ground; push the pack over it, and when it’s free, grab it
  • Maul – ball’s in your team’s hands; push forward, pass it back ‘til it’s free
  • The pack has eight guys, the back line has seven.
  • Big dudes in the pack, smaller/faster dudes (not always in either case) are backs
I played in the pack for four years in college, eventually working my way to 8-man, the most fun position I played. Back of the pack, you can either ruck over the ball and let the scrum-half kick it out to the backs or take it yourself. Most enjoyable was when Hightower was the scrum-half and I was 8, as we rarely passed it and got yelled at plenty. I retired from the pack my 5th year and played outside center in the back line. Don’t let any back fool you, it’s slack as shit back there.

  • 5 points for a try, 2 for the conversion, BUT, you kick the conversion from wherever you touched the ball down, latitudinally speaking. Meaning if you dive for a try in the corner, your kicker takes aim from anywhere he chooses... along the sideline. Hence people running into the center of the try zone when they can.
  • 3 points for a kick, either a drop-kick in mid-play or via a penalty.
Penalties… ugh, too much typing. Oversimplified:
There are obvious ones (taking a bloke’s head off, tackling / holding / obstructing a man without the ball) and less obvious ones (hands in a ruck, not releasing the ball when tackled – this is very grey, as a ruck can form around you -- and a whole lot of offsides). Offsides: basically if there’s a scrum/ruck/maul, or if someone on your team kicks it, mind your advancement, there’s a good chance you’ll be whistled.

Big part of the game (not mine), if you punt it on a penalty or from behind your own 22-meter line and it goes into touch (out of bounds), the other side throws a lineout in from there. But outside your 22, back to where you kicked it.
You kicked it and it stays inbounds, you better get on your bleedin’ horse, mate. No one who was in front of you when you kicked it can touch the fellow who caught it until you pass them and make them onside.
Pop kick: you’re running towards the zone, man comes at you, pop-kick it over his head, run around him, retrieve the ball, run in. Sounds a hell of a lot easier than it is.

Lineouts: ball goes out, throw it back in straight. Come on, dummy.

Oh… when you score, they kick off to you. Which is excellent unless they pop it up and drill you, which happened a lot to us in undergrad.


So who’s gonna win?

New Zealand. Or so say the oddsmakers, who give them roughly 4:6 odds. Bodog gives them 8/13, while the US of A is 1000:1. Some have the Americans at 5000:1.

So you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance.

The aforementioned Wallabies, Springboks, and Limeys are a respective 3:1, 8:1, and 10:1. Jerry likes the Aussies. I don’t care. I just like to watch. (That’s right.)

Here are the pools:
  • Pool A – Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, Tonga
  • Pool B – Argentina, England, Georgia, Romania, Scotland
  • Pool C – Australia, Italy, Ireland, Russia, USA
  • Pool D – Fiji, Namibia, Samoa, South Africa, Wales
No draw would be easy for us, but that’s rough. At least we get Russia. Miracle on sooty grass.

There are plenty of subplots and familiar adversaries. The historic grudge matches and annual bouts via Tri-Nations (NZ, SA, Australia), Six Nations (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Italy), etc., now take a back seat to the world title. Giddyup.

So that’s enough of a backdrop for now; pick your rooting interest (beyond the Yanks) based on your heritage (England and Ireland for me), underdogs, most fun to watch (Fiji, Samoa), or random interest. I like Wales as my (pasty, toothless) dark horse, and in the meantime, I’m excited that it’s even getting a little bit of airplay. Try to tune in. I know NBC is airing the US/Ireland bludgeoning on Sunday at 1:00 PM. My party guests should be amused when I switch over to that game. I think.

Our man on the pitch continues to be old W&M chum Brian Hightower, though he's covering this Cup for the network in LA, not Wellington. Give a listen out for him in case he gloms his way into some broadcasts. In the meantime, check out his coverage on the bloggy website The Scrum, especially his article entitled “Hightower's 5 must-watch Rugby World Cup games.

Game on. Enjoy.


TR said...

Great post. I will look for it this w/e on the telly.

This brings back memories of my 2 year rugby career for a pretty bad Tribe squad, a career cut short by a separated shoulder that causes my clavicle to stick up in a midlly gross way to this day. It also forced me to learn how to do certain things with my left arm that I was used to doing with my right arm. Some random, unsolicited memories:

- Whit being drunk during a match and getting so bitter that the other team scored that he ripped part of our "goalpost" off, which was really a bamboo pole duct-taped to a soccer goal.

- Almost getting our asses kicked at a night match in Richmond, when one of our guys got nearly decapitated by a Spider who viciously tackled him while he was looking upward, waiting to field a punteed ball. A W&M guy I didn't know responded in kind with an equally brutal cheap shot. A brawl nearly broke out and the drunken frat guys from Richmond on the sideline wanted blood. I got thrown out of bounds on a tackle and into a mountain bike and was left flailing around. 10 dudes circled me and called me a lot of unfriendly names. Was good to get out of there unscathed.

- Playing against Hightower in the alumni game. I ended up with the ball on a classic 2 v 1 break. I did the perfect textbook thing by drawing the defender to me and then passing to the open man for the try. Only problem was the defender was Hightower. He caught me clean with my hands over my head and laid me out, knocking the wind out of me. Not fun.

- A great road trip to Chapel Hill. After about the 5th or 6th fun bar I was in as an 18 year-old with the worst fake ID in the world, I realized that there were schools out there that were a tad bit more fun than W&M.

Danimal said...

yes - good post. is it on Versus?

Mark said...

Most other weekends, I'm watching. Too much good football on Saturday and Sunday though.

rob said...

no, danimal, the post is on gtb. surprised you couldn't figure that out.

Whitney said...

Looks like it's just on Universal Sports, for those who get it, and some NBC. Hightower texted me late last night that he's doing the pre- and post- game analysis from the studio on Universal. Watching his pre-game now. He is with Fred Roggin, for anyone who watched the sports bloopers show "Roggin's Heroes" 20 years ago. Brian is loving the sound of his own voice (kindred spirit) but looking snazzy.

Whitney said...

TR, that's funny. Not sure I remembered that.

Sorry about your shoulder. For as many broken noses as rugby induces (including mine), we know tons of old teammates with screwed up shoulders, necks, and backs from the sport.

Jerry said...

I know quite a bit about Australia-New Zealand-South Africa rugby (SANZAR) for those who like abbreviations. I find the southern hemisphere teams to be more exciting than the Euros.

New Zealand is the deserved favorites. They're the best team and have the best blend of experience and youth. They've got skill, athleticism, teamwork, guile -- the best mix of everything. Dan Carter at fly-half has held the "best in the world" tag for a while and probably still deserves it even though he's lost a step. As a team, they're basically 2-deep with legitimate all-star level players.

Australia won the Tri-Nations this year, but that's mostly because they tried the hardest, bringing their A team to all the matches. (The Tri-Nations in WC years is sometimes de-emphasized, especially by SA this year. NZ brought a B+ team to SA and it cost them).

The Wallabies are probably the most explosive team in the tournament. Their backs are explosive and their fly-half, Quade Cooper is challenging Carter for the top spot. He's athletic, and has some genius with his passes and kicks that you don't see on the rugby pitch too often, but he takes a lot of risks. With Cooper and several other young, really fast backs (Digby Ioane, James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale), Australia is the best bet to put together long distance trys. Even the scrum-half, Will Genia, is a great runner.

South Africa is a veteran team that will rely on kicking. Morne Steyn is incredibly accurate on penalties, Francois Steyn (if he plays) can kick them from 60), and they like the drop-goal (which really pisses off AUS and NZ fans). They also have a couple of well-known dirty players in Bokkies Botha and Schalk Berger. And they have a bunch of guys with hilarious names like Bismarck Du Plessis, Chiliboy Rapalle (sp?), and Pierre Spies (unfortunately pronounce "Spees").

Jerry said...

The group play in rugby is kind of weak because there aren't that many good teams. There won't be many surprises, but the knockout rounds should be really good.

rob said...

bokkies botha! phenomenal name for a villain.

Jerry said...

Other good names

NZ Hooker James Hore
NZ Prop Tony Woodcock
NZ Alcoholic Center Sonny Bill Williams

Jerry said...

Bokkies also kind of looks like Marston.

zman said...

Um, shouldn't we root for the Romanian team? Just sayin.

Whitney said...

Point, Zman

Whitney said...

Is Bokkies Botha related to PW Botha? Because that would be the most amazing dirty player story ever told.

Whitney said...

Hightower predicted Australia over the All-Blacks in te Cup Final. Hard to argue with that showdown.

Agree with Jerry that there won't be many surprises in the group round, but there will be some fun matches to watch. Catch whatever Pacific Islander matches you can, I love watching those guys. Picture Johnny G but in 1000 times better shape and much faster and much stronger and just looking to knock the crap out of people.

TR said...

I watched last Cup's final and was amazed at how boring it was. I talked about it with an old co-worker who was a huge rugby fan and watches everything. He told me that the finals are often very conservative b/c teams play it so close to the vests, afraid to make any mistakes.

Is that the case?

Jerry said...

I don't have many data points on the finals -- I'd guess it's similar to football in that the game can take a lot of directions depending on various circumstances. The final of the Super 15 this year was really good, but that's not quite as big a game as the WC final.

Whitney said...

TR, you'd probably appreciate some of these group-stage romps, if only for some amazing plays. NZ was a highlight reel vs. Tonga, just amazing plays, but my favorite part was the 60-73 min mark, when Tonga really showed some mettle. Keeping it vague since I think Jerry DVRed it.

Jerry said...

Thank you. Although I'm sorry that the rare contribution from Michael had to be squashed.

Whitney said...

It was like killing a platypus. Very sad and such a shame.

Jerry said...

Looks like most of the games are on PPV at the outrageous price of 13-15 bucks per game.

Whitney said...

Not good. Do you still go to Summers and places like that to watch? No idea where I would go down here.

Where is Greg?

Jerry said...

Probably not surprising, but I watch at home. There's a rugby channel(490) on DTV that televised the Super 15 and the Tri-Nations. Maybe 625 will show the knockout rounds.

I probably wouldn't watch a ton of the group stages anyway -- maybe the US, some of Australia, and one of the relevant games like Argentina-Scotland.

I do enjoy watching rugby, but not enough to hit the bars at NZ time.

Jerry said...

Hightower is pretty good on TV.

Whitney said...

Hightower is very solid thus far. When he told me what he was doing, I DVRed the 1 hour Universal Sports preview show he was on. Not bad. He's done his homework, presentation is predictably good, nice tie.

Michael said...

HOld on. why did my comment get deleted? Did I not kneel at the altar of Whitney before posting it?

Michael said...

Recognize this?: "Dedicated to the premise that life would be better if we all took ourselves a little less seriously."

rob said...

someone give michael his leap to conclusions mat and a glass of shut the fuck up.

Michael said...

I'm a retard. my bad Jerry and Whit. I will go back to just stalking and not commenting again. proceed with business as usual.

T.J. said...

I just explained to Michael via the electronic mail machine that he is retarded.

T.J. said...


zman said...

Speaking of Michael, I took zbaby for a stroll and while rolling down 48th street I saw what appeared to be Michael Jack himself, hauling ass towards me in full workout regalia with a mincing/prancing gait. Turns out it was a different chubby effete dude with greying temples. No way could Michael move that fast.

zman said...

Meanwhile, Nadal is one-manning Roddick in Queens.

rob said...

that's the kind of accountability this country needs, michael. how'd you like to run for congress?

T.J. said...

Sitting at an outside bar listening to some legit blues in Memphis. This is fucking fantastic.

Oh yeah, Fat Tire beer is gud.

zman said...

I have Marques Colston and his broken collarbone in all three of my fantasy leagues. So not only am I a tool for having three fantasy teams, I'm an unlucky tool.

Dave said...

great post whit.

i got a separated shoulder as well playing rugby, puked when it happened.

i agree with whit completely-- real men get int he scrum, i stayed as far away as possible and loved to kick it-- even scored on a drop kick once.

favorite rugby memory with whit, we were so drunk that we went the wrong way on the field.

rob said...

preparing for a yard sale tomorrow morning - come on by if you want some cheap crap

Mark said...

Have fun with the lady who shows up 45 minutes before the start of the sale and knocks on your door.

See you around 9:30.

T.J. said...

How much for the wife? The little girls?

Mr KQ said...

excellent post. at the risk of receiving the michael treatment from rob, i'll play.

while pool play can provide incredible running rugby from all and viscous high tackling from the islanders, the rwc has pretty much always been an 8 team tourney. this year it's 9 for 8 with pool b providing the 3 for 2 drama. the scotts are capable, and of course angry when drunk, but i'll take england and the argies to advance to the quarters. most folks tend to sleep on the pumas and their "bajadita" scrummaging stlye, but let's not forget they took 3rd in the last world cup beating fronce twice.

the all blacks will be too tough on home soil though, with dan carter and richie mccaw et al taking out the wallabies in a thrilling final. they will hoist the webb ellis trophy high in eden park as their countrymen swill steinlager, and on that glorious night no sheep will be safe in the countryside. or any other night.

Whitney said...

Excellent comments. Who knew rugby would draw out so many thoughts not related to gay bar names or episodes about soiling ourselves?

Monsieur KQ, we shall see what kind of noise the Pumas make. Hightower's Irrational disdain for that side has rubbed off on me, meaning I have an even less rational disdain for the Argentinians. Funny, he called them a "class outfit" on the tube and I nearly spit my beer out.

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