24 Oct 2015

Bluffers' guide to the Rugby World Cup: It's on!

10:00 am on 24 October 2015

Things are getting serious now - choosing your words in the next few days could be really important, so to help, here's this week's bluffer's guide to the Rugby World Cup.

Rugby Comp

Photo: Photosport

This week is the semi-finals. New Zealand play South Africa, while Australia take on Argentina. Or, the All Blacks vs the Springboks, and the Wallabies vs the Pumas. If all else fails, just pick your favourite animal and be done with it. (Springboks have a complicated history as South Africa's national animal, but they're really cool.)

The All Blacks and Springboks also have a complicated history. For fans over thirty, the Springboks are the All Blacks' traditional rivals.

Games between New Zealand and South Africa have become part of a kind of inter-country "folklore" since the first official series - a visit by South Africa in 1921 - ended in a tie when the deciding test at Wellington's Athletic Park was drawn 0-0.

A smoke bomb thrown on to the pitch at Eden Park, 1981.

A smoke bomb is thrown onto the pitch at Eden Park in 1981. Photo: Wikicommons

The 1981 Springbok tour is one of New Zealand's most defining political and sporting moments. The 56-day visit during the apartheid regime - amid worldwide sporting boycotts - divided the country, and is still a political football.

South Africa was banned from the first two Rugby World Cups in 1987 and 1991. Between that and the controversies and re-building that followed, for many people under 40, Australia - and the Bledisloe Cup - have taken over as the bigger rival.

Even All Black Conrad Smith said this week that growing up, Australia was the traditional foe - but he's come around to seeing the Springboks as a "special opponent."

"I didn't know as a child how big the South African rivalry was, but in my time as a player it's got back to where it was previously. They're our ultimate rival. That's not to talk down the other great nations we play but I think most of our guys would agree there's something special about playing them."

Then, in 1995, there was 'Suzie the waitress'. After losing 15-12 in the World Cup final, coach Laurie Mains alleged his side had been deliberately poisoned. The team's manager at the time, Colin Meads reckons it was off-milk, but conspiracy theories abound.

If you get stuck talking to a rabid fan this weekend, mention 1995, and between Suzie, and the fact that the All Blacks lost to a drop goal in extra time, you should be able to slink off while they're mid rant.

As for this weekend's game - it should be close (And possibly extremely physical). The All Blacks have beaten South Africa in 10 out of their last 12 games.

Heyneke Meyer and Steve Hansen.

Heyneke Meyer and Steve Hansen. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer has rated the current New Zealand side as "probably the best team in the history of the game", but whether that's genuine praise or mind games is anyone's guess. Either way, even though 4am on a Sunday is a horrendous time to watch rugby, fans should have a lot to yell about.

Meanwhile, on Monday morning, Argentina making the tournament's semi-final is such a big deal football legend Diego Maradona is on hand to inspire the side.

Argentina is an outside bet against Australia, who have been dangerously good so far in the tournament. It's worth remembering that when Argentina played the All Blacks, they led 16-12 with not that long to go. The Telegraph has a long article explaining why they could win.

Argentina captain Agustin Creevy

Argentina captain Agustin Creevy. Photo: AFP

Argentina beat Australia in the Rugby Championship in 2014 - and five other times. (Out of 24, so let's not get too carried away.)

"They are a very physical team, they are very passionate, but they also like to throw the ball around," the Guardian quoted Aussie back Matt Giteau as saying.

"They're not just good up-front, they're good everywhere. If you give them loose ball they are going to punish you."

The Pumas were now ranked fourth in the world, so spare a thought for the home nations. England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland all failed to make the semis - they're an entirely all-Southern hemisphere affair. Good for us, bad for the atmosphere.

Scotland is justifiably annoyed at its exit. (Rugby bosses have admitted the ref got a result-altering call wrong.)

"England and Wales make much of their academy systems but are they producing rugby players in the sense of learning through their experiences on the field in their formative years or clones who from far too young an age become used to being told what to do," asks one rugby writer.

The RFU is just holding on until the World Cup is over, reports The Telegraph.

"But it is understood that several key figures across the game are 'keeping their powder dryk until the end of the World Cup so as not to overshadow it out of respect as tournament hosts mount a sustained drive 'to get to the root of England's alarming under-performance' since winning the 2003 tournament."

New Zealand All Blacks flanker and captain Richie McCaw attends a training session ahead of his team's match against the French,

New Zealand All Blacks flanker and captain Richie McCaw attends a training session ahead of his team's match against the French, Photo: Getty

Former England five-eighth Stuart Barnes has a different suggestion, according to the Sydney Morning Herald: Appoint a Kiwi head coach - and sign up Richie McCaw as a staffer to boot.

Yeah, nah.

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