Chat like a champ - Rugby World Cup conversation starters

11:53 am on 26 September 2015

If conversation at this weekend's parties is likely to turn to the Rugby World Cup, and you're not a fan or too busy doing other things, here are some easy conversation starters.

Steve Hansen and Richie McCaw dicuss the finer points of rugby.

Steve Hansen and Richie McCaw dicuss the finer points of rugby. Photo: AFP

"How about those Cherry Blossoms?"

Japan, which is somewhere between a "minnow" and a genuine contender, famously beat South Africa in their opening match.

The South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has apologised to his country for the "unacceptable" 34-32 loss. (They take their rugby very seriously in South Africa. And they're really good at it.)

Even though Japan lost to Scotland a few days later, it's a sign that some of the smaller nations are starting to match the top teams. Namibia were by no means a walkover against the All Blacks either. If you really want to impress people, drop some knowledge about how many New Zealanders there are involved in world rugby, and that even if the All Blacks don't defend their title, somehow, a Kiwi will likely have a hand on it.

It's dangerous territory if you don't know your stuff, but you could say you're holding out for a hero for this tournament. 23-year-old Sam Cane is a good bet, especially given his surprise when given the captaincy for the game against Namibia. "With the short turnaround I was thinking it would just be great to get a start and [coach Steve Hansen] said you'll be starting and you'll also be captain, so it took me back a little bit," he said.

Sonny Bill Williams is a divisive player at the best of times, but his impact off the bench in the 26-16 win over Argentina made a lot of people forgive him past transgressions.

Sonny Bill Williams takes the ball into contact during the All Blacks World Cup match against Namibia.

Sonny Bill Williams takes the ball into contact during the All Blacks World Cup match against Namibia. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Nehe Milner-Skudder is the other name to drop - picked for the side after a "meteoric rise" - and named player of the match against Argentina. And his first coach reckons he could really set the World Cup alight. "Nobody over there's seen anything like him, I wouldn't think."

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''Look, as long as there are no dropkicks.''

No, not a disparaging mention of the opposition, a reference to New Zealand's less-than-stellar record with dropgoals.

In the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, no tries were scored; both sides scored 12 points - three penalties and a drop goal apiece at full time. With seven minutes to go in extra time, Joel Stransky kicked a 30-metre drop goal to win the game.

A gleeful George Gregan in 2003.

A gleeful George Gregan in 2003. Photo: AFP

In 2003, New Zealand was knocked out in the semis by Australia (with captain George Gregan famously taunting "four more years boys, four more years" with minutes to go). In the final, England's Johnny Wilkinson kicked a drop goal with twenty seconds to go in extra time. At the time, that felt like justice.

Then, in 2007, down 20-18, many people wondered if a drop goal might have been the answer, instead of the humiliating quarter-final loss to our traditional nemesis France.

So, no one likes drop goals? Well, former All Black Justin Marshall wrote in the New Zealand Herald that the All Blacks need to embrace the drop goal - after all he says, it's three points, and it's in the rules, even if it's not in New Zealanders' nature. Of course, he wrote almost the exact same column a year ago.

You'll get extra credit if you can reference Zinzan Brooke's impressive drop goal in the '95 semi-final against England.

Speaking of rules, you could always steer the conversation towards the question of whether Richie's a cheat.

Oh, Richie. Why do you break our hearts?

Under pressure in what was, at the time, a close match against Argentina, the All Black captain spent ten minutes in the sin bin, sent off for a blatant foot trip on Pumas star Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.

McCaw has always skirted the rules, and much of the world - the English definitely - thinks he's a cheat. There's even a (albeit small) Facebook group dedicated to the question.

"He's a Saint in New Zealand, where Prime Minister John Key is practically falling over himself in a desperate bid to knight him," wrote Fox Sports. Although, when McCaw is captaining Canterbury, much of the country might disagree.

For the New Zealand Herald Gregor Paul writes that McCaw is "farm boy rugged", but always clean.

Richie McCaw (L) walks off the pitch after receiving a yellow card at the 2015 Rugby World Cup game against Argentina at Wembley on September 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS

Richie McCaw does the walk of shame to the sideline Photo: AFP

McCaw himself said the foot trip was "a dumb mistake." Hopefully there won't be any more.

McCaw's transgression was caught by the Television Match Official - so feel free to throw in a comment about "the use of the TMO being time-consuming, "but at least we're getting all the right calls now."

If all else fails, the tried and true "Bring Back Buck" could work.

Wayne "Buck" Shelford played in the 1980's as a number 8. He captained the All Blacks on one of their most dominant periods, "going through unbeaten from 1987 to 1990, with only a drawn test against Australia in 1988 to mar the perfect record".

Buck Shelford (right) blocks Fiji's flanker Livai Kididromo going for the ball during a Rugby World Cup game at Lancaster Park in 1987.

Buck Shelford (right) blocks Fiji's flanker Livai Kididromo going for the ball during a Rugby World Cup game at Lancaster Park in 1987. Photo: AFP

He's heralded as one of the toughest men to ever don the black jersey, after having his scrotum torn at the bottom of a ruck in 1986. (The ruck is the bit where they all pile on top of each other with the ball on the ground. You're not allowed to use your hands in the ruck - you're supposed to push the opposing player off and use your feet.)

Anyway, Buck famously asked the physio to stitch him up and got back on the field. As one does. He was dropped from the All Blacks in 1990, something the general public didn't like, which is why 25 years later you might still see the occasional "bring back Buck" sign. Usually at cricket matches.

And as a very last resort - the nuclear option - glance at your phone, and exclaim "oh dear. It looks like Carter has done his hammy."

It might clear the room, but you'll get out of the conversation. If anyone is still around, make a quip about Stephen Donald.

Donald made his World Cup debut in the most 2011 final, following multiple All Black injuries, and kicked the winning goal. Such was the frenzy, they've even named his local ground after his nickname - it's now Beaver Park.

Stephen Donald kicks a penalty in Rugby World Cup final 2011.

Stephen Donald kicks a penalty in Rugby World Cup final 2011. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

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