The Favourites, The Giants: RWC Diary

In the great tradition of lyrical sports writing, Wales Arts Review brings a series of World Cup vignettes, starting with Peter Florence‘s evaluation of the favourites for the William Web Ellis Trophy, and writes about how the heart suggests Ireland could be ready to have their name written into the history books.

There’s never been a World Cup where four teams might plausibly win the trophy. And each of them would weave a wonderful tale on and off the pitch. For all that logic, liberté and Ladbrokes suggest no-one will prevent Antoine Dupont meeting his destiny, wouldn’t it be the Craic of all craics, and a transcendent moment not unlike Mandela’s and Kolisi’s, to see Munster’s Tadhg Beirne lift all his Leinster teammates onto his shoulders as they carry the Webb Ellis trophy through what used to be the border between the Republic and the North?

But a couple of caveats:

Big men with hard faces will talk about winning collisions and crossing the gain line, but it’ll be the guile-ful dancers who set the game alight, who’ll make the highlights reels, who’ll make people fall in love with the game: Cheslin Kolbe, Darcy Graham, Will Jordan, Ange Capuozzo, Damien Pennaud, Garry Ringrose, Louis Rees-Zammit… maybe even Damien Mackenzie and Henry Arundell if they’d ever get a game. (England fans rightly revere Martin Johnson and Jonny’s high % boot, but in your heart of hearts you know it was Jason Robinson who made 2003 magical.)

The rules and scoring system are weirdly slanted towards bigger, heavier men. The point of a scrum is to restart the game after a handling error in a way that frees up space for runners out wide by holding half the players on the pitch together for an extra 2/3 seconds. But this happens oh-so-rarely. Penalties are nominally for deliberate foul play but are given against any even marginally weaker scrummaging side for even the perception that their frailty might endanger opponents necks by collapsing. Any pack who are simply bigger will win 3 penalties every game, a guaranteed 6-9 points, and sometimes the additional advantage of an opposing prop sent off for 10 minutes, and so, statistically, another 7-10 points. Similarly, a brutal rolling maul and thirteen phases of inching wrangling will score under the posts with a guaranteed 7 points, but a winger flying into the corner will only yield 5 points 65% of the time, even if you have Boffelli, Ramos or Mounga – the best kickers I’ve ever seen, taking the conversions. That’s a poorly designed game.

And the attrition rate is frightening. RWC squads of 33 are predicated on losing 2 players to injury for months in every game. There is also a very real possibility that the class action dementia lawsuits will bankrupt the game in Europe before the next world cup.

Even so….

I want to see Manie Libbok ghosting through midfield, I want to hear the roar as Fickou finds the gap that isn’t there for anyone but Antoine to conjure, as Beauden barrets his way in impossible angles and as Furlong sells the dearest dummy in the world.

The land of my father doesn’t need to go back to back to prove their Bok pedigree. No more do the All Blacks need to recover invincibility. It’ll come to them again and again. They just need to play. The Land of my Fathers already won when Dan gave the welcome speech in French. Anything more is a bonus.

Allez les Bleus! And may the Irishest men win!