Historians have questioned whether the story is indeed true. But however the game came about, thanks to its invention we now have almost two months of gruelling, intense sporting action to look forward to, with the 2011 Rugby World Cup being held in New Zealand. This year sees only the seventh event taking place – comparatively young in terms of prestigious sporting events – yet it is one that continues to grow in popularity, said to be the third most watched in the world after the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics. It can be argued that it is this event which, over the years, has given birth to rugby union’s biggest stars – both Jonah Lomu and Jonny Wilkinson, names which even those who dislike the sport will recognise, first came to the world’s attention from their achievements in past tournaments.
So what can we expect this time? There are 20 teams who have battled their way through the qualifying stages – four more than when the event first began – all set on being the ones to lift the Webb Ellis Cup. And who will it be? New Zealand are ranked as the best team in the world, while South Africa and France are also contenders. Could Australia be the first team to win the event three times? Or will a dark horse like Samoa cause a major upset? One thing is for certain – there are six weeks of world class rugby ahead of us. That’s 20 teams, 48 matches, one winner. Let battle commence.
The Rugby World Cup will be shown exclusively on OSN, and in high-definition on OSN Sports 1 HD. More information from your OSN service provider.
The expert view
Scott Gibbs played for Wales in two World Cups – in 1991 and 1999. For this one he will be helping OSN in the studio with their coverage. He told us what to expect.
I will. I’ll be a studio guest, analyst and pundit all in one. I’ll be working in the main studio in Dubai for seven weeks I think. I arrive on September 1, I’ll get up to speed with production and then it’s all go. The schedule is fairly relaxed, there are four matches a day, but yeah I’ll be there from the first game to the last.
And you’ve been to New Zealand a lot in your career. What are your memories of it?
Apart from it being a stunningly beautiful country, the biggest thing I remember back in 1993 is not having a mobile phone [laughs]. I used to phone home on a landline, and you had this delay whistling… looking back, it really did feel like you were on the other side of the planet. It is a wonderful country, though, very passionate, and I think for me the passion for rugby there is probably the biggest I have ever come across – they are such knowledgeable supporters too. Everyone, even the elderly pensioners, they know who you are as a player, your strengths and your weaknesses. But that interest, so intense within such a small population, that’s what nurtures more indigenous talent. Everyone says, why are New Zealand the best in the world when they only have a population that matches Wales? It’s because they are all encompassing, and it’s part of their culture.
So you think it’ll be a good World Cup?
I do. For an eight-week period, New Zealand is going to be bursting at the seams – there’s a period of regeneration too, as Christchurch is rebuilding because of the earthquake, so there are all these other side stories that have accentuated everything.
You’ve been involved in two World Cups. Is there a lot of pressure representing your country?
There is, and especially when you are the host nation, as Wales was in 1999 – the expectation becomes higher, and that means even more pressure. And that’s something Wales have not really relished in, in those types of situations. Back then we made it through the knockout stage, but then lost in the quarter finals to Australia, who eventually went on to win it. But if Wales – ranked seventh or eighth this time around – can get into the quarter finals in this competition, that would be deemed as a success.
Who will be the teams to beat?
I think New Zealand and Australia will canter through in Group A, then England and Scotland, Group C will be Ireland and Australia, and in Group D, the toughest group – South Africa, Fiji, Wales, Samoa… Wales drew against Fiji last year, they have lost to Samoa in the past who are a physical side… Wales v South Africa is the opening game in the group and it’ll be so important, as that five-point win could help you through to the quarter finals. Whoever loses, it’s just going to go uphill from there because of the opposition.
What will the mood be like between games?
There’s a huge deal of anticipation. It’ll be different for players from the southern hemisphere, as their bodies are almost conditioned – it’s another game, another week. They’ll be battle hardened to that, as they’ll be coming to the end of their season, whereas for the northern hemisphere it’ll all be about creating rhythm and momentum, as it doesn’t stop for them, and at the end of the World Cup they’ll go back into their domestic affairs. So there will be these periods of huge elations and voids, and in the group stages in particular it’s very difficult to contain yourself, and you have soreness and muscle fatigue after the game, periods of relaxation, and then quickly you’re back into preparation, looking at the film of the opposition and getting ready. That’s what makes that Group D so tough, and every game will be a quality encounter. Some of the other games in other groups will be very one sided, but in Group D you’ll still be there 70 minutes in saying this could go either way, and that will make it so gripping.
How intimidating will New Zealand be this year? Considering their reputation, playing on home soil… are they the team to beat?
It’s magnified, sure. The most feared side, on home soil, the Haka, the black jersey, the phasiforous crowd, a nation that’s been wounded because of the earthquake… You’d have to be on your game to beat that, but also look at the expectation that must be on their shoulders. It’s not as easy as people anticipate, because if you are clear favourites, everyone loves to see the underdogs upset them. They need to set a strategy, though, and get stronger as the competition goes on, rather than starting well and just dwindling, as they have done in the past.
Have you heard from anyone going over?
No, I’m not really in touch. I’m very close with Rob Howley, the Wales assistant coach, and if I need anything, like a soundbite or whatever, he’ll tell me what’s going on.
Who would you say are the players to watch this time around?
Will Genia and Craig Cooper have shown for me that they are the best half-back partnership in the world, the most consistent. They play with so much vision and speed, they have kicked more than anyone. With attacking tools like they have, and the shrewd kicking skills, they will shine in this competition. Zach Gilford as well, been sensational for Canterbury this year and now playing for All Blacks. Digby Ioane has come in become of an injury for an Australian player, he plays great wing, and he’ll score a hat-full of tries. And northern hemisphere, we’ll see the Matt Banahan, Toby Flood and Chris Ashton trio that work so well, good for England’s attacking game during the Six Nations.
Going back to your own career, would you say the World Cup was one of the highlights?
Well, a highlight of being in them, but lowlights because we massively under achieved. In the two I was involved in – 1991 we lost to Samoa, drew against Argentina, in 1995 I was in rugby league so didn’t play, and in 1999 we lost to Australia in the quarter finals, so not deemed a success. I had more fun with the World Cup as a supporter, then you can love the competition and what it represents. You can’t be excited enough about the kick off.
So what would you say were your own career highlights?
Well, beating England certainly in the last Five Nations game, scoring that winning try. Representing St Helen’s, winning the Super League… and the Lions series in ’97 was a moment that most people will always remember. Jeremy Guscott was with me for a lot of that too, and we’ll be working together in the studio during the World Cup.
All the matches, plus Bahrain screening times.
9 Sep, 11.30am, New Zealand v Tonga
10 Sep, 9am, France v Japan
14 Sep, 8am, Tonga v Canada
16 Sep, 11am, New Zealand v Japan
18 Sep, 11.30am, France v Canada
21 Sep, 10.30am, Tonga v Japan
24 Sep, 11.30pm, New Zealand v France
27 Sep, 7am, Canada v Japan
1 Oct, 8am, France v Tonga
2 Oct, 5.30am, New Zealand v Canada
10 Sep, 4am, Scotland v Romania
10 Sep, 11.30am, Argentina v England
14 Sep, 10.30am, Scotland v Georgia
17 Sep, 6.30am, Argentina v Romania
18 Sep, 9am, England v Georgia
24 Sep, 9am, England v Romania
25 Sep, 10.30am, Argentina v Scotland
28 Sep, 9.30am, Georgia v Romania
1 Oct, 10.30am, England v Scotland
2 Oct, 3am, Argentina v Georgia
11 Sep, 6.30am, Australia v Italy
11 Sep, 9am, Ireland v USA
15 Sep, 10.30am, Russia v USA
17 Sep, 10.30am, Australia v Ireland
20 Sep, 10.30am, Italy v Russia
23 Sep, 11.30am, Australia v USA
25 Sep, 8am, Ireland v Russia
27 Sep, 9.30am, Italy v USA
1 Oct, 5.30am, Australia v Russia
2 Oct, 10.30am, Ireland v Italy
10 Sep, 6.30am, Fiji v Namibia
11 Sep, 11.30am, South Africa v Wales
14 Sep, 5.30am, Samoa v Namibia
17 Sep, 9am, South Africa v Fiji
18 Sep, 6.30am, Wales v Samoa
22 Sep, 11am, South Africa v Namibia
25 Sep, 5.30am, Fiji v Samoa
26 Sep, 9.30am, Wales v Namibia
30 Sep, 10.30am, South Africa v Samoa
2 Oct, 8am, Wales v Fiji
8 Oct, 8am, Winner Pool C v
Runner-up Pool D
8 Oct, 10.30am, Winner Pool B v
Runner-up Pool A
9 Oct, 8am, Winner Pool D v
Runner-up Pool C
9 Oct, 10.30am, Winner Pool A v
Runner-up Pool B
15 Oct, 11am, Winner QF1 v Winner QF2
16 Oct, 11am, Winner QF3 v Winner QF4
21 Oct, 10.30am, Runner-up SF1 v
23 Oct, 11am, Winner SF1 v Winner SF2
Become an instant rugby expert with these quick stats.
4 Number of points a team will earn in the pool stages for winning a game, with a bonus point available for scoring four tries or more
5.6 Distance in metres between the upright posts on the goal line. The crossbar at three metres above ground completes the ‘H’ shape
15 Players making up the team on the pitch at one time – that’s eight forwards (numbered 1-8) and seven backs (numbered 9-15)
15 Number of tries scored by New Zealand’s Jonah Lomu over the course of the 1995 and 1999 events – no-one has scored more yet
38 Height in centimetres of the Webb Ellis Cup
52 Length in metres of the tournament’s longest drop goal, by Japan’s Andy Miller in 2003
80 Total number of minutes for a rugby match (excluding extra time) – 40 minutes each way
142 Record points difference in a Rugby World Cup game – when Australia hammered Namibia 142-0 in 2003
145 The highest number of points scored by a team in a Rugby World Cup game – by New Zealand against Japan in 1995
1987 The year the first Rugby World Cup was held, hosted by Australia and New Zealand
2015 Year the next tournament will take place, hosted by England