Unfancied sides get off to a frisky start in New Zealand

2011-09-15 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The frisky start by a handful of the World Cup’s underdogs has encouragingly continued, with Six Nations stalwarts Scotland leaving it late to make safe their encounter with Georgia yesterday.

The Scots could not get over the try-line at Invercargill, with Dan Parks’s boot accounting for all their points, and until the 76th minute the underdogs, incredibly, were still within the seven-point gap before going down 15-6.

An astute television commentator and former England flyhalf, Stuart Barnes, observed in the last quarter that it was like watching a boxing bout where one fighter (Scotland) seemed to dominate every round, yet the opponent was always only one big, tantalising punch away from landing the sensational knockout.

And that environment always makes for good sports viewing.

Uncompromising and beefy up front, ultimately the Georgians’ glaring lack of backline skill and explosiveness cost them dearly.

But let’s put this result in perspective: this was the very same Scotland who had beaten defending RWC champions the Springboks at Murrayfield less than a year earlier, admittedly in genuinely awful, more obviously levelling conditions.

So it does pay indirect tribute to Georgia’s resolve and paints a further picture of a rugby landscape just beginning to even up — which must only be of benefit to the game’s pulling power and competitiveness globally.

Several gurus have picked up on the initial promise of several minnows at the tournament, with England coach Martin Johnson suggesting last weekend was “one of the best of pool rugby in World Cup history”.

And the cerebral former Bok assis­tant coach, Alan Solomons, has noted in his latest column: “The tier-two nations have punched well above their weight.”

Certainly the IRB bosses must be delighted by the start-out efforts of several less fashionable countries in a tournament remembered for such gruesome occurrences as New Zealand 145 Japan 17 in Bloemfontein (1995) and the Australia 142 Namibia 0 outcome in 2003.

Thus far there appears to be a determination by the unfancied teams not to throw in the towel at any stage.

Supporting evidence came yesterday, where Samoa beat Nambia emphatically enough 49-12.

The south-west Africans managed a strong finish, including a late consolation try, despite the physical battering and the sin-binning of open-side flank Rohan Kitshoff, which left them seemingly in danger of total surrender.

As the World Cup progresses, the minnows will obviously become more vulnerable than most to key players succumbing to injury or sheer fatigue, so best judgment on any tightening of the historical imbalance in standards is best left for two or three weeks ahead.

After all, the likes of Russia, who play Australia in their last pool date on October 1, and Canada, up against the might of the All Blacks a day later, may not be throwing too much spirited leather by then.

They could be punch-drunk, instead.

Some mismatches of the last three World Cups:

2007: Australia 91 Japan 3, New Zealand 108 Portugal 13, New Zealand 85 Romania 8, France 87 Namibia 10.

2003: Australia 90 Romania 8, Australia 142 Nambia 0, England 84 Georgia 6, England 111 Uruguay 13, New Zealand 91 Tonga 7.

1999: New Zealand 101 Italy 3, England 101 Tonga 10.

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