Twelve Things To Know About The Rugby World Cup

  1. The Rugby World Cup began over the weekend just past. The tournament has four pools of five teams each, with two teams from each pool making it to the quarterfinals, and each team plays the other four teams in its pool once.
  2. The USA qualified, as it has for every edition of the RWC.
  3. The USA will not be part of the quarterfinals. I’m not saying that because I’m making a critical statement about the Eagles, as the team’s called. They just won’t make it out of their pool. There are  nine – maybe ten – teams that have a chance of making it to the quarterfinals, and the USA is not one of them.
  4. We are not a top-tier rugby nation, here in America. At the World Cup, the USA beat Japan in 1987, and again in 2003, and other than that we’re 0-16 all-time.
  5. The team’s stated goal for this tournament is to beat Russia, the other lower-tier side in Pool C. This is something that the Eagles have done once already this year, winning 32-25 against the Russians at the Churchill Cup.
  6. Other than that possible victory, the USA is just trying to make a good account of itself in certain losses to Australia and Italy. Sunday, America lost 22-10 to Ireland, a game that was viewed as surprisingly close even though the Eagles scored seven of their ten points basically at the final whistle.
  7. I was all ready to write a million words about this RWC, because I love writing about world championships of sports I know next to nothing about. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of watching all three of the USA’s warmup matches for the tournament. The Americans dropped a pair to Canada, 28-22 and 27-7, then went to Tokyo and lost to Japan 20-14, and it was about that point that I realized that the tournament was going to be a bit of a hopeless cause for America.
  8. You should know about a couple of the American players. Todd Clever is the captain, plays forward, and wears a bushy permed ponytail that makes him look like nothing so much as an eighties pro wrestling villain. When he’s done playing rugby, he’ll have the option for a long career of wrestling on Saturday morning television, yelling at small children in the crowd and using foreign objects when the referee’s back is turned.
  9. Takudzwa Ngwenya, known as “Z“, is by far the most exciting player on the American team. In 2007, he scored the try of the year (link to video) by simply running around the entire South African defense, including the guy that was (up until that moment) universally acknowledged as the fastest guy in world rugby. Every time he gets the ball you sit forward in your chair a bit, because you never quite know what he’s about to do. Plus, on Sunday against Ireland, he broke out a bitchin’ Stars-and-Stripes-emblazoned scrum cap, which made him look a little like Captain America. He is awesome.
  10. NBC aired the USA-Ireland game. They’re also showing New Zealand play Canada on October 2, and the Final on October 23. Universal Sports is broadcasting seven other games, including the other three USA matches, the semifinals, and the third-place game. Unfortunately, unless you have DirecTV, you probably don’t get Universal Sports, so if you want to watch anything other than the three NBC matches you’re stuck paying exorbitant fees for either PPV or online PPV. If anyone would like to send me $150 so I can afford these packages, I’d appreciate it. (The official Rugby World Cup site has pretty good highlights, so you might want to save your cash.)
  11. The tournament favorites are probably hosts New Zealand, though Australia did beat them in this year’s Tri-Nations (a competition between the two and South Africa). The All Blacks are famous for usually being the best rugby team in the world, and for doing the “haka” (a ceremonial Maori war dance) before matches. Let us watch this event before a match against Tonga. The Tongans also do their own ceremonial dance, and the result is two groups of dancing men that is as entirely unlike West Side Story as you’ll ever see:
  12. Here’s what I wrote about rugby, the first time I ever watched it: “Maybe I just saw the wrong matches, and rugby aficionados are welcome to correct me, but here’s what I got out of it: rugby is boring… It’s recognizable as a cousin of American football, so imagine American football with no pads. And no passing. And 110 running plays per team, 105 of which go directly into the middle of the line. And extra punting, usually on first down. And both teams playing for field goal attempts throughout the game. And frequent long breaks while both the offensive and defensive lines stop to argue with the referee how to line up for the play.”

    As I’ve watched more of the game, I get the point of it a little more now. It’s still attritional and violent and can get bogged down, and I still don’t understand three-quarters of the reasons that the referee stops play and awards a penalty. But heck, it’s the world championship of something. Of course I’m going to encourage you to give it a try.


One Comment

  1. dave
    Posted September 16, 2011 at 7:27 PM | Permalink

    Jon,you are an idiot.