Goodbye to the minnows; hello to the madness

MARK KEOHANE, in Business Day Newspaper, writes if drama’s your game, don’t go anywhere in the next three weekends.

After 48 of the most dramatic hours ever experienced at a Rugby World Cup, we finally have a competition that demands that you don’t go anywhere for the next three weekends. Goodbye to the minnows and hello to the madness of knockout rugby.

Typically, France gave us an appetiser of the madness of which they are capable. Their players simply did not pitch for a pool match they could afford to lose (and still qualify for the last eight) in protest over their fractious relationship with coach Marc Lievremont. They lost to Tonga. Lievremont said he was ashamed of the performance and admitted the players refused to engage in a bonding session.

New Zealand rugby royalty Dan Carter tore his groin muscle in a kicking drill on Saturday afternoon and the mood among locals was sombre and more applicable to when a nation mourns a popular head of state. If you happen to have been on a space shuttle, Carter, the game’s most complete flyhalf and New Zealand’s master conductor, is out of the World Cup. It is New Zealand’s worst rugby nightmare and there may now not even be an occasion for these men in black to choke.

With Carter at No10 they led the World Cup pack. Without him the All Blacks are just one of the championship-chasing pack. They would get past the Pumas even if Carter’s grandmother was at flyhalf, but getting beyond the semifinals will need a flyhalf more capable than his understudy, Colin Slade.

The All Blacks, with Carter gone and Richie McCaw on one leg, are officially in another World Cup crisis. At least they can take comfort that next year they will be unbeatable again and Carter won’t get one injury.

Some things are meant to be. The All Blacks have a World Cup curse and England a World Cup Fairy Godmother. New Zealand just can’t seem to keep it together or get it together.

England can do as they please, play as they please and pick as many plodders as they please. They’ve tossed a few dwarfs around in Dunedin, gone on the piss, admitted to switching match balls to give their struggling goal-kicking ace Jonny Wilkinson an advantage, and coach Martin Johnson acknowledged reprimanding three players who lured a hotel worker to their rooms and made suggestive comments about wanting oral sex. The only thing the England players and coaching staff have not admitted to is playing turgid rugby.

The International Rugby Board (IRB) sanction has been a “don’t do it again … now get on and win this bloody thing for us old farts in the Northern Hemisphere” before turning its full attention to the hideous crime of a Samoan player wearing a gum guard that contravened official tournament sponsorship rules.

The offence was deemed so serious that the team was fined NZ$10000, and worse was to follow for the Samoans after controversial centre Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu called Welsh referee Nigel Owens a prick, a racist and an elitist who favoured the Springboks in Samoa’s 13-5 defeat.

Sapolu tweeted that he would love to meet IRB members on the street and said the game’s administration was protecting the big five and the wealthy. He also confirmed his retirement from international rugby, arguing there was no point to it if you were a tier-two nation.

The IRB have confirmed a hearing. Toss around a dwarf and illegally switch match balls during play, but just don’t call the IRB an elite organisation.

When Samoa and Fiji played at Eden Park a fortnight ago they smashed each other for 80 minutes, then gathered in prayer as a band of Pacific Island brothers. On Friday night after the most brutal of matches against the Boks there was nothing more than a grudging Samoan handshake.

The Samoan captain spoke of referee bias and Bok captain Victor Matfield expressed disgust at the Samoan off-the- ball thuggery.

Frans Steyn, colossal all tournament, legally smashed into Samoans all night but his shoulder proved more brittle than brutal and he’s out of the World Cup.

Scotland, needing to beat England by eight points, led 12-3 in the second half before losing 16-12 to Chris Ashton’s 78th- minute match-winning try.

Wilkinson missed his first three penalty attempts and missed a left-footed drop goal from right in front. Madness.

And for 55 minutes Georgia led Argentina 7-5. Not quite madness, but a contender.

The Canadians even led the All Blacks 3-0 for three minutes. Definite madness.

What more, asked everyone? Surely an Italian win against Ireland to seal the most dramatic conclusion to the 40- match round robin stage.

Come on Italy, screamed every South African. Say what they may publicly, the Boks would much have preferred the Irish as quarterfinal opponents.

It was not to be. Instead they have the Tri-Nations champions Australia to beat to make it to Eden Park for the first time in this tournament.

If you are planning on going anywhere on Sunday, pick a church to offer thanks or for a World Cup mourning.

I’d suggest it is safer just not going anywhere. The 2011 Rugby World Cup is officially open.