We are into World Cup week and the excitement is beginning to reach fever pitch. This is usually the time of the phony war but everybody is currently being terribly nice to each other. Graham Henry and Wayne Smith even managed to dredge up a compliment about Martin Johnson’s England, although the fact that they mentioned 15 man rugby suggests they may have missed the two games against Wales.
Healthy banter and debate is certainly flying around bars, pubs, offices and rugby clubs the length and breadth of Britain. This is surely being mirrored in many of the other countries taking part.
One thing that has certainly become clear from the people I have spoken to and the message boards I have read, not least on this blog, is that when it comes to the World Cup we are all conspiracy theorists. That is not to say that we all suspect foul play against our chosen team, but that we slip into the classic conspiracy theorists’ practice of starting from our firmly entrenched conclusions, working backwards to fit the facts to them and refusing to budge from our viewpoint.
England supporters have been arguing, with flawless logic, that form leading up to the World Cup is irrelevant. They got to the final after beating everybody for 2 years in 2003 and again in 2007 after being completely useless for 4 years right up to the quarter final. It stands to reason that they will get to the final again and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. They get to the final come what may, preparation and form count for nothing. They have the wood on Australia and France in big games so they are a shoo-in for the final at the very least, where they could be the beneficiaries of a classic Kiwi choke.
Much of the chat has been between New Zealand and Australia. The Aussies insist that they are peaking at the right time and their victory in Brisbane shows that the New Zealand choke is starting in earnest. The Kiwis meanwhile point to their demolition of Australia in Auckland and the fact that they have got their reality check out of the way before the tournament so complacency will not be a problem. What’s more, they have learned from past errors and will not be undercooked. The Aussies, unimpressed, insist that New Zealand will crack under unprecedented pressure while waving their Super 15 and Tri-Nations trophies around with glee.
The same pattern can be heard everywhere. The Scots point out to the English that Auckland on an early October evening will be just like Murrayfield in February where England have not won in 3 visits. Ireland, despite poor recent form, have learned from 2007 while Wales are hitting their straps at the right time. South Africans argue that experience will out. I don’t speak French so I don’t really know what they have been saying but everybody else is eyeing them with equal measures of fear, trepidation, hope (for those who want them to beat New Zealand) and amusement.
Basically, whatever argument you want to make, you can find the evidence to fit it. Nobody will be able to change your mind and dilute the often ill-founded jingoism even though each argument has just as compelling a response to counter it. But we don’t care about that and quite right too. There is no aggression here, just good natured banter but each and every person has firmly convinced themselves that they are right. When it comes to the World Cup, we are all children in the playground, yelling our point of view then closing our eyes, putting our fingers in our ears and shouting ‘LA LA LA LA’.