RWC 2011 Tour diary – Elated by Ireland, frustrated by England

Dunedin when the World Cup is in town is a good place to be. The place was already jumping when we arrived on Saturday afternoon and only calmed down once the haze of Sunday evening had faded into a somewhat jaded Monday morning.

Saturday was all about Australia v Ireland. Dunedin was full of Irish (where isn’t?) and English as well as the locals so it is fair to say that support for the Wallabies was rather thin on the ground. Having eased our way into the evening’s entertainment by watching an impressive South Africa ruthlessly dispose of a disappointing Fiji, we headed inevitably towards an Irish pub called The Bog for the big match.

The atmosphere was electric but in truth it was one of hope rather than expectation. This is the type of game which Ireland have historically lost in World Cups, particularly to the Tri-Nations. Wales had lost a similar game only the previous weekend and amidst the excitement there was a fair amount of fear that the same fate may await the Irish but fear slowly morphed into genuine belief as the clock ticked into the 70s. The outpouring of joy at the final whistle was something to behold, not just from the Irish but also from the locals and the English who share a deep love for seeing their old rivals Australia lose under any circumstances, let alone in such a big game.

The rest of the evening is something of a closed book save for some extremely entertaining video footage which is very much staying on tour.

Sunday morning (well, lunchtime) saw a nutritious breakfast (well, lunch) and some physical and mental preparation for England’s game against Georgia. Once Hutch had picked up his media ticket, having looked after number one and left Justin and I in the cheap seats, we headed to Otago University Rugby Club to watch the Wales v Samoa game, a titanic struggle won late on by an improving Welsh team who finally look ready to do themselves justice at a World Cup.

The new Otago Stadium is some construction being as it is completely enclosed. It is quite an intimate stadium and, in our front row seats, we could virtually reach out and touch the players. The boisterous optimism of the thousands of England fans was matched by the exuberance of a decent number of Georgians and many of the locals who had adopted Georgia for the day. It made for a terrific atmosphere although as England laboured their supporters got more and more agitated.

In the end, while the result was never truly in doubt, it was a hugely frustrating performance by England with many of the same failings in evidence as in previous games – lack of numbers and dynamism at the breakdown leading to a lack of quick ball, no depth out wide and a criminal lack of discipline and astronomic penalty count. It was also irritating to see players such as Delon Armitage celebrating their late tries like a team satisfied with how they had gone. If you’re playing like that a little humility wouldn’t go amiss.

It was a pretty cynical crowd of England fans who made their way into the night but one determined not to let their team’s struggles ruin their evening. And they didn’t.

The Kiwis are pretty unimpressed by England, unsurprisingly, but they are concerned about the ramifications of Ireland’s win against the Aussies. Australia, who have been a nemesis in past World Cups, are now likely to be on their side of the draw. However NZ will probably now have to play only one of their Tri-Nations rivals to take the trophy. In fact most of the Kiwis we have come across. have been quite introspective, focussing very much on their own team with little interest in what others are doing. The implication here is that they feel the only team who can beat them is themselves.

We are back in Dunedin this coming weekend for England v Romania when we hope to see a considerably improved display. During the week we have explored the impressive Otago Peninsula, taken in an open England training session (still absolutely no depth out wide, unbelievable) and are currently in a gem of a spot called Curio Bay, pretty much the southern-most point of New Zealand, making friends with penguins. All in all not a bad way to spend a week. We even went for a dip in the sea which was colder than the coldest ice bath I have ever experienced. That didn’t last long. It is very remote down here, decent Internet connection might reach here soon but has not yet and it’s actually quite liberating to be completely cut off.

Still, we are looking forward to our return to Dunedin and hopefully signs of progress from England.

by Stuart Peel

3 thoughts on “RWC 2011 Tour diary – Elated by Ireland, frustrated by England

  1. “The atmosphere was electric but in truth it was one of hope rather than expectation. ”

    Damn right, and that’s the way it should be. There was allot of expectation of us beating the SH teams in the Winter tour of 2010. We had just one the slam and went through all of 2009 unbeaten, including the SH teams, albeit at home, including beating the Bokks in a foggy kicking game at Croker, if you remember. 2010 was always going to be a let down from there, especially since we had to play the SH teams away, but Australia on neutral turf – why not? The Ioane injury probably prevented the match from opening up into a full blow for blow try fest which Ireland may have lost but it didn’t detract from us merely hoping, after we’d been let down against Australia before, and been poor in warm-up tests.
    For me, it was quiet optimism, with some realism that any slip ups could be game over. Optimism, because the first team was only properly out in force against Australia and the US – who are a bit underrated imo. I really felt we were going to win it once we got to 2 scores ahead. We usually don’t throw that kind of lead away, and we’re could at killing off games.
    Italy is the big one. Russia will be a try fest. As I said, no bonus point against Russia and I’ll be very worried about Ireland’s progress in the tournament. Australia will have more bonus points by the end I’m sure. That means if we lose to Italy, they get 4 tries and can’t stay within 7 of them (without 4 tries) we’ll be out at the group stage again – regardless of getting the bonus against Russia. afaik, if Italy beat us, we’re 3rd in the group that simple. Interestingly, if we beat Russia and lose against Italy and still go out in the group stage, it will be the first time since there were 20 teams in the WC that a team went out having won 3 matches. The only other 20 match WC’s – 2003, and 2007 – all teams eliminated (including Ireland) only won 2 games. It’s a shocking reality, because the team is well capable of getting to the final, but might go out in the pools in unprecedented fashion.
    p.s. I think the US vs Italy will be a bit closer than their Russia game. I’ll be curious to see how Italy perform against them. The US have a great defense so if Italy win well and get the bonus there, the ITA v IRL game should be epic, and my heart will be numb from watching :/
    But that’s Ireland – always capable of stunning fancied teams, but also able to stutter against weaker ones.

  2. Spent a great four weeks in NZ during the 2005 lions tour( except for the rugby and that spear tackle) very jealous of anyone who is out there at the moment. The south island is the place to be from my experience, much more relaxed and the locals are far friendlier than in the north.
    Come on Ireland and anyone that can beat new zealand
    (still feeling the pain of 05 i’m afraid and the abuse handed out by the nz fans at the games)

    1. There have been various reports of Kiwis being particularly unwelcoming, but we haven’t come across any yet. Every man, woman and sheep has an opinion on Rugby and wants to tell you that the All Blacks are going to win, but everyone we have come across so far has been very pleasant.

      It will be interesting to see how the mood changes in the latter stages as the pressure builds!

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