Guide to Rugby World Cup Quarterfinal Picks

The Smart Girl’s Guide to Rugby World Cup Quarterfinal Picks

One recent Saturday morning I awoke to the sounds of a haka and I knew that the Rugby World Cup had arrived in my home near Austin, Texas.

As an American the exposure I have had to rugby has been rather limited – in the past I have owned a handful of rugby shirts. I knew that rugby was similar to North American football. Beyond that I have been woefully ignorant.

But as the wife of a South African man, a reformed “Portie” who bears the distinctive nose of a committed rugby player, I have had barely a year to come up to speed on the sport.

Understanding rugby isn’t that complicated. There are a few central terms that are distinctive from football: scrum, lineout, touchline, touch, and try. But beyond that it is very easy to catch on to what is going on. Log onto Setanta.com to catch a few matches and you’ll quickly get the hang of it or catch a local match in your area.

Scrum: packs of opposing players push against each other for possession of the ball;
lineout: parallel lines of players from each team, arranged perpendicular to the touch-line (the side line) attempt to catch the ball thrown from touch (the area behind the touch-line).
Scoring occurs by achieving either a try or a goal. A try (at goal) involves grounding the ball – touching the ball to the ground over the goal line at the opponent’s end of the pitch or playing field.
(With thanks to wikipedia.com for the definitions.)

The old saying goes that “[soccer] is a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans, and rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.” Rugby is a full contact sport played with very little protective gear so it is very important that players adhere to a strict code of acceptable behavior on the field. And this leads to what impresses me most about rugby, at both the professional and amateur level: although intense rivalries are common, fans and players (with very few exceptions – something to cover as the Quarter Finals continue) generally treat each other with respect.

Good example: Several years ago I was in Australia watching a local rugby match that a friend’s brother was playing in. These were adult men playing at a semi-professional level. It was a good, solid match. Some blood was spilled on the field several times during normal play. Fans of both teams sat next to each other in the stands and on the grass. They actually spoke rationally to each other about the match as it was going on: Oh your Johnny had a good one there; F**ing hell our boys can’t get that right today. And when the match was over all of the players gathered in two lines and shook each other’s hands. Not to trivialize it, but I thought to myself, that’s what Pop Warner kids do. I have to say that I was a little shocked to see all of the players smiling and patting each other on the backs after seeing them play such an intense match. Then all of the family members and friends joined the players in the home team’s club house for a party. The adults drank beer and talked about the match; older men who had been stars on the on the pitch decades earlier (in rugby parlance these elder statesman are referred to as “old farts”) talked of epic matches of yore; teenagers alternately flirted and harassed each other (as did many of the female fans and male players); and wee ones played outside on the grass. I really had never seen anything like it.

And the same has been true of watching the Rugby World Cup in a local pub (which shall remain nameless as they charge a ridiculously high cover charge to watch the matches). Johann and I and a handful of other Springbok fans sat right next to the English fans during the recent South Africa/England match. Now this is one of the aforementioned “intense rivalries.” (There is a lot of bloody history between the Afrikaaners and the British. Think Yankees – Confederates; Irish – English.)

For many years South Africa (RSA or Republic of South Africa as it is officially known) was not allowed to play in the Rugby World Cup because of apartheid. All South Africans, those of Afrikaans-, Basotho-, British-, French-, Indian-, Portuguese-, Zulu-descent (I could go on here, you get my drift – it is as diverse a country as any in the world), were understandably sore about this. Add to that the fact that the English team and fans (most but not all) have been particularly arrogant about being World Champs and past wins against the Boks.

As we sat there in that unnamed pub everybody tolerated each other. There weren’t any fights or even harsh words. The English guys just hung their heads and admitted their guys were playing lousy. The Safas of course were ecstatic, but they didn’t point their fingers in anyone’s chest and say “Your team sucks!” They smiled and nodded and cheered and started to talk about the upcoming matches.

Altogether I’m pretty impressed with rugby. I may not follow the intricacies of all of the plays but even an American girl who prefers boxing and hockey over football knows what a goal looks like.

This weekend in World Cup Rugby Quarter Final action you’ll see Australia vs. England; New Zealand vs. France (Saturday, October 6); Fiji vs. South Africa; and Argentina vs. Scotland (Sunday, October 7). The New Zealand/France match is in Wales – the rest are in France. (Seats are still available for the rest of the matches however if you suddenly get inspired to hop on a plane (Joanie) and catch the action on the pitch.)

I’m manning Web Sales on Sunday so there is no chance that I’ll be in Marseilles for the Fiji/SA match. That is a pity as this will be an excellent one to watch. Here is your chance to see a South Pacific style haka, or war dance, performed before the match. I have a special place in my heart for Fiji. It is such a beautiful country with kind, sweet people. The most amazing singing voices I have ever heard but brother, stay away from the kava, whatever you do. As far as Johann is concerned I’m rooting for the Springboks. But here is another thing about rugby that is pretty cool: everybody just wants to see a good game, and that is the camp I’ll be in on this one.

This weekend offers up an amazing opportunity to see rugby played at its bloody, sweaty best. Here are my picks for winners in the Quarter Finals this weekend:

South Africa (nickname & emblem – Springboks) vs. Fiji (emblem – palm tree)
South Africa will win this match but it won’t be a shut-out. South Africa is the technically superior team and the guys have a lot of experience on the field together. The Fijians Forwards are absolute mountains – strong and fast but they lack the solid skills that constant repetition in practice has given the Springboks.
The Boks play extremely well against other top teams but don’t always bring their best when it comes to teams that they think they can easily beat. Whether this is complacency or just a case of letting the B team play I’m not sure as I don’t have the experience of years of watching them play.

Argentina (nickname & emblem – Los Pumas) vs. Scotland (nickname Scots – emblem Carduus)
Argentina is considered to be to best team on this side of the Atlantic. This will be a close match as both teams are evenly set.
Scotland has the major advantage of constantly being tested in tournaments like the Six Nations. They are always very competitive and have a reputation as being vicious (but in a very “gentlemanly way” of course). Watch the scrums here as here as they will be quite a battle. Expect to see a bit of “raking” (when the players use the aluminum cleats on the bottom of their shoes against the opposing team’s backs). This will be a very interesting and entertaining match. I’ll say the Scots will take this one but it will be close.

Australia (nickname & emblem – Wallabies) vs. England (nickname Lions – emblem red rose) England currently holds the most titles as RWC champions – which is difficult to imagine after their performance thus far in the Cup. They are a young team and haven’t played together much. They also have the disadvantage of not having any stand out players (yet) like Johnny Wilkinson or Rob Andrew. They lack a mutual train of thought and the more experienced Wallabies are expected to win. The Lions will have to play a perfect match to best the Aussies. When the Lions loose their fans always boo them which is considered very bad form. The Brits are a tough crowd indeed.

New Zealand (nickname All Blacks – emblem ponga) vs. France (nickname & emblem – rooster)
The All Blacks are second only to the Lions in terms of RWC wins. They pride themselves on being the most technical of all the teams. They also have the advantage of the size and speed of the Maori players. Every All Black player knows his job and supports his teammates. This is an incredibly physical team and they always give a good show. I risk expulsion from my adopted Safa family but, damn, I love the All Blacks. (I did not say I love them MORE than the Boks, Johann. [I am in big trouble for that one, I think])
Keep your eyes on France however as they are the absolute master of coming back in the second half. Opponents that have underestimated them after backing them into a corner have had their heads handed to them. France is truly dangerous in the second half and this is where the match will be decided.

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