Bryn Palmer

Irish fall under magician's spell (115)

Paris - As Argentina’s players cavorted round the Parc des Princes after the final whistle, Ireland’s stood around in stunned silence, staring vacantly into the distance.

They looked like unwanted guests at someone else’s party, not uttering a word.

They then had to go through the torturous process of collecting a medal as a permanent memento of their participation in this World Cup.

It is safe to say it won’t take pride of place in any of these players’ trophy cabinets.

Continue reading "Irish fall under magician's spell"

Bryn Palmer

Ireland ratings v Argentina (271)

Paris - I was at the Parc des Princes on Sunday as Ireland’s dismal World Cup campaign ended with a 30-15 defeat to Argentina.

Here’s how I rated each individual player’s performance. See if you agree and let us know your own thoughts.

Continue reading "Ireland ratings v Argentina"

Sean Davies

Gareth Jenkins' reign (136)

Well, the result that it seems every rugby fan in Wales has been screaming out for has come about and coach Gareth Jenkins has got the boot.

Some of the posters on 606 and other forums have even suggested that one of the blackest results in Wales’ history – the 38-34 defeat to Fiji that dumped them out of the World Cup – was worth it to secure his end.

But I have to buck the trend and express sympathy for Jenkins, who has never truly been able to put his stamp on the team.

And as we finally accept that the 2005 ‘golden generation’ was nothing but a myth, I would suggest that a number of the senior players have got out lightly from the blood-letting blame-game.

Continue reading "Gareth Jenkins' reign"

BBC Sport Rugby

Scotland ratings v Italy (142)

Scotland squeezed into the World Cup quarter-finals with a narrow victory over Italy in heavy rain in St Etienne.

It was a tight game with plenty of kicking from both sides but in the end Scotland just had the edge.

What was your view of the game?

Continue reading "Scotland ratings v Italy"

James Standley

Wales player ratings v Fiji (331)

London - Fiji pulled off one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history as they outmuscled and outplayed Wales in Nantes.

Here is my verdict on the performance of the Welsh players - let us know how you thought they played.

Continue reading "Wales player ratings v Fiji"

Bryn Palmer

Can England dare to dream again? (216)

Paris - And so it came to pass. Next Saturday, as expected, we’ll be settling down to watch England against Australia do battle for a fifth time at a Rugby World Cup.

Two wins apiece (Australia in 1987 and 1991, England in 1995 and 2003) so far, a chance for one country to edge ahead, and into this year’s semi-finals.

Four years on from that night of nights in Sydney though, the roles will be reversed.

Continue reading "Can England dare to dream again?"

Bryn Palmer

England ratings v Tonga (154)

Paris - I was at the Parc des Princes on Friday night as England beat Tonga 36-20 to book a World Cup quarter-final date with Australia next Saturday, a repeat of the 2003 final.

Here’s how I rated each individual England player. See if you agree and let me know your own views.

Continue reading "England ratings v Tonga"

Alastair Eykyn

Ireland's shot at redemption (126)

Paris - It’s time to go now. The Irish squad did not shed too many tears as they headed north-east from Bordeaux to Paris today. For them it marked a place of unhappiness, of isolation, of rumour and counter-rumour, and most of all, of lousy rugby. Yes, the train to the French capital will be seen as a release of sorts, even if what awaits them there on Sunday is fraught with pitfalls.

So after three weeks of under-achievement, of negativity, and navel-gazing, here’s some optimism. Misplaced optimism maybe, but optimism nevertheless. Feel free to add to the list. Here’s why Ireland can qualify for the quarter-finals:

Continue reading "Ireland's shot at redemption"

Nick Mullins

Expectation weighs heavily on Jenkins (26)

Nantes - Honestly, who’d be a coach this weekend?

The knock-out phase of the World Cup is effectively under way and all the men who’ve picked the teams and formulated the game plans can do now is sit back and hope they’re smiling come Sunday evening.

Even though the chilly winds of autumn have arrived big time over here, Eddie O’Sullivan, Frank Hadden and Brian Ashton will all be feeling the heat over the next couple of days.

I’d venture to suggest none of them will feel it more than Gareth Jenkins.

Continue reading "Expectation weighs heavily on Jenkins"

Tom Fordyce

Lyon and the leggy lioness (26)

Lyon, Friday morning - “You know what?” said Ben this morning, as he stared forlornly out of Le Bloggernaut’s windows at the sleet whacking down outside. “We’re halfway through our trip. We’re officially on the back nine.”

I looked up anxiously. Since that desperate night spent parked on an industrial estate in St Etienne, Ben’s mood has been as up and down as a Frederic Michalak garryowen.

Continue reading "Lyon and the leggy lioness"

Mark Orlovac

What now for the minnows? (44)

London - It’s all about the timing isn’t it?

Just as the World Cup starts to boil up nicely, we hear that the International Rugby Board is apparently considering reducing the number of teams at the 2011 World Cup – leaving the “minnows” to compete in a second-tier tournament.

Continue reading "What now for the minnows?"

Bryn Palmer

England can expect some friendly fire (49)

Paris - The Kingdom of Tonga might also be known as the Friendly Islands, the name Captain Cook gave them when he arrived on the archipelago in the southern Pacific Ocean in 1773.

But England are expecting a rather more hostile reception in Paris on Friday as they confront the surprise package of the World Cup.

The stakes are high for both teams, with Australia awaiting the winners in Marseille a week on Saturday in the quarter-finals.

Reaching that stage would represent a historic first for Tonga, while England aim to avoid becoming the first world champions not to advance to the knock-out stages.

Continue reading "England can expect some friendly fire"

Ben Dirs

The glamour of the World Cup (52)

St Etienne - Those of you who have been complaining about us wasting your hard-earned cash for the last three weeks will be delighted to know that we awoke this morning in an industrial estate to the tune of hailstones ricocheting off the roof of The Bloggernaut.

And as we weaved our way through the breathtaking Rhone Valley on Wednesday, The Dubliners’ Seven Deadly Sins turned up to 11 on the wireless, comparisons with the west coast of Ireland became irresistible. Marseille this isn’t.

Continue reading "The glamour of the World Cup"

Bryn Palmer

Tonga's secret weapon - all the way from Stourbridge (31)

Paris - Heard the one about the Tongan player with the pop star name who warmed up for the World Cup with a season in the third division of English rugby?

No? Well read on.

Continue reading "Tonga's secret weapon - all the way from Stourbridge"

John Beattie

Is the World Cup too long? (148)

Sorry, sorry, sorry. But this World Cup is too long.

Yes, I agree the Haka is a meaningless one sided warm-up (I used to do some very choice hand movements when facing it and had a laugh); All Black Ali Williams should have had his head guard lifted and chucked for miles when he left it within spitting distance of the Scots; oh, and all the games should have been played in one country – well, what part of France contains Murrayfield?

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Bryn Palmer

England enjoy dice with death (89)

Versailles - England may still, in the words of Brian Ashton, be “looking down the barrel of a gun” as they prepare to face World Cup shock troops Tonga this week.

But if the world champions remain in do-or-die mode after their victory over Samoa, at least they now give the impression of enjoying their dice with death.

Continue reading "England enjoy dice with death"

Alastair Hignell

'Tonga's wing was the size of a small house' (23)

Paris - “The girl you’re dancing with is a bloke”.

The memory of the whispered warning at the post-match party after England played Tonga for the first time is as sharp now as the lighting back in 1979 was dim.

Memories of the match are less clear; we won, one of their wings was the size of a small house, while the King of Tonga, to whom we were presented before the game, was the size of a large one.

I remember spending the pre-match warm-up clearing shards of razor-sharp coral from a pitch that seemed to have an equal number of bumps and potholes and considerably fewer blades of grass.

Continue reading "'Tonga's wing was the size of a small house'"

Tom Fordyce

Man against Mountain (42)

Bedoin, at the foot of Mont Ventoux, Wednesday morning - Some people are born foolish; some have foolishness thrust upon them. Very few combine both those traits, and then also happily embrace additional foolishness with arms outstretched.

It would appear that I am one of them.

My companion Degustation Dirs is fulfilling his cultural remit on this Francophile extravaganza by sampling every cheese, wine and brandy he can lay his eager hands on. By idiotic contrast, I decided to break our journey from Montpellier to St Etienne by cycling up the hardest climb in the entire Tour de France.

I know.

Continue reading "Man against Mountain"

Andrew Cotter

Hacked off with the Haka (772)

This may be the quickest and perhaps least professional blog ever to hit the web but there are valid reasons.

Since I had to check my lap-top in with the rest of my luggage, I am left tapping away at one of those internet kiosks where you pile in coins (which are short).

You have to work as furiously as you can, while your time left, your money and possibly your life quietly slip away in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

I am also encircled by one of the longest check-in queues I have ever seen, consisting almost entirely of All Black supporters - the army of The Dark Lord Henry is on the march again.

Continue reading "Hacked off with the Haka"

Ben Dirs

Salty old madam puts on a show (26)

Montpellier - I’d heard Marseille was a bit on the grim side, so when The Bloggernaut snaked round one last mountain bend to reveal the salty old Madam in all its glory, I was more than a mite surprised.

Stick a giant statue of Chrissy Waddle, arms outstretched, on one of the hills overlooking France’s second city, and you’d have a pretty close approximation of Rio.

The local legend and shambling old step-over merchant even had a similar haircut to Jesus, although I’m sure the son of God would have baulked at the idea of luminous socks.

So cocky are they about the weather in Marseille that they’ve only bothered putting a roof over one of the stands, and it was another rip-roaring evening on Saturday as we watched Argentina give our old friends Namibia a damn good thrashing.

Continue reading "Salty old madam puts on a show"

Phil Harlow

Murrayfield mis-match is grey occasion (95)

Murrayfield, Sunday - Don’t you just love the World Cup? The best teams in the world, going hell for leather for victory, the underdog taking it to the favourites and all in front of a backdrop of fervent fans going blinking bananas.

That’s the theory at any rate. Scotland B’s 40-0 hammering by New Zealand certainly didn’t live up to that ideal, or even come close to it.

Continue reading "Murrayfield mis-match is grey occasion"

Phil Harlow

Scotland ratings v New Zealand (155)

Edinburgh - I was at Murrayfield on Sunday as Scotland went down 0-40 to the mighty but misfiring All Blacks.

Here’s how I rated each individual Scotland player’s performance. See whether you agree and give us your own thoughts.

Continue reading "Scotland ratings v New Zealand"

Ryan Jones

Wales moving into gear (34)

Swansea - In the first match of Pool B Australia set a pretty daunting 91-point benchmark for our match against Japan but I think 11 tries and 72 points equals job done for Wales.

The text books went out of the window almost from the word go on Thursday night as both teams threw caution to the wind in the opening exchanges, pretty much setting the tone for the rest of the evening.

Such an opportunity for us to break the shackles and run with the ball usually sees us play our most potent and effective rugby and overall that did prove to be the case - not though, before the Japanese ensured there would be no resting on any laurels when they came up with the try of the tournament so far.

Continue reading "Wales moving into gear"

Alastair Eykyn

Where are you, Brian O'Driscoll? (174)

Paris - What hope an Irish miracle? The faces of the players as they wandered through the interview area in the bowels of the Stade de France on Friday told a story.

For them, the French match was THE one. Defeat has all but condemned them to an early exit, and don’t they know it.

A pall of gloom hangs over the squad, despite the defiant mutterings of the captain and coach. Barring an astonishing turn of events next Sunday, the golden generation have missed the boat.

Continue reading "Where are you, Brian O'Driscoll?"

Bryn Palmer

One Pacific Island opponent down, one to go (89)

Nantes - So England, like France, survived what the hosts billed as another match couperet in this World Cup – couperet being the blade of the guillotine.

One notoriously dangerous Pacific Island opponent overcome; another, increasingly bullish, one awaits at the Parc des Princes on Friday.

The 44-22 scoreline would suggest the world champions were twice as good as Samoa, but that is misleading in the extreme.

Continue reading "One Pacific Island opponent down, one to go"

Bryn Palmer

England ratings v Samoa (106)

Nantes - I was at the Stade de la Beaujoire on Saturday as England survived another scare against Samoa before pulling away to a 44-22 victory.

Here’s how I rated each individual England player’s performance. See whether you agree and give us your own thoughts.

Continue reading "England ratings v Samoa"

Tom Fordyce

Things that go bump in the night (9)

Aix-en-Provence, early on Saturday morning - I’m not sure which was the louder noise - the yells of joy in the cobbled streets last night as the celebrating citizens of Aix watched France march through Ireland’s sorry challenge, or the two hours of hacking coughs that Dirsy produced around the 3am mark.

Continue reading "Things that go bump in the night"

Bryn Palmer

Relieved hosts leave Irish in a stew (75)

Paris - From the “scenario catastrophe” of their opening-night faux pas, the cathartic effects of a comfortable and critical victory enveloped France on Friday night.

Given the enormity of what was at stake, the relief of a nation - and perhaps many neutrals who feared for this World Cup’s health without its hosts - was palpable.

Continue reading "Relieved hosts leave Irish in a stew"

Bryn Palmer

Ireland ratings v France (168)

Paris – I was at the Stade de France on Friday night as Ireland’s World Cup hopes were left hanging by a thread after a convincing 25-3 defeat by France.

Here’s how I rated each individual Ireland player’s performance. See whether you agree and let me know your own thoughts.

Continue reading "Ireland ratings v France"

Andrew Cotter

Scottish lambs set for slaughter? (108)

Edinburgh - Murrayfield will be close to capacity, The Haka will will be performed by the All Blacks (in a nice light grey) and the Scotland team which lines up to face it will be far from full-strength.

The team which Scotland coach Frank Hadden has chosen is certainly not a surprise but it does offer plenty of talking-points.

Continue reading "Scottish lambs set for slaughter?"

Ben Dirs

Up close and personal with Namibia (16)

La Ciotat - Namibia may not be the most talented team at this World Cup but I’d wager they have one of the cosiest set-ups.

Situated in the town of La Ciotat, 20km from Marseille, their hotel has its toes dipped in the Med and is the sort of idyllic little place you’d plump for if you wanted to keep a mistress sweet.

Contrast this with Ireland’s HQ, a business hotel on the outskirts of Bordeaux and, if media reports are to be believed, the scene of some disquiet.

Continue reading "Up close and personal with Namibia"

Bryn Palmer

Five reasons why Ireland can beat France (91)

Paris - France are hot favourites to put their opening-night catastrophe against Argentina firmly behind them and pulverise an under-performing Ireland on Friday, taking a huge step towards the quarter-finals in the process.

So is there any hope at all for Eddie O’Sullivan’s boys? Could they upset the odds and effectively eliminate the World Cup hosts before the end of the group stages?

Let’s see if we can come up with some reasons why Irish eyes might be smiling, rather than sobbing, at the Stade de France…

Continue reading "Five reasons why Ireland can beat France"

Bryn Palmer

The Caveman cometh (75)

Paris - A phenomenon sweeping across France will reach a new peak in Paris on Friday.

With the country on tenterhooks for the do-or-die World Cup clash with Ireland, the man they call “L’Homme des Cavernes” (The Caveman) will rumble into the Stade de France with millions roaring him on around the country.

Sebastien Chabal, the shaggy-haired, bearded behemoth beloved of Sale fans, has belatedly found fame and popularity in his own country.

His image is everywhere, on television, publicity posters, newspapers. He even has his own puppet in France’s version of Spitting Image, “Les Guignols de l’info”.

Continue reading "The Caveman cometh"

Sean Davies

Wales ratings v Japan (106)

Wales ratings v Japan

Cardiff – I was at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Thursday for Wales’ Pool B game against Japan.

Here’s how I rated the individual Wales players’ performances. See what you think and let us know what you made of the performance.

Continue reading "Wales ratings v Japan"

Bryn Palmer

Succour for Scots in Italy mind games (31)

Paris - It is not only England it seems who are struggling to translate training-ground effort into match-day mettle.

The good news for Scotland supporters is that Italy are proving equally inept.

Continue reading "Succour for Scots in Italy mind games"

Ryan Jones

Fresh start ahead (22)

Swansea - With the crunch group match against Australia having come and gone, tonight’s match against Japan has the feeling of a fresh start about it.

Everything Wales have done since the Six Nations has been done with that Australia game in mind and of course we would have hoped to emerge victorious from it. However that wasn’t to be and now that the Plan A has been derailed, it’s time for us to crack on with Plan B.

The primary goal still remains a quarter-final berth and to get there as group runners-up we must first negotiate the challenges of the final two group games, starting with the Japanese.

Continue reading "Fresh start ahead"

Alastair Hignell

England leave history behind (36)

Versailles - Based with the England team in Versailles, it’s difficult not to get historical, and far too tempting not to draw parallels.

The vast chateau complex started life as a modest little hunting lodge before Louis XIV decided to make it the envy of the world.

The absolute ruler was so full of himself that he encouraged his subjects to think of him as the Sun King, while coming up with such modest, self-deprecating little sound-bites as “L’Etat, c’est moi!”

Of course, England’s autocrat was only a knight and though Sir Clive is no longer in power he would surely approve of another Louis-like legacy on view in Versailles.

Continue reading "England leave history behind"

Andrew Cotter

Did Murrayfield get away with it? (73)

Murrayfield - Scotland's rugby team has certainly earned pass marks so far in this World Cup, but what about Scotland's national rugby stadium as one of the venues?

I don't think anybody would really disagree that in an ideal world (cup) this whole tournament would be taking place in France. But deals were done and backs were scratched, so how was the Parc de Murray experience for you?

There is a suggestion that Scotland might be considering a bid to host the 2015 Rugby World Cup, so you can imagine that there were concerns over the attendance and atmosphere in the Scottish capital. Everyone remembers with some shame the dreadful Scottish attendances during the 1999 World Cup.

Continue reading "Did Murrayfield get away with it?"

Bryn Palmer

Best and worst of RWC so far (56)

Paris - With all 20 teams in this World Cup having played two matches each – before Italy and Portugal kick-off ‘round three’ on Wednesday – how about some ‘halfway through the pool stages’ awards?

Not the snappiest of titles I’ll admit, but we’ll revisit them at the end of the group stages, and again at the end of the tournament.

Do let me know who I’ve missed out, which ones I’ve got wrong, and your own nominations for further awards.

Continue reading "Best and worst of RWC so far"

Tom Fordyce

Star-struck by the All Blacks (44)

Aix-en-Provence, Wednesday - Delightful though the home city of Cezanne and Zola (Emile, rather than Gianfranco) is, there was only one reason why The Bloggernaut was blocking its cobbled streets this sunny morning: the mighty All Blacks were in town.

So far on this trip, we’ve only heard distant rumbles of the favourites’ inexorable progress whilst chugging down autoroutes or perched in the stands at other games.

Continue reading "Star-struck by the All Blacks"

Mark Orlovac

Scotland ratings v Romania (65)

London - Scotland made it two wins out of two with a comfortable enough victory over Romania at Murrayfield.

Frank Hadden's men rarely looked troubled but were a little scrappy and will need to improve their execution, especially at the breakdown, for the tougher tests that lie ahead.

See what you think of my player ratings and let us know what you thought of the Scotland display.

Continue reading "Scotland ratings v Romania"

Bryn Palmer

Over to you boys, says Ashton (66)

Versailles - Out of despair and darkness, lucidity and light. Out of chaos and carnage, clarity and control.

That appeared to be the message from the England camp on Tuesday, four days after their humbling by South Africa, and 15 days after their arrival on French soil.

Better late than never, you might say. But from where has this new brains trust emerged, this new well of optimism sprung?

Continue reading "Over to you boys, says Ashton"

Alastair Eykyn

Irish eyes look like crying (140)

Bordeaux - One of these next two paragraphs is a rational assessment of the Irish World Cup campaign.

Georgia are a world class team. Namibia were the fortunate beneficiaries of a surfeit of turnover ball. Training is going well. It’s been tough, because northern hemisphere teams peak in January, not September. Ireland are not far away from putting it all together. Ireland will be better against the French because they know their game. Ireland are playing high risk rugby which will bring dividends against major nations, but which is fraught with danger against others.


Continue reading "Irish eyes look like crying"

Ben Dirs

French girls and heart Aix (57)

Aix-en-Provence - “Ben, France at this time of year is like a 35-year-old woman – blooming and ready for anything.”

An Englishman says that to you, and you laugh in his face. Manu, owner of the Web Bar in Saint-Emilion, says it to you and you want to grab him by the cheeks and plant a big kiss on his forehead.

Aaah, Saint-Emilion. Aaah, 35-year-old women. Add a couple of bottles of the local Grand Cru and an eggshell blue sky and you’ve pretty much got the ingredients for the perfect afternoon.

Continue reading "French girls and heart Aix"

John Beattie

Beginning of the end for Six Nations? (155)

Do you know, I think that this World Cup is hastening the end of the Six Nations.

The premier northern hemisphere competition is being exposed for what many have suspected it to be for a while – protectionist.

The sooner we let Portugal, Georgia, and Argentina into regular elite competition on an annual basis, the better.

Continue reading "Beginning of the end for Six Nations?"

Bryn Palmer

England search for right notes (31)

Versailles - For a while on Monday afternoon, it was possible to believe England were still world champions in more than just name.

Anyone passing the Stade Montbauron, the team’s training base in a quiet corner of Versailles, might have thought an international boy band was in town, such was the high-pitched squealing frenzy awaiting the squad from 2,000 local schoolchildren.

Continue reading "England search for right notes"

Ryan Jones

Going walkabout in Cardiff (11)

Swansea - I finally got the chance of some first-hand World Cup action on Saturday as the France 2007 carnival, oddly enough, rolled its way into Cardiff.

I decided to indulge myself, too, by getting right into the heart of the city streets and sucking up a bit of the atmosphere.

When you’re involved as a player you get very little exposure to the buzz of a match day afternoon around and about the stadium where, on top of the 70,000 or so ticket holders, countless more enjoy the day in the capital’s numerous hostelries.

Ironically enough, after enjoying a fine pre-match lunch I joined some friends to watch the match - where else, but in an Australian bar!

Continue reading "Going walkabout in Cardiff"

John Haughey

Murphy absence baffling (243)

Belfast - Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan has made three changes for Friday’s must-win World Cup clash against France but the biggest talking-point may be his decision to leave Geordan Murphy out of the entire 22.

The Ireland team is: Dempsey; Horgan, O'Driscoll, capt, D'Arcy, Trimble; O'Gara, Reddan; Horan, Flannery, Hayes, O'Callaghan, O'Connell, Easterby, D Wallace, Leamy. Replacements: Sheahan, S Best, O'Kelly, N Best, Boss, P Wallace, Duffy.

To put it mildly, Gavin Duffy's inclusion on the bench at Murphy's expense is baffling.

Continue reading "Murphy absence baffling"

Tom Fordyce

What's the French for 'schadenfreude'? (53)

Montpellier, Monday morning - You want to know what true happiness is? A man named Ben Dirs finding out that the assistant venue manager at the Stade de la Mosson is called Paul Bastard.

The weight off Ben’s shoulders since he arrived in a country where his name fails to raise a single snigger has been obvious to all concerned, but this was a moment of pure redemption. Only if he had discovered that “Fordyce” translates as something obscene involving goats and PVC aprons could he have been any happier.

For the residents of Le Bloggernaut, these past few days will forever be known as The Weekend When Nothing Went Wrong.

Continue reading "What's the French for 'schadenfreude'?"

Bruce Pope

Citing spoiling the exciting? (53)

Cardiff - Now don't get me wrong, I am in no way endorsing bad tackles or foul play - I wince and utter the occasional expletive along with the rest of the watching world when something nasty happens during a rugby match.

But I'm thinking that the citing commissioners and disciplinary panels at this Rugby World Cup are coming down too harshly on players.

Continue reading "Citing spoiling the exciting?"

John Haughey

O'Sullivan must stop the rot (129)

Belfast - It wasn't meant to be like this.

The closing minutes of Saturday's 14-10 World Cup win over Georgia was some kind of weird sporting Alamo for a stunned Irish sporting public.

Millions of Euro have been ploughed into this professional Irish rugby team yet for the second weekend in succession they have been embarrassed by the so-called minnows of world rugby.

Continue reading "O'Sullivan must stop the rot"

Bryn Palmer

Reality hits home for England (97)

Versailles - Hallelujah, the fog appears to have lifted.

If England’s displays over the last few weeks and months were not evidence enough, then Friday’s 36-0 humbling by the Springboks seems to have done the trick.

Those inside the camp have finally admitted the reality: England no longer have any world-class players.

Continue reading "Reality hits home for England"

Bruce Pope

Was that the end for Alfie? (43)

Cardiff - When Gareth Thomas, dazed and damaged, was helped off the Millennium Stadium pitch on Saturday it may have been the last time we will see him on the international stage.

'Alfie' as he is more often known (after a puppet character from a children's television series) announced at the beginning of this year that he would "probably" retire from Test rugby after the World Cup.

Continue reading "Was that the end for Alfie?"

James Standley

Ireland player ratings (194)

London - Ireland kept their World Cup campaign on track by the skin of their teeth as they edged past Georgia 14-10 on Saturday night.

The Georgians are ranked just 17th in the world but they produced the performance of a lifetime to push the Irish - who won the Triple Crown in the 2007 Six Nations remember - right to the final whistle

These are my ratings - do you agree?

Continue reading "Ireland player ratings"

Bruce Pope

Wales ratings v Australia (121)

Cardiff - I was at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday as Wales lost 32-20 to Australia in a match that leaves the Wallabies in control of Pool B.

Here's how I rated the individual Wales players' performances. See whether you agree and let us know what you thought of the match.

Continue reading "Wales ratings v Australia"

Alastair Eykyn

To axe or not to axe... (15)

Bordeaux - It’s a funny one, loyalty. Rugby coaches battle with it every week. Which is the preferred policy - the stick or the carrot?

The best in the business can administer both at different times, and with different people. An even-handed approach usually generates respect between the players and management. It also generally provides more consistent results. But what a tough balance it is to find.

When does loyalty cross over into blind faith?

Continue reading "To axe or not to axe..."

Bryn Palmer

England's head on the block (152)

In the country where the guillotine was the preferred method for dispensing with the great and not so good, England’s stay of execution at this World Cup could be brief.

Eight days to be precise, in which they must somehow lift themselves from the pit of despair into which Friday’s savaging by the Springboks has sunk them, and find a way of beating Samoa in a likely winner-goes-through clash in Nantes next Saturday.

No easy task on the basis of what we have seen so far from Brian Ashton’s men, whose much-talked-about potential remains firmly unlocked.

Failure to beat the Pacific Islanders would in all probability see them become the first world champions not to reach at least the quarter-finals in the defence of their trophy.

Continue reading "England's head on the block"

Bryn Palmer

England ratings v SA (339)

I was at the Stade de France on Friday as England's World Cup campaign was blown to smithereens by a dominant South Africa, who crushed the defending world champions 36-0.

Here's how I rated the individual England players' performances. See what you think and let us know what you made of the performance.

Continue reading "England ratings v SA"

Bruce Pope

Wales the Lionhearts (20)

Seen posted on the door of the Wales dressing room in the bowels of the Millennium Stadium are words of inspiration attributed to the King of England.

I know what you're thinking: "Has Lizzie finally stepped down and let number one son have a go at last, but he's still made the time to big-up Gareth Jenkins' boys due to his previous role as Prince of Wales?"

No, the words helping to get the hwyl flowing for Saturday's Pool B clash with Australia have come echoing down the ages, uttered towards the end of the 12th century.

Continue reading "Wales the Lionhearts"

Andrew Cotter

Scotland reveal their hand? (29)

St Etienne - Scotland continue to draw sizeable crowds of locals to their open training sessions at the St Etienne Football Academy.

Most are there purely to collect autographs and have their photos taken with the lads and they generally give the impression that nobody in this little corner of France has any work to go to.

Continue reading "Scotland reveal their hand?"

Ryan Jones

Wales v Australia (43)

Swansea - Since the World Cup pools were drawn however many months ago, both Wales and Australia put a pin in 15 September 2007, identifying it as the day when the four-year cycle of building for a World Cup would end.

It would end because it was the day when there would be no more excuses: no more blooding young players, no more trying new combinations and no more considering a loss as anything but failure. It would be time to deliver –
and here we are.

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Ben Dirs

From biscuits to foie gras (23)

Bordeaux - When you’re down and troubled, and you need some love and care, go out and have a few scoops with the Irish in Bordeaux. You’re likely to get absolutely rubbered and forget about all the bad things that have happened.

Not me of course. I was nursing a Guinness in The Connemara thinking up possibly the worst opening paragraph in the history of the written word.

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Alastair Hignell

The luck of the English (38)

Paris - By rights, Brian Ashton should have been born on Friday the 13th, and spent his childhood treading on cracks pavement and playing hide and seek under ladders, before going on to strangle every black cat in the neighbourhood.

If any man could be the exception that proves the rule about sportsmen making their own luck, it is the England coach.

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Tom Fordyce

Toulouse, la trek (48)

Condom, again - We should have known that something bad was afoot when we both woke up on Wednesday morning from jaw-clenched technicolour nightmares.

Mine involved hitting a furious Brian Ashton in the face with a misplaced spin-pass, while Ben’s saw him steal a VW campervan belonging to Steve Coogan before inadvertently driving it backwards off a cliff.

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Sean Davies

Driven crazy by the opening exchanges (38)

It’s been a frustrating first week of the World Cup for the armchair supporter of the home nations.

I’m not talking about the less than inspiring wins over the USA, Canada, Portugal and Namibia.

It’s those damn Peugeot adverts with the imbecile supporters from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

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Bryn Palmer

Farrell facing ultimate test (246)

Versailles - So how did it come to this?

After four years of planning - or maybe four months, no, on second thoughts, weeks, perhaps days – England's number 10 jersey for the critical game of their World Cup campaign will be occupied by a man with no experience of playing senior rugby union at fly-half.

Surely some mistake? ‘Fraid not, for those of you of a red rose persuasion.

You could put it down to extreme bad luck, and Brian Ashton certainly deserves some sympathy there.

After all, who could have predicted that Jonny Wilkinson would get injured in an innocuous training ground incident?

Oh hang on, with his record…

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Ben Dirs

Cognac and raw pasta on the menu (21)

Condom, France - I swear on everything that is dear to me that we did not plan to end up in Condom last night.

The idea was to stop off in Agen on the way to Toulouse, but the lack of a campsite meant we had to push on a few extra miles and the next decent-sized town happened to be what the French might refer to as capote anglaise.

We resisted taking a hilarious picture of one of us sniggering under a Condom road sign, but it does mean we will have to put our snail eating contest on the backburner for a couple of weeks.

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Alastair Eykyn

Singing Namibia's praises (51)

Bordeaux Someone give these guys a game. Namibia used the biggest stage of all to highlight the problems facing rugby’s so-called "minnows".

Their commitment, passion and unquestionable talent was there for all to see in Bordeaux on Sunday, as they threw an industrial-sized spanner in the Irish works. But how on earth do they progress from here?

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Nick Mullins

Suffering from La Baule blues (56)

La Baule - So there you go, seven days into the World Cup and we’re all going home. Wales - and the rest of us flip-flopping around with them - are pulling the suitcase out from underneath the hotel room bed and heading back to Cardiff for the next couple of pool matches.

Sunday in Nantes was terrific, the hospitality there and here at our base beside the Atlantic in La Baule has been overwhelming. But just as we’re beginning to get into the swing of the party, we're off.

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Bryn Palmer

Ashton laughs in face of adversity (55)

Trianon Palace Hotel, Versailles - You had to feel for Brian Ashton.

Three days before the critical game of England’s World Cup campaign against South Africa, one that will probably define his reign as head coach, and things weren’t exactly going to plan.

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Ryan Jones

Mixed emotions for a game of two halves (18)

Swansea - With the dust having settled on our win against Canada on Sunday, it’s only now that I’ve sat and watched the boys in action that it’s hit home what I’m actually missing in France.

It was a day of mixed emotion for me and the thought that I may be watching my only chance to play in a World Cup slip away was not eased by the Canadian first-half performance.

In hindsight fans will be asking why it took us so long to exercise our superiority in the contest but it must be understood that in international rugby, regardless of who you are playing or what world rankings suggest, there is not going to be a lot of room early on.

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Andrew Cotter

Scotland play waiting game (18)

St Etienne is a strange place to be at the moment.

The excitement of the first glimpse of the Rugby World Cup at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard (he founded a supermarket chain if you were wondering) has now given way to a general torpor, a hibernation until the next game is staged here and Samoa take on the United States - in just over two weeks' time.

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James Standley

Would Vickery absence be such a disaster? (98)

London - England’s World Cup campaign, which got off to a somewhat sluggish start against the USA on Saturday, looks as though it might take another unexpected turn.

The floundering world champions are set to be without Phil Vickery for Friday’s Titanic encounter with South Africa after the captain was cited for an apparent trip on Eagles centre Paul Emerick on Saturday.

It is hard to see how Vickery can escape a minimum of a one-game ban after the incident was missed by the referee in Lens.

Matt Dawson, England’s World Cup-winning scrum-half, says it would be a “huge blow” for England to lose Vickery.

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Tom Fordyce

Welsh fans in fine voice (85)

Nantes - Of all the scary sounds you’ve ever heard - fingernails being scraped down a blackboard, two foxes fornicating in the street at midnight, the atonal singing of Yoko Ono - nothing can compare with the noise of a hundred hungover Welshmen clearing their orifices in an echoing campsite wash-block at nine in the morning.

For those directly involved it was bad enough, but pity the 60-year-old Frenchwoman who was attempting to do her breakfast washing-up while being brutally serenaded by this furry-tongued squadron of obscene trumpeters.

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Nick Mullins

Weekend to forget for Home Nations (49)

In the bright light of a Monday morning, you have to think that in the end Wales produced the most impressive performance of the home nations on the opening weekend.

England were horrendous (it’s a long time since I’ve been patronised by an American over Sunday breakfast), Scotland were OK but nothing more and I still have a rumbling feeling that Ireland are hurtling down the other side of the hill. Their final pool match with Argentina is beginning to look like a career-definer for so many of their players and coaches.

And while the headline writers were sharpening their pencils five minutes into the second half against Canada, Wales eventually rediscovered some composure and towards the end there were even echoes of those mesmerising passages of play against New Zealand and England in 2003.

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Alastair Hignell

The Joy of Six (5)

Plus ca change- as the French would say.

In five World Cups since that first tentative venture in Australia and New Zealand in 1987, the All Blacks have always been expected to reach the final and BBC Radio has always been on hand to report the action.

So have I.

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BBC Sport Rugby

Ireland player ratings (170)

By Richard Hookham

Ireland lurched to an opening 32-17 victory over supposed tournament whipping boys Namibia in Bordeaux on Sunday.

Coach Eddie O'Sullivan's men at least top the pool after winning a bonus point for scoring four tries but there will be far greater tests to come and the battle is well and truly on with France and Argentina to escape the "group of death".

Let us know what you make of the ratings, and your views in general of the Ireland performance.

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James Standley

Scotland player ratings (61)

Scotland won their opening match of the 2007 World Cup by defeating tournament debutants Portugal 56-10.

The Iberian minnows, only two of whom are professionals, will claim a moral victory after making the Scots work for every score.

Let us know what you make of the ratings, and your views in general of the Scottish performance.

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Ben Dirs

Wales player ratings (85)


Wales recovered from a half-time deficit to record a 42-17 win over a valiant Canada at the Stade de la Beaujoire.

I was at the stadium to see the match, and here's how I rated each individual player's performance. Let me know what you make of my marks and add your own thoughts.

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Alastair Eykyn

Cheers to the Irish (51)

Bordeaux - There are plenty of people in France who've written off the Irish World Cup challenge already - and Eddie O'Sullivan's men have yet to take the field.

I was lucky enough to witness that extraordinary opening win for Argentina that broke French hearts.

Now the optimists are all waiting for "Le Backlash".

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Ryan Jones

French defeat gives hope to all (7)

Swansea - So we're off and running and we've seen already that nothing comes easy at this level.

As I suggested in a previous blog, I thought the weight of expectation would be a huge burden for the French players to shoulder and the manner in which they stuttered through their match against Argentina, lacking even a fraction of the attacking conviction evident in the warm-ups against England and Wales, proved this to be true.

Conversely, the purpose with which the Pumas went about their task was streets apart from the fairly lack-lustre attitude that they had shown in their pre-World Cup contests. But, hey, it's now that it counts!

Continue reading "French defeat gives hope to all"

Bryn Palmer

England Ratings (217)


England opened their World Cup in less than emphatic style with a 28-10 victory over the United States.

I was at the Stade Felix Bollaert and here's how I rated each individual player's performance. Let me know what you made of it and add your own thoughts.

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Ben Dirs

Look back in Angers (37)

Angers, Loire Valley - As far as I’m concerned, last night’s biggest revelation wasn’t that France have got no hope of winning the World Cup, but that French youths drink Pastis and rose rather than cans of Stella.

It’s depressing to think that even France’s chavs are more sophisticated than ours, and even more depressing to think that Argentina might have naused up the whole tournament with their brave, and deserved, win in Paris.

Although we had planned to be in Nantes by now, Tom and I watched the match in Angers, a pretty (are any French towns not pretty?) town in the Loire Valley.

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Bryn Palmer

France fluff their lines (35)

Paris - Ooh la la! Quel cauchemar. France’s dream of a World Cup victory on home soil has already become the stuff of nightmares.

An evening that began in a mood of joyous celebration and optimism ended in crushing defeat and despair for the host nation.

They fluffed their opening lines in the most infuriatingly French manner possible, but the indefatigable Pumas were the most passionate and predatory of party poopers.

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Andrew Cotter

Parks in a no-win situation (14)

Sportsmen, when being interviewed, fall into three categories.

Firstly there are those who simply have a normal conversation with you, listen to your questions and give an honest and usually entertaining answer. These are dream interviews and rare indeed.

There are also, unfortunately, those who are so wary of saying the wrong thing that they simply decide to let their brains diappear out the door, Homer Simpson style, and conduct the interview in a semi-catatonic state - bland, pointless utterances and a blank, vacant, deadness behind their soulless eyes. There are quite a few of them about.

But there is a third category - those whose facial expressions and body language betrays their true feelings, no matter how much they try and toe the party-line.

I give you Dan Parks.

Continue reading "Parks in a no-win situation"

Ryan Jones

Jones the Pundit calls the Cup (11)

Swansea - The Canada game on Sunday will be vital and the nervous excitement that the boys have built up in the past weeks will all come out.

We'll be out to hit the ground running and really make a statement to the rest to show that we are not to be underestimated in this competition.

I'm confident that the matches with Canada, Japan and Fiji will see three convincing Welsh victories. I'd also defy anyone who thinks that we cannot beat the Australians at home.

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Bryn Palmer

Picture row mars Cup opening (20)

Paris - It was all smiles on Thursday night as Bernard Lapasset, the president of the French Rugby Federation, Bernard Delanoe, the mayor of Paris, and Syd Millar, the chairman of the International Rugby Board, flicked the ceremonial switch on this sixth Rugby World Cup.

Their stage-managed act, captured live on French television, illuminated a giant rugby ball, suspended between the lower columns of the Eiffel Tower.

The official World Cup logo was also lit up, while the steel frames of Gustave’s iconic 324m-high creation also dazzled onlookers with a shimmering array of lights.

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Tom Fordyce

Not so mighty oaks (53)

Rambouillet, near Chartres, in the rain, Friday - A new morning, a new campsite – and a new way to be woken up before any normal human wants to be unsnoozed.

Yesterday, it was a rabid dog attacking the campervan next door; two days ago, the freezing dawn air whistling round the van after someone – let’s call him Den Birs – left the windows open and the electricity off.

Today? Today it was the sound of unspecified lumps of something falling out of the trees above us and crashing onto the roof of the van.

Donk. Donk. Donk. CRASH. Donk. Donk.

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Andrew Cotter

Loving the Lamonts (20)

St Etienne - It's official. St Etienne loves Scotland! And the ladies love the Lamont brothers!

Today was Scotland's first full day in this little corner of the Rhones-Alpes region and the dignitaries of St Etienne appeared with their best smiles and hand-shakes at the first press conference which was held in the rather grand Hotel de Ville (Town Hall, according to O-Grade French).

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Ben Dirs

A humbling site (48)

Amiens - As I scanned row upon row of crosses at one of the many British cemeteries that dot north east France like ice-white scars, it was sobering, and a little humbling, to think that my great granddad fought on these very fields.

It certainly managed to put my little sulk over our dwindling stocks of Foamburst and Shreddies into perspective.

Click here to watch Tom and Ben's first video diary

My cousin has in her possession my great granddad’s mother-of-pearl bible, dented, family legend has it, by a German bullet. A cracking story, although given my record with mobile phones, he probably just sat on it after a few hot toddies.

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Ryan Jones

Watching, waiting....wishing (36)

Swansea - With the first match of the tournament now just a day away, being sat in Wales writing this blog isn’t exactly what I’d had in mind for this week.

But my best laid plans have once again been rudely disrupted by my body’s refusal to stay in one piece for more than one season and my chance to play at a World Cup has, for now, evaded me.

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Sean Davies

A strange kind of fever (5)

It’s been a strange sort of pre-World Cup fever in Wales, a summer sickness in the August warm-up games cooling the volatile passion of the fans.

Last year, Gareth Jenkins and his coaching team were talking confidently of the “Welsh way” and the possibility of claiming the World Cup.

It’s fair to say that the fans never really bought into that, yet, despite a record of just four wins from 15 games, the buoyant background mood inside the camp seemed to hold true – until last month’s France game.

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Alastair Hignell

Saying it in style (6)


It is not every day that England hold media briefings in council offices.

Mind you, not every council office can compare with those in Versailles. Beneath three massive chandeliers, in a vast room decorated with huge paintings, lashings of gilt and ornate furniture, England head coach Brian Ashton produced some exquisite Lancastrian Franglais in response to a florid welcome by local dignitaries, before handing down his team for the first World Cup game against the United States this Saturday.

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Tom Fordyce

Up with les oiseaux (29)

Day three – somewhere near Arras

Lesson number 62 of motorhome camping – don’t leave the window and skylight open when you crawl into your bunk at night.

Someone – I’m not naming names, but since it wasn’t me, you can probably guess who it might have been – also inadvertently turned the electricity off in the middle of the night.

“I thought I was switching the lights off,” was the mumbled excuse at dawn this morning, when the brutal reality of sub-zero temperatures in the van woke both of us up before the sun had even cleared the horizon.

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Bryn Palmer

Wilko woe puts England on defensive (29)


Incroyable. Day one of England’s World Cup proper, and Jonny’s crocked already.

Plus ca change, mes amis, plus ca change. Brian Ashton tried to put a brave face on it, but he hardly gave the appearance of a man who said he had given up worrying about what might happen to players for fear he might lose what hair he had left.

“You just get on with it,” said the head coach, by which he presumably meant being as defensive as possible about every question asked about the subject.

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Ben Dirs

Life thru a Lens (75)

Near Lens

BEN: There is something slightly disturbing about watching a man kissing and stroking a 3G internet card in the back of a darkened motor home in a remote campsite in Normandy…Tommy?

TOM: Desperation can force a man to do many things, Benjamin. Why, there was the time that, naked as the day I was born, I was forced to… but no. That story is perhaps a little racy for the current climate. And I’ve apologised to the Mother Superior in question a thousand times, anyway.

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Bryn Palmer

World Cup fever? (3)


“Mesdames et messieurs, bienvenue a Paris.” It was only when I rolled into the Gare du Nord on the Eurostar on Monday afternoon that it finally hit me.

La Coupe du Monde, c’est arrive! Finally. The eternal build-up almost over, the warm-up nonsense done and dusted, the real thing upon us once again.

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Tom Fordyce

Cartoons, chimps and chemical toilets (23)

The ominous parting words from the various BBC bosses have all been the same: “Have a good time, of course – but don’t crash the van, right?”

So immense, so space-age, so monstrously horse-powered is our vehicle that it appears any van-related insurance claim would leave the already shaky BBC finances on the brink of terminal meltdown.

I don’t like to spread scare stories, but whispers are that one small ding to the front bumper could be enough to force the instant cancellation of the next series of Celebrity-Chimp Archery On Ice.

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