16 Sep 2007

Borat At The Rugby World Cup

Questions will soon be asked at this Rugby World Cup why Europeans pay fortunes to watch gelled up, pampered professional superstars prance around the pitch like show ponies when Georgia nearly caused the biggest rugby upset in history by going down 14-10 to 5th ranked rugby superpower Ireland.

With just 8 rugby pitches in their entire country, the East European unknowns arrived on the pitch looking like stubble-faced Borats on steroids. Only the Irish did not end up laughing. Possessing bewildering names like Dimitri Kalasnikavili and Kav Dzernevshu and wearing what looked like rolled up bicyle shorts only a handful of Georgians were professionals, and those all play in the French 2nd Division. The rest were amateurs.

To say mighty Ireland were lucky to win this so-called mismatch does not tell half the story. Georgia missed four drop goals by inches and had a winning try held up in-goal. They scored a stunning intercept taken at full sprint, made double the number of tackles to the Irish, took 66% of the territory and close to 70% possession and laid a twenty minute last ditch seige on the Irish line when they went through more than sixty phases of possession. If they lost it was only because they lacked a few finishing touches that should come as second nature to any professional team. This was one of the most thrilling matches of this or any other World Cup and the entire stadium of 35,000 were on their feet chanting "Georgia, Georgia".

They played a style of old fashioned forward rugby not seen for perhaps 20 years, meeting head on the pampered professionals that are amongst Europe's highest paid and biggest stars. And they shattered those pretensions. So far did this game smack of today versus yesterday that Georgia did not bother to go off the pitch at half time. The Irish led 7-3 and hustled off to be attended to by a doctor, three masseurs, two sports paramedics, a nutritionist, a statistician, three coaches and no doubt Father O Reilly, for they were in need of prayers. The Georgians stood on the pitch munching apples and discussing what to do next.

The surreal moments did not end after the final whistle, as seasoned sports broadcasters spluttered and ran out of adjectives to explain what they were witnessing. When winger Georgi (what else?) Shikinin, looking uncanilly like Mr. Bean, was presented with the International Rugby Board's "Man Of The Match" trophy after the game, he spilt a toothy,shy grin, waved at the camera and said cheerily,"Firstly thanks you, I want..like.... I means... I am wanting wish hello to my mummy and nice sister also all my familly.Hello". It was as priceless as it was perfect.

On a serious note, the IRB has mooted plans to kick out tiny rugby nations like Georgia, Namibia and others from future RWC events and restrict the tournament to 16 "super teams". Yet to many fans and even more commentators, the performances of a number of the unsung nations bring into question just what is happening in Europe when the Big Six of the North have so far played mostly abysmal rugby against countries one cannot locate on a rugby atlas. The minor league teams have gained the hearts of everyone.

The only sides to give any thrills to the audience besides the small nations ( as anyone who saw the breathtaking 35-34 win of Fiji over Japan can attest) have been the mighty southern Tri-Nations teams of the Springboks, Wallabies and All-Blacks, assisted by fellow Southerners Argentina. They are actually playing rugby. Established Europe has played rubbish. The IRB should think of ways to cut the salaries of the Six Nations teams and donate the proceeds to the Rugby Unions of Georgia, Portugal, Fiji, Namibia, Tonga, the USA and a few others if they have any idea at all of how to grow the global game.

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