England take flight

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The Independent Online
England's World Cup hopefuls last night left Heathrow for South Africa on the same flight as the rather less hopeful Irish, with the Welsh departing a couple of hours later. The Scots had gone with the French from Munich on Tuesday evening.

This morning, both England and Wales will begin to come to terms with accommodation which is not of their choosing. The Welsh are stuck - as they would see it - in the sticks in Bloemfontein for the duration of their build-up, while the English will be in a four-star hotel in Durban when they had demanded a five-star job called the Beverly Hills 10 miles up the Indian Ocean coast.

A more justified English moan concerns the draw which, provided they win their pool, will pit them against the losers of the South Africa-Australia match that will inaugurate the tournament in Cape Town next Thursday. This has even led Will Carling, the ever-newsworthy captain, into the preposterous suggestion that England might take it easy in at least one of their pool matches.

Carling's squad have nine days to acclimatise to the intense heat and humidity of Durban before they play Argentina at King's Park on Saturday week, by which time Scotland will already have opened against the rank outsiders, Ivory Coast, the day before.

England's travelling companions will be delighted merely to reach the quarter-finals, never mind progress beyond. Ireland kick off against New Zealand in Johannesburg on Saturday week, the day Wales play Japan in Bloemfontein in the same pool, and for the Irish even travelling hopelessly could well be better than arriving.

Arrival in Johannesburg this morning, followed by dispersal to most parts of South Africa, is being made more fraught by labour unrest which could threaten the comfortable passage of the tournament if discontented workers decide to use the World Cup as a convenient publicity vehicle.

This is worrying not only to the World Cup organisers, who have enough problems of their own with the overt differences between themselves and Louis Luyt, the South African Rugby Football Union president, but also to the committee preparing to bid to bring the 2004 Olympics to Cape Town.

"A successful World Cup is essential to the country and to the whole of Africa," Steve Tshwete, the South African minister of sport, said yesterday. "We have to show the rest of the world that we are ready to stage a sporting spectacle of this magnitude."