A to Z of the Rugby World Cup

A is for All Black Nation Buy some chewing gum at a corner shop in Rotorua and the 12-year-old assistant will say: "Fifty cents, and by the way... your back row's rubbish." Yes, it's that kind of place.
B is for Breakdown The referees are bound to get their knickers in a twist at the tackle area, which remains hopelessly confusing even for the players. The first official to penalise Richie McCaw, the ball-snaffling bandit from New Zealand, wins a George Cross.

C is for Christchurch One of the great rugby cities is a no-go area, thanks to the devastation wreaked by two earthquakes. Terribly sad.

D is for Daniel As in Carter. The stellar stand-off may or may not be the best player in the world, but he is the one individual the All Blacks cannot do without.

E is for Eden Park The last time New Zealand lost here, in Auckland? That'll be 1994 – and the French needed "the try from the end of the earth" to beat them.

F is for Farewell Some, we already know about: Graham Henry, Marc Lièvremont and Nick Mallett head the list of coaches quitting after the tournament. They will inevitably be joined by people we cannot identify yet.

G is for Gatland As in Warren, Wales coach, who returns to his home city of Hamilton for a match against Samoa that may define his career.

H is for Heartbreak How long is it since New Zealand have laid hands on the Webb Ellis Trophy? Twenty-four years, or almost a quarter of a century – whichever sounds longer, for purposes of wry humour.

I is for Invercargill The most far-flung rugby town on Earth, the Southland capital hosts three pool games, two that happen to involve Scotland. Next stop from here, the penguins.

J is for Jonah... or (if you prefer) Jones Was Jonah Lomu's performance on the wing in the 1995 World Cup more stunning than Michael Jones' contribution on the flank in 1987? Just about, but it's close-run.

K is for Kirwan Another of the '87 All Blacks who left an indelible mark on the inaugural competition. John Kirwan, a mighty wing in his time returns home as coach of Japan.

L is for Losses New Zealand is a great rugby country, but not a big one in economic terms. The NZ government is budgeting for a loss of well over £20m on the tournament.

M is for Military Government Fiji has one, hence the political ruckus with the World Cup hosts, who are refusing visas to anyone connected with the regime – including chairman, Colonel Mosese Tokoitoga.

N is for Nose So who has the worst schnozzle: Mike Tindall, with his squashy sideways number; or the wonderful Namibian captain Jacques Burger, who has what looks like a staircase in his face?

O is for O'Driscoll As in Brian, the nearest thing the British Isles have to a great player. Previous World Cups have ended in frustration for the gifted Irish captain. Is this his tournament?

P is for Pacific Islands An impoverished South Seas nation always fronts up somewhere: in 2007, both Fiji and Tonga managed it. Samoa are the ones with the dangerous look about them this time.

Q is for Quade As in Cooper, the arch-conjuror in a magical Australian back division. Anyone wishing to knock Copper's block off faces the task of having to catch him first.

R is for Russia A first World Cup for the "Bears", who were denied access in 2003 after a player eligibility row. Gloriously, they've been drawn with the United States. Roll on 15 September in New Plymouth.

S is for Shipping Hotels in New Zealand are comparatively scarce, so thousands of supporters will be sleeping on liners moored around the coastline. They should invent a cocktail called "Mutiny on the Bounty".

T is for Tuilagi There will be more than one member of rugby's first family on view, but Manu, the bouncing baby of the clan, is generating all the publicity. How Samoa must wish he hadn't opted for England.

U is for Underdog Can we hope for a major surprise, along the lines of Argentina's unexpected third place in '07? Probably not, although Italy may just fancy their shot at Ireland.

V is for de Villiers As in Peter, perhaps the most outspoken figure in world rugby. His pronouncements are not always pearls of wisdom, but are supremely entertaining – if you have a sense of the absurd.

W is for Wilkinson A fourth World Cup for Jonny-boy, who as the Australians can tell you has made the occasional impact on this competition. If it comes down to kicks at goal...

X is for X-rated Eden Park in '87, Parc des Princes in '91, Boet Erasmus in '95, Twickenham in '99, Suncorp in '03... and an outbreak of pacifism four years ago. Will there be an all-in brawl this time?

Y is for Yannick As in Jauzion, the exceptional French back omitted by his selectors. He is not alone in his rejection: Poitrenaud, Gear, Sivivatu, McAlister, Giteau... those chosen instead must be really good.

Z is for Zirakashvili As in Davit, the pugnacious prop looking to cause England and Scotland some grief. If the Georgians enjoy scrummaging, this bloke lives for it. Ridiculously strong.


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