Ruck and Maul: Boris ready to party with the Maoris at the biggest ballin the world

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The Independent Online

The draw for the next World Cup takes place three years early, so when the competition begins in New Zealand in 2011 present form could look very silly indeed. So why the premature announcement? "Logistics," explain the International Rugby Board. The draw – will England manage to avoid the All Blacks? – will be held on 1 December next to Tower Bridge... within a rugby ball. It is not, however, an ordinary Gilbert but the world's largest ball. At 25m long and 17m metres wide it can accommodate 230 people, and the message from New Zealand is that people "are set for a trip to rugby Nirvana". When the ball is opened to the public on 25 November, they are set for something else: Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, will take part in a Maori ceremony. What have the Maoris done to deserve that?

Welsh harpist changes tune

Roger Lewis, chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, is forever harping on about the importance of Welsh identity and culture. Not that it matters a whole lot when it comes to recruitment. Wales have appointed Joe Lydon, the former Wigan legend who lost his job as backs coach to England at Twickenham, as head of performance and development. He also has the mission of ensuring the game thrives as the national sport of Wales. The thing is, Lydon is more northern English than a loaf of Hovis, and he joins a Dragonhood coaching staff – Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards – who are lost for words when it comes to singing "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau".

Will Shane be world-beater?

Still, Wales are on a high, not only announcing a record turnover of £50.3 million but winning an inaugural award as the "best union in the world". Clearly, winning World Cups doesn't come into it, for South Africa were voted into second place, while Wales were in meltdown when knocked out of last year's World Cup by Fiji. That shouldn't prevent Shane Williams being named World Player of the Year today. He is up against some high-fliers, including Dan Carter and Ryan Jones, but Williams should become the first Welsh recipient, not least for proving a wing doesn't have to be built like a bouncer to be successful.

Bristol far from shipshape

While the Rugby Football Union announced a turnover just shy of £100m, Bristol are losing £1m a year and need another £2.5m to remain competitive. The West Country club have been hit by the double whammy of the credit crunch and poor results. If they go down – they have been bottom of the Guinness Premiership for most of the season – they will join the new professional Championship, a venture described by Bedford as "financial suicide".

t.glover@independent.co.uk

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