World Cup Diary: Rugby means the world to obsessed host nation

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The Independent Online

Confirmation, as though we needed it, that this place is wholly obsessed with the odd-shaped ball and all that goes with it. A list of the top 10 most-read stories on one of the country's biggest news websites reveals that the tournament-ending injury suffered by the All Black outside-half and 24-carat New Zealand sporting superhero Dan Carter is the subject of Nos 1, 4, 6 and 9. And, appropriately enough, 10 as well.

Of the remainder, Jonah Lomu's increasingly worrying kidney condition accounts for Nos 3 and 8. The only non-rugby topics to feature are the death of a young dancer, a drugs search at King's College and a "mentally ill patient on rampage" piece.

As for the country's economic woes, exacerbated by the lowering of the credit rating by two international agencies, including Standard & Poor's... not a dicky bird. Which makes perfect sense when you remember that, in the mind of the average New Zealander, victory in this tournament will prove that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world.

North still a fair way south of Jonah

Sport being a parallel universe, what a chap needs is a true sense of perspective. Step forward, then, the man responsible for the local paper's tale-of-the-tape comparison between the mighty Jonah, certainly the most sensational wing ever to play international rugby, and George North, the highly promising young Welshman who nevertheless has yet to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he is the best wing ever to hail from King's Lynn.

If we're honest, there's not much of a comparison at all. In the space reserved for Lomu's "lowlight" is the following: "Forced to retire after numerous injuries and serious health problems." North's "lowlight"? That would be losing a game of "credit card roulette" while eating dinner at a branch of Wagamama. George, you must be hurting real bad.

Owens the ref earns a crack at McCaw

Nigel Owens, the one Welsh referee on duty at this World Cup, did not have the greatest of nights when controlling last Friday's volcanic set-to between South Africa and Samoa. He dismissed the Samoan full-back Paul Williams for slapping Heinrich Brussow when the game would have been better served by the sending-off of the Springbok flanker for what football folk call "simulation"; he denied the islanders a prime attacking position at the end of the first period by getting in the way and then blew for half-time; he wrongly pinged the brilliant David Lemi during a withering South Seas raid after the break.

He can be forgiven, however. Not every official can address a captain – the Samoan hooker Mahonri Schwalger in this case – with genuine humour. "Wait," Owens told Schwalger as he prepared to throw in at a line-out. "Wait. Wait. Look... what part of wait don't you understand?"

The man who began whistling with the Llanelli and District Society at the ripe old age of 16 has been awarded this weekend's quarter-final of New Zealand v Argentina at Eden Park. Will he talk to Richie McCaw the same way? Let's hope so.

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