World Cup Diary: Singing, scrums and scoffing for sweetie Stevens

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The Independent Online

Matt Stevens, one of the more interesting members of the front-row union, put in a media appearance yesterday and was his usual entertaining self. Yes, he talked about weird scrummy things – binding, engagement, the "timing across the gap", that sort of stuff – but he also discussed singing (he is a fine vocalist) and his success in "eat-all" competitions, which has something to do with the consumption of large volumes of confectionery. "You really don't want to take me on at that," he said, a trifle threateningly. He is not, however, an intellectual adventurer like his rival props in the Scotland squad. Euan Murray is, as we know from his refusal to play on the Sabbath, an evangelical Christian of the most enthusiastic kind. His fellow tight head Geoff Cross takes what might be called a more scientific view of creation. Their tête-à-têtes, according to insiders, would leave a Rowan Williams-Richard Dawkins debate for dead, so to speak. Only one of these men can play against Stevens on Saturday, though. Will it be Euan "the saint" Murray, or Geoff "not so holy" Cross?

Boozing Boks get caught up in fern feud

This World Cup has been too disciplined for its own good, leaving aside England's one solitary after-dark expedition in Queenstown, so it comes as a relief to discover that the South Africans are up for mischief. A group of Springboks ran off with an All Black-style "silver fern" plaque from a bar in Matamata and were chased down the street by Gail Bailey, the enraged owner. The good Mrs Bailey read them the riot act, the players handed back what didn't belong to them – and then offered to sign it for charity. It is thought the local Pohlen Hospital will do rather well out of the incident.

Ticket target in sight as hotels get real

Numbers, numbers. Rugby World Cup organisers are now confident of hitting their ticket-sale target of 1.35m now that 763,000 spectators have watched the first three rounds of pool matches. Not that they should be at all blasé about this: prices for the knock-out games will rise steeply, and as the neighbouring Australians discovered to their acute embarrassment while hosting the 2003 tournament, it is impossible to fleece all of the people all of the time (that year's big quarter-final between New Zealand and South Africa in Melbourne was a marketing catastrophe). And while we're on the subject of pricing, there are plenty of hotels in this country slashing their room rates after talking silly money ahead of the competition. One Auckland establishment has been forced to lop around £400 off the per-night figure they were charging in June; another has settled for a mere 50 per cent drop. Tragic, you'll agree.