Nothing less than victory

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The Independent Online
It is the duty of every journalist in the world to produce a Rugby Union World Cup preview at this time, so I am following the trend today by bringing a cut-out-and-lose supplement which details all the countries taking part in this loony enterprise.

South Africa: nothing less than victory will do for the host country. The people of South Africa are so anxious to show they are the best that if they don't win, South Africa will slide back into years of racial strife and anarchy. Either that, or else they will become very good at soccer instead.

Easter Island: one of the less-fancied teams from the Pacific. Enormously strong, their players are all about 16 feet high with huge sloping stone foreheads, which make them formidable in the line-out but not so good at the ruck and maul.

New Zealand: nothing less than victory will do for the Kiwis. They have just won back the Americas Cup by whacking the Americans at sailing round buoys in their boat, Black Magic, and are on a roll. Maybe one day they will explain why everything in New Zealand is called Black - Black Magic, All Blacks - even though no Maoris actually get in the teams.

Eastern Samoa: everyone knows about the hugely talented players of Western Samoa who are regularly lured off to New Zealand and Australia to play for big money. Less is known about Eastern Samoa, which regularly lures minor players from Australia and New Zealand with promises of all the sun, drink, coconut sun tan oil and women they can handle. Experts say that if Eastern Samoa can get past Colombia, they are in with a real chance.

Australia: nothing less than victory will do for the Australians, as they won it last time, and they cannot bear to lose to the Poms. Or the Kiwis. Or the Springboks. Or anyone, really. Their main tactic is to puzzle the opposition by announcing David Campese's final retirement every year, and then picking him as their outstanding player the following season. If they beat every other team, they could do well.

Colombia: the mystery South American entry, said to be the only international rugby team funded entirely with drug money, and certainly the only team in which all the players have their own chauffeur-driven cars and bodyguards. Experts say that their flamboyant, singing, dancing, swaying style will win them many friends but that their biggest danger is random drug tests.

France: nothing less than victory will do for France, as they are a very proud and emotional people, vous savez? All that is ever known about them is that they are unbeatable when they play with Gallic flair, but that when their tails go down, they tend to lose all interest. One interesting point is that they are the only major nation which plays rugby in French, and many of their opponents now employ a player solely to learn French and shout out contradictory orders in scrum and line-out. This may explain why the French so often lose heart and their tails go down.

Scotland: there are two big unanswered questions hovering over Scotland's players. Is there a letter missing from Gregor Townsend's first name and is he really called Gregory? And, second, will the team be able to score tries deprived of the comforting background of Bill McLaren's voice ("... and here comes the big wee feller from Dunoon, whose father first played for the Under-23s XV at the remarkable age of 27 before becoming the first solicitor ever to play on the left wing for Scotland ..." ) or will they flourish in his absence?

England: nothing less than victory will do for England, as otherwise Will Carling's boys will all have to become amateur players again on their return and give up all that money. Their secret weapon is Mike Catt, who is South African and therefore able to shout contradictory orders in Afrikaans. This would, of course, only work against the South African team and would be less effective, say, against the Italians, who wouldn't know what the hell he was on about.

Italy: definitely the best-dressed team in the tournament, their natural flair and style off the pitch contrasts oddly with the big solid New Zealand farmers in their dark blazers and the spivvy get-up of the Colombians. On the pitch, things may be different.

United Nations: at the insistence of the United States, the UN is sending a small rugby contingent in. This is to a) establish an American presence in rugby, b) engineer another American-inspired disaster on African soil, and c) have something else to pin on President Clinton if things go wrong.

More World Cup rugby nations coming soon!