Even the junkiest rugby junkie may be able to take no more by the end of November. We thought the rugby World Cup was over. It’s not now. Almost every country that plays the game will be backpacking through the UK and France in the coming weeks.
There will be some glorious rugby along the way. The Pacific Islanders will run and dazzle and smash people up and lose. Argentina will continue in their optimistic quest to play an expansive game. The All Blacks will play at an astonishing pace, they will break the laws past breaking and they will win.
South Africa, odd though it may be, arrive as an emerging nation, developing a style to suit its unheralded lack of tight forwards, although we will miss the injured Bryan Habana who was just returning to splendid form. Australia will try to get 15 fit players out on the park, but the absence of Genia and O’Connor will hurt.
There will be much to enjoy, but I fear there may be too much. When every week is a five course banquet, will we not all be gagging on our smoked salmon by the end of the month? There won’t be time to reminisce in the pub about the brilliance of Dan Carter because another match will be about to kick off.
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "This is an exciting development for the global Game. The IRB is committed to facilitating and facilitating an annual international competition schedule for our Tier 2 Unions and these matches will be key to increased competitiveness on the global stage and at Rugby World Cup. I would like to thank the RFU and the NZRU for their support.
“There will be an unprecedented number of international fixtures across the UK in November, which will give sports fans a taste of what to expect in 2015 when England hosts the world’s top 20 nations for Rugby World Cup.”
I am with Monsieur Lapasset, but only up to a point. It is terrific that Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Canada and the New Zealand Maori will be in Britain over the coming weeks. It is great that there are also fixtures in Russia, Romania and Georgia. But did we really need all the big hitters as well.
Australia are out on their feet. In the past 12 months the South African players have taken part in a World Cup, a Super 15, a five match England tour, a six match expanded Rugby Championship and a Currie Cup. No wonder Bryan Habana broke down. It’s a wonder he’s not at the breaker’s yard with that many miles on the clock.
Could we not just have welcomed the Pacific nations – they need the matches thanks to New Zealand’s appalling record of not giving them fixtures – and the All Blacks. Next year South Africa could tour (the Lions are in Australia) and the following year scores could be settled with the Wallabies.
But what am I thinking? Dear old Frank Keating – he is both old and dear, so fair enough, and I urge you to read his eloquent psalm to lost times in the Observer – and I belong to different eras. We may crave the midweek upset when Llanelli or Newport or Munster or the North of England would play like men possessed with an irresistible tribal force. But there is money to be earned and books to be balanced. We have had our day.
Ho hum. I turn 50 on November 13th. It’s a Tuesday and I believe the Maori are going to play Leicester at Welford Road in remembrance of things past. It could be a night to remember. So long as the Tigers bother to put out a proper team. Here’s hoping.