So now we know for sure. It’s Italy v Ireland this Sunday to sort out a place in the quarter final in Wellington the following weekend. The stakes are getting higher at this Rugby World Cup.
What a shame then that the spirited Italians must play so crucial a game, the biggest of their World Cup, just five days after all the pressures, both physical and mental, of both beating the USA and ensuring they scored four tries to claim a potentially vital bonus point.
Such absurd scheduling means that Ireland, who will have had the whole week off to prepare, will start as overwhelming favourites to win and reach the last 8. This makes a mockery of a tournament that likes to call itself the sport’s biggest.
Judging on past examples of this crushed scheduling, we can expect the Italians to be highly competitive for the first hour. But it will be in the last 20 minutes that the exhaustion will get to them, just as it did to Samoa late in their match against Wales which they had to play just four days after their game against Samoa.
These cluttered schedules which inevitably favour the traditional rugby nations are making a farce out of the theory that this World Cup is a level playing field offering opportunity to the big boys and minnows alike. It isn’t.
The whole schedule is designed to ensure the big countries get through to the quarter finals. How else to explain these lopsided schedules ? Ireland, for example, have had a nice gaps of 6, 8 and 7 days between their matches whereas a country like Georgia must play two matches in four days.
This blatant discrimination against the so-called smaller nations undermines the whole reason for inviting them which is, in the IRB’s view, they are becoming more competitive.
Personally, I dispute that view in several cases. But whatever the truth, all countries competing in an event should get similar periods of rest. That should be one of the first requirements.
As for this weekend’s Ireland v Italy game in Dunedin, the Italians lost a further day by having to travel south on Wednesday. So in effect, they have only three days to prepare for the match – Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Ask any coach in the world and he will tell you, that just isn’t enough. It’s not fair when the outcome of the whole pool could be decided in that game and a place in the quarter finals is at stake.
This aspect of the tournament should be closely looked at and changed.