Peter Bills' World Cup blog: Rugby can finally take centre stage
So all the talking, all the pre-tournament jousting is finally over. It’s here at last: the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Was it worth the wait? Probably in a rugby sense, no. I thought the All Blacks showed some tremendous touches going forward in the first half. But they never managed to kick on after leading 29-3 at the break. It was a desperately scrappy stop-start second half that seemed to go on forever.
It was boredom-ville for a lot of the time, as even All Blacks coach Graham Henry conceded afterwards when he referred to that series of scrums on the All Blacks line.
For me, Tonga came close to earning a penalty try after two collapses by the All Blacks and then an early engagement at the next scrum.
But Irish referee George Clancy let the New Zealanders get away with that situation and they were lucky.
But if the rugby didn’t quite match the occasion, I thought the opening ceremony certainly did. It was a brilliant, evocative image of New Zealand’s many attractions and it offered variety in abundance. It made you think about this little country hidden away down at the bottom of the world and its great natural beauty and myriad attractions.
Around 1,000 performers took part in the ceremony and they all played their part in a truly spectacular performance.
But for New Zealand Prime Minister John Key there was embarrassment as he spoke of the “Webb Ellis Trophy”. It is known throughout the rugby world as the ‘Webb Ellis Cup’.
But apart from that, New Zealanders had a fantastic night. In fact, it was a fabulous day, certainly from the point of view of the weather. Auckland was bathed in sunshine all day. I’m staying out in the northern suburbs and found time to go and have a walk up the nearby beach for half an hour.
It was nice to stretch my legs for a change as opposed to my fingers. They’ve taken a pounding this week on the computer. On Thursday, I started work at 0930 and finished around 9 that night! Busy times, alright. But even if you have to be working it’s a great place to do it.
And now it’s all started, the matches will come thick and fast. There are seven in all this weekend, four on Saturday and three on Sunday including Ireland v USA and Wales v South Africa. Both are hugely important matches.
Ireland have to start with a bang, not a repeat of the limp displays they gave in the last World Cup in France four years ago when they just never got going. I'm sure they will win but they need to win 'big' and really impress. That's the challenge, boys.
I think Wales will find it tough going against the powerful Springboks. But we’ll see.
The build-up to any major sporting event seems to go on forever these days. There is a palpable sense of relief and joy here that all the waiting is finally over and the rugby can take centre stage.