Every sport has its trademark event/tournament. Tennis has Wimbledon, American football has the super bowl and Rugby has the world cup.
It all started in 1987 as sixteen teams gathered in New Zealand and Australia to play the month long tournament. New Zealand dominated and rightly won the tournament, beating France 29-9 at Eden Park in Auckland.
A lot of change has taken place since that first world cup. In the twenty four years that have passed, five other world cups have been and gone seeing Australia (1991 & 1999) and South Africa (1995 & 2007) running out winners twice each and England once (2003). The game turned professional after the 1995 world cup which obviously has brought a lot of money into the game. Back in 87, 91 and 95 players would have had to taken time out of their day jobs to travel to the tournaments.
On the 9th September the 2011 world cup kicked off with New Zealand beating Tonga 41-10. New Zealand are once again the hosts, so obviously there is a lot of speculation about whether they can finally win the title again. Those of you who follow rugby closely will know that the Kiwis have a reputation for 'choking' when the pressure comes. In 2007 they were once again halted by a tenacious French side. They meet the French this Friday in their third pool game.
The problem with the French is you never know whether they are going to turn up. At their best they can rip to shreds even the best sides in the world, but they are unpredictable and erratic. In 2007 they looked unstoppable after beating a strong Kiwi side, only to be halted by a mediocre English team who gritted their way all the to the final.
England's finest moment came in 2003 when Martin Johnson's men lifted the Web-Ellis cup. Despite looking lethargic and playing boring rugby (well that's what the Aussies said!) we still beat every team we faced. I'm not surprised either. The strength of the squad that we had was simply incomparable with the players we have at our disposal at present. No one can stand even close to the likes of Martin Johnson, Hill, Jason Robinson, Josh Lewsey, Neil Back, Laurence Dallaglio, Ben Cohen, Will Greenwood and the Jonny Wilkinson of 2003.
Since then, England just haven't been a team that I can be optimistic about. I don't know if it is because I am expecting too much from them. I just want to see an England team dominating world rugby like they did between 2001-2003. Maybe I should just be content with winning games. After all we have won our first two games of the world cup beating Argentina (Just!) and Georgia which the Aussies have failed to do.
Australia, one of the tournament favourites lost to Ireland. The Irish really dug their heels in and took the game to the Wallabies and they came away with a deserved win. I always like to see the Aussies lose, it makes all the taunts of David Campese a little less bitter.
If you asked me to pick a winner, I think I would struggle. From what I have seen so far it is wide open. South Africa look strong, as do New Zealand. South Africa have the knack of turning up to world cups and playing some of their best rugby, where as New Zealand generally fall. Will the home advantage serve the Kiwis? I don't know.
I guess we will just have to wait and see.