Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Article excerpt

England did have some clear winners in their otherwise beached Rugby World Cup campaign in the unlikely form of Lawrence Dallaglio, Martin Johnson and Jack Whitehall, principals in the dazzling Samsung Rugby School TV ads.

Superbly funny and brilliantly filmed, the ads take a chipper Whitehall through the finer points of rugby with, among others, Jason Robinson and a bulky, greying but still mighty scary Jason Leonard. You won't see many things more fabulous than former England star Maggie Alphonsi chucking Whitehall about 20 yards backwards when he tries to tackle her. And Johnners, who knew? Such comic timing.

What are we going to do without them? It's a pity that some of those guys, not to mention the mighty Maggie, weren't ready to strap on their boots for England. As it is, this superb tournament -- possibly the best World Cup in any sport, including cricket and football, in living memory -- will, I think, go the way of the southern hemisphere rugby championship a few months back. Not that I know: I backed France at 18-1, they are now 25-1 in a field reduced by 60 per cent. This is what should happen. South Africa will beat Wales (who aren't as good as they thought they were). New Zealand will beat France (who aren't nearly as good as I thought they were). Argentina will beat Ireland (the Pumas are getting better with every game and Ireland are creaking badly). And Australia will beat Scotland (because they always do).

In the semis, expect the All Blacks to beat the Springboks, but get battered, and Australia to beat Argentina. Then Australia will beat New Zealand. That's what I'm saying and Ladbrokes has the evidence.

What has emerged from this epic World Cup is the strength of the Tier 2 nations: Japan's match against the US was one of the most enjoyable of the tournament. Here's a plan: all the Tier 1 nations must play at least two games a year against a Tier 2 nation, one away from home. …

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