This morning some rugby nations survey the wreck of their world cup campaigns. Others can emerge blinking into the sunlight, sure that they have gone through a rite of passage, a veritable coming of age on the field of play. With Corinthian élan mighty minnows have challenged the hubristic and over-mighty and found true glory.

I have two chums, an American and a Canadian (the latter a former professional Ice Hockey player), who had never seen rugby played before. I sat them down in front of a Six Nations match upon which they were hooked, by the absence of armour plating in the face of such sheer physicality, by the unrelenting nature of having to put your body on the line and to compete at the same level of intensity in the eightieth minute as much as in the first, by the infinite series of combinations of play that can be thrown up in a game. But most of all it was the sight of thirty men at the end of the game who, moments before had been trying to knock lumps out of one another, going up to opponents, hugging them and walking off together in the animated conversations of, if not friends, then at least warriors filled with respect for worthy and gallant foes.

Past world cups have tended to see the Minnow Nations enduring humiliating cricket score defeats and the constant fear that one would see one of their players gravely injured in a mismatch. Although there have been some such scores this time around, there have been less than in 2003 or before and even where this has been the case, the smaller nations have gone on fighting gamely right up to the end. In 2003 the heads went down far too often and it became a procession of tries for this or that Great Nation. Now they never gave up, never rolled over, never gave up the hunt for the grace of scoring a try against the All Blacks or the Springboks or World Champions England.

This morning therefore salute the USA who hung on enough to stay within 18 points of England; Portugal, who always looked as though they were enjoying themselves, hanging in there against Scotland, taking a try off the All Blacks, and giving Romania a fright; plucky Georgia who came within a whisker of toppling Ireland, kept the score against form team Argentina down to the manageable and always kept going to the last moment and whose pride in achievement was well-merited; Tonga who gave the mighty Springboks a serious fright and the English a bit of one; Fiji, whose determination and pluck and self-belief kept them going just long enough to down the most hubristic of all, the Welsh; and finally, though no minnows they, Argentina, for scything down hosts France in the Cup opener and overwhelming Ireland to send the latter as comprehensively home as had the Welsh been the day before.

And the Tournament Turkeys are? France.

Why so?, I hear you gasp. Ah well, they have been, to the delight of all, firmly and comprehensively hoist with their own petard. In order to get the votes to win the staging of the Tournament in the first place they were forced to bribe Scotland and Wales with the offer of holding several games in Cardiff and Edinburgh, whereat both would then have the benefit of some home advantage. France meanwhile would cruise through to top their Pool and an easy home game against Scotland in front of an adoring and optimistic crowd in Paris at the Stade de France. That, any way, was Plan ‘A’.

Unfortunately they had forgotten to give Argentina the script and by dint of the latter mugging France on the opening night and then winning all their other pool games, it is now Plan ‘B’ with Argentina running out against Scotland at the Stade de France and France taking on Cup favourites the All Blacks at, and the irony of this will not have been lost on every Frenchman from Sarkozy on down, Cardiff.

When we realised the supreme irony of how the bribe, to which I adverted above, had so spectacularly gone wrong, it was many minutes before we stopped rolling round on the floor kicking our legs in the air quite prostrated by laughter…………..

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