Friday 18 October 2019

David Kelly: 'Irish eyes on African derby as Brits backs up'

Schalk Brits. Photo: Getty
Schalk Brits. Photo: Getty
David Kelly

David Kelly

Assuming Joe Schmidt's side take care of business against Japan, Ireland fans will be keeping an eye on their prospective quarter-final opponents South Africa when they tackle fellow Africans Namibia in the City of Toyota Stadium (10.45am, Irish time).

As is usually the case given the wide disparity in standards, this pair have rarely met - only twice, in fact, and an aggregate 192-13 points total illustrates why, despite the Namibians' enterprise against Italy last week, they will suffer again today.

No minnow conceded more than 50 points in the opening round but that stat will not last.

South Africa have picked a novel back-row, with restored (and once-retired) Saracens' hooker, 38-year-old Schalk Brits, joining Francois Louw and Kwagga Smith.

Brits is a popular player and we recall him telling us a few years back that, after a Heineken Cup clash in Dublin, he intended to spend the weekend enjoying his stag party in the capital - and he invited everyone along.

Uruguay are the new fans' favourites

In the predictable absence of real shock results, Uruguay stole a march in the race to become the neutral fan's favourite after beating Fiji on Wednesday.

Juan Manuel Gaminara's tearful post-match interview became an instant viral sensation while Felipe Berchesi scooped the man-of-the-match award with a national record haul of 15 points in the 30-27 Pool D success.

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Berchesi's tally in his country's third and most prestigious Rugby World Cup victory leaves the record points haul by a Uruguayan in a World Cup tournament - Diego Aguirre's 17 in 1999 - well within reach.

Los Teros' Argentinian coach Esteban Meneses makes only two changes to the side who wowed the world by toppling the fragile Fijians for their match against Georgia tomorrow.

Only the most fervent of Irish fans will test their allegiance as their game in the Kumagaya Stadium kicks off at 6.15am Irish time.

Juan Pedro Rombys replaces Diego Arbelo at tighthead prop, and, in the back-row, Manuel Diana, one of the try-scorers against Fiji, makes way for No 8 Alejandro Nieto.

Ten players in the Uruguay RWC 2019 squad are attached to clubs in North America's new Major League, while Berchesi is one of just three who play in France.

"At home, we have a saying that you have to be mad to play rugby," says the Dax club man.

There are only 6,000 active players - including children - in a country where the population is 3.4million.

In contrast, there are well over 100,000 in Ireland, one of three countries they've never played against.

Record numbers for opening weekend as RWC prepares for lull

There is unlikely to be a weekend to match the opening three days of the tournament until the quarter-finals and organisers will do well to match some remarkable numbers.

On social media, #RWC2019 was the top global trend on the opening night while there were more than 624.5 million views of the official Rugby World Cup GIFs on the Giphy channel, 16.5 million views of New Zealand's first Haka and an average of 400,000 viewers of the Rugby World Cup Daily.

The opening ceremony and match attracted a peak live audience share on Japan's NTV of 25.5 per cent in prime time, a figure that is likely to be confirmed as the biggest ever national audience figure for rugby when the broadcasters publish their data next week.

Combining NTV, JSPORT and NHK's live audience, it is likely to be the most-viewed live event of 2019 in Japan.

Organisers are also confident that the figure of 1 million attending fan zones will also be smashed.

Steve Hansen's All Blacks stay on right side of the law

The All Blacks have often been accused of taking the law into their own hands but they took it a bit too far this week.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen was made honorary chief of police of Beppu for a day. Hansen, who was a policeman before becoming a full-time coach, received the honour in the resort town ahead of their clash with Canada on Wednesday.

Wearing a police scarf and cap, and accompanied by the real police chief Yufumi Sato, Kiwi said he was humbled by the experience, but didn't know how to do the job.

"I don't have a clue how I'm going to run the city. I won't be able to do it as well as my colleague, the real chief," he said.

Irish Independent

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