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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Last Ticket for RWC 2011: Uruguay, or Romania?

Like the proverbial Golden Ticket from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there is one last ticket left for the Rugby World Cup to be held in New Zealand next year.

It will all come down to Romania or Uruguay to figure out who will join the 19 other teams in New Zealand. The winner of this playoff will be in the same group as England, Argentina, Scotland and The Republic of Georgia.

A couple of weeks ago, they played out a tense, 20-20 draw in sunny Montevideo(highlights above). This means that today's match in Bucharest will amount to a winner-take-all affair. Both teams have had to play a lot of rugby to get to this point-particularly the Romanians, who at first did not look like they would be able to get out of qualifying out of Europe, but qualify they did, and then they beat Tunisia to have a shot at Uruguay, who dispatched Kazakhstan to get to this point.

Romania has been to every Rugby World Cup since 1987.  They are bigger and more physical than Uruguay, and also have more players playing professionally in Europe-Uruguay only has one, all of the rest of the Teros play on clubs in Argentina. Like Georgia, the Romanians play is dominated by their forwards. Uruguay is going to have to depend on pace and kicking to have a shot at upsetting Romania today. The Romanians probably were hoping for poor weather conditions that would favor their big pack, but the forecast for today is for  12 degrees Celsius, or 54 degrees with partly cloudy skies and minimal wind at kickoff time.

Romania has to be the favorite, but you have to admire the plucky Uruguayans. Can their rugby team shock the rugby world like Diego Forlan and his Uruguayan team mates did at this past summer's FIFA World Cup in South Africa? Much to the shock of everyone, Uruguay won it's group, then made it to the semi-finals-the ONLY South American team to make it to the final four (Much to the chagrin of one Diego Maradona) Romania had plenty of chances to put the Teros away in Montevideo, but Uruguay was able to hang on for the draw. Will Uruguay make the Romanian's pay for a lack of killer instinct? A final, Golden Ticket awaits the winner that will allow them join the party at Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand.

Friday, November 26, 2010

England v Australia Ashton try

Of the November Internationals played so far, Chris Ashton's try against the Wallabies was the most impressive. Great work by England stealing the ball when it looked like Australia was going to score...then England, instead of kicking the ball deep out of harm's way, showed a swashbuckling flair getting the ball out wide to Chris Ashton, who showed blistering pace in outrunning several Wallabies...simply great stuff.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rugby World Cup 2011: New Zealand or Bust!

A couple of days ago, I went onto the Rugby World Cup 2011 web site check into buying match tickets. I missed the phase II of ticket purchases, as I was hoping to get some tickets for some USA Eagle games in New Zealand.  I totally spaced out on when the second phase was going to stop. That was the bad news.

The good news was that the World Cup organizers opened up some tickets for matches in earthquake-hit Christchurch. Not having much money to work with at the moment, I bought tickets for the October 1st match between the Wallabies and Russia. 

It's not a sure thing that I will be able to A-get the time off from work, or B-save enough money for my wife and I to afford to fly to New Zealand and have a good time while we are there. That said, I felt that if I at least got a match ticket, that would at least got the process rolling. It's not different from Rugby World Cup 2007 in France. I bought my tickets for USA-Tonga, Tonga-Samoa and Argentina-Namibia even before I had the time off from work or plane tickets for me and my family. In the end, it worked. I saw some matches, and my family and I had a great time in France.

I am hoping that there will be some unsold tickets for the USA matches late in September for matches against Australia in Wellington, and against Italy in Nelson.  

They say that the trip of a thousand miles starts with the first step.  For me and my wife, this purchase of our tickets for Australia-Russia was the first step of a trip that will be several thousand miles.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jason Jaftha: President Obama's Alter Ego is a Rugby Referee...

Superman had Clark Kent. Batman had Bruce Wayne. Spiderman had Peter Parker. These were all individuals who had super-hero alter-egos.

I never thought that President Obama might be part of this group. Except instead of wearing tights, his alter-ego wears rugby kit. At least that's what I discovered when I saw Currie Cup matches with a young referee and touch judge who bore a striking resemblance to the American President.

A couple of months ago, my friend Jacques was over at the house so we could watch a Currie Cup match between the Lions and the Sharks.  Like the current American President, his South African look-alike has also found himself being second-guessed in the press-and if the President thinks that the people at Fox News are rough on him, they have nothing on the South African sporting press if you are a sub-standard rugby referee.

I know the President had gotten around in his younger years: Hawaii, Indonesia, and Chicago. His Father was Kenyan, but I never knew that the Obama clan also had made it to Southern Africa and had an interest in the oval ball.

In all seriousness, Jason Jaftha is a trail-blazer of sorts. As a "coloured" man blowing whistle at SARU matches, he has been very carefully groomed for his job. Time will tell if Jason Jaftha will be able to be a top flight IRB referee like the retired Andre Watson, or Mark Lawrence or Craig Joubert.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Spare a Thought for the Fallen Military Rugger...

Most years, November is a very gray, and cold season. This year has been unusually warm and sunny, above 60 degrees F, or 15 degrees C-and with brilliant sunshine...It's still, I think, a time for reflection in my part of the Midwest. I think add to that, I am in the middle of reading a book on the Battle of the Somme from WWI-where thousands of British, German and French troops perished.

Add to that, November 11th is Veteran's Day. For military Veterans like my wife and I(Shot above with both of us wearing our Air Force uniforms), we think a lot of the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform. For me, I cannot get away from it, as I work as a nurse in the VA Medical Center here in Minneapolis, where we provide medical care for vets from WWII to Afghanistan and Iraq. The thing that is strange now, is that even though there are American, British, Canadian and Australian troops in some very unpleasant places, life here in the USA is not very different since the fall of 2001. There is no rationing of gas, sugar or other items like during WWII. After 9 years in Afghanistan, the dead and dying troops don't seem to merit much air time in the media. I cannot speak for other countries, but it almost seems like the American military has become an almost "warrior class"-separate from the rest of American society. Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors come home and seem to have a harder time coping and mixing with society. For many, it seems that life in "The Sand Box" has a more simple code of covering your buddy's back-and you know that they will do the same for you.       

I ran into a site on Facebook today for Fallen Military Rugby players. I cannot help but to have very conflicting feelings. It still hurts me that the Army medically boarded me out because I have sleep apnea. I still miss the soldiers in my Army Reserve unit. On the other hand, rugby gave me a chance to cope with my depression and anger after being boarded out. Belonging to the Metropolis RFC in Minneapolis  literally kept me from losing my mind, and it has been a carrot on the stick to keep me going to the gym so I don't get killed in the Old Boys games. It's a different kind of band of brothers, but it's been a very valuable one for me.

So this Veteran's Day, spare a thought for the fallen...but also the Veteran's who are still alive, and trying to deal with some very, very dark thoughts after being what they have been through.