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. Georgia and Romania should join the Six Nations, making eight nations with two divisions of four, playing home and away in six matches. The bottom team from the top four would be replaced by the top team from the bottom four. Japan, the US, Canada and the Pacific Islands must play an annual competition in a period where clubs are forced to release players.
But enough of rugby. The next big question is whether Andy Murray will be able to pull a sickie to get out of the ATP World Tour finals on hard courts at the O2 next month. I do hope so: he is an honourable man, but his mission for the year has always been the Davis Cup final a week later on clay, and he doesn’t want to put his back out. Murray could be banned for the whole of 2016 if he does pull out, but the ATP should show a little tenderness.
There’s an interesting moral dilemma heading towards Great Britain’s Davis Cup team in the handsome form of Aljaz Bedene. Born in Slovenia, he’s now a British citizen and eligible to play for GB. He seems like a proper gent and laudably says he won’t play for GB as it is only fair that those who got the team to the final should play. However, it would make for a much stronger team if he does get to play instead of some of the guys on the outer reaches of the top 500.
Of the 17,000 pictures we’ve seen of Jürgen Klopp, the former Dortmund manager now in residence at Anfield, the most striking were a set featuring the manager, his wife, his wife’s dog, his wife’s son and girlfriend and a security man or two. The star of the show was not, as you’d expect, the dog, but Klopp. We do like to idolise our managers here, don’t we? Managers are the new star players: only older, cooler, better dressed and infinitely less likely to behave like a jerk in a nightclub. Welcome to the club, Jürgen.