I attended a wonderful event last night – MAD (Make a Difference) Leadership Foundation, set up by Francois Pienaar with the full support of Nelson Mandela and now in its 20th year. It raises funds to provide opportunities for underprivileged African youngsters and what a difference they have made.
On the eve of the World Cup, Francois and Keith Wood featured in a preview what is undoubtedly the best World Cup ever in terms of match ups and competition. They discussed the pool of death, which starts with South Africa v Scotland on Sunday, and they clearly believe they will both emerge – Scotland have lost their last 9 matches v the Irish. I do agree unless Scotland have a fast ‘Finn Russell’ start because they can defend a lead as they have proved recently.
Not much mention of anything else other than France as strong contenders on their home turf. Confronting the Haka is something to relish, and remember Les Bleus have a good record against the All Blacks (1999,2007) in World Cups (though not in Finals!). Will they meet again in the semi-finals? Go Black and Blue in anticipation.
The Springboks have two packs of equivalent strength (as we saw at Twickenham) and frankly World Rugby have dropped a massive ball here and have to go back to injury-based substitutions – but that is not for now. Importantly their quality and pace out wide make them multitalented and able to play under any pressures.
Meantime in 40 degrees of heat, England have promised to come out all guns blazing. I think they will, but they will have to do it for 80 minutes and there is no evidence they can since World Cup 2019. Here is the moment – Mitchell from outside the squad but my No 1 is rightfully starting. Too many injuries have dogged the starting line-up and the oppressive heat will test everyone’s limits. Every England player wants the challenge of this one – Argentina expect to win. Let us see.
Fiji have lost their starting No 10 which is a blow, but will the heat benefit them or Wales? Gatland has trained them hard and if Wales lose, I suspect they may think they are going home. What focus that will bring. I think though Fiji have real momentum and that could prove crucial.
This is an incredible start to the Tournament – let’s celebrate this rugby fiesta. A case of Rugby World Cup Sporting Wine is a compulsory companion so get ordering – even in France (Petit Ballon) where the memory of Doddie lives on, and you can celebrate champagne moments alongside the Doddie5 Cap Classique.