Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 24 News List

World Cup exposes weaknesses

AP , SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

There were close matches, outrageous results, big hits and even bigger complaints.

In the end, the fifth edition of the Rugby World Cup will be most remembered for the disparity between the have and have-nots and the teams in the third-place final.

France and New Zealand had been the class of the 20-team tournament, picking up a maximum of 20 points from four pool games and rarely looking threatened.

But when they came up against England and Australia, respectively, in the semifinals, the form teams lost their form and played in the Olympic stadium on Thursday night, 48 hours before their victors did in the final. The All Blacks won the third-place match 40-13.

There were a few one-point squeekers, including Australia's 17-16 win over Ireland in a pool match, and a number of blowouts like 70-7 (New Zealand over Italy), 72-6 (South Africa over Uruguay), 84-6 (England over Georgia) and, incredibly, Australia 142, Namibia 0 and England 111, Uruguay 13.

The 48-game tournament attracted 1.8 million spectators in Australia and organizers said the final between Australia and England would attract 300 million television viewers worldwide.

The hit of the tournament came when Samoa's Brian Lima knocked young South African flyhalf Derick Hougaard with a hard tackle, leaving him dazed on the field "and very happy I'm still breathing," Hougaard said later.

The biggest attempted hit came in the same match when a Samoan supporter knocked himself out trying to crash-tackle South African fly half Louis Koen in the final minutes of the match at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, the tournament's first security breach.

Tapumanaia Lautasi, a 29-year-old Sydney laborer, later apologized to both the Samoan and South African teams and the host Australian Rugby Union after being fined A$1,200 in a Brisbane court.

For all the hits, there were a lot of knocks, most against the International Rugby Board and most involving the dire financial plight of some of the teams and the "one country for life" rule.

The rule -- that once players have represented one country at test, international A or seven-a-side levels, they cannot play for any other test country -- became a major complaint for Pacific countries such as Tonga, Samoa and Fiji that have many of their players competing in domestic competitions in New Zealand and Australia.

Before the World Cup began, Samoan coach John Boe said that the IRB's policy could affect the country's ability to field a team in future tournaments.

"We've had a lot of sympathy over the years but that's all," he said of Samoa's plight. "Nothing has changed and unless it does change, as one of our board members said recently, we will not be at the next Cup because our player pool is drying up."

Cash-strapped Namibia and Georgia, along with Pacific countries, also complained that rich clubs refused to release some of their players to compete at the World Cup.

The IRB announced the formation of an "assistance to second-tier nations" committee to set up a policy for countries experiencing financial hardship. They also said there had been no positive drug tests.

Outside of the hardships, there were some highlights. Japan, mostly based in the north Australian city of Townsville, didn't win a match but played well and earned the respect of all of its opponents.

The US, with only five professional players on its roster, beat Japan 39-26, its first win at the World Cup since 1987 and breaking a 10-match losing streak. The Eagles almost upset Fiji, losing 19-18 on a missed conversion on fulltime.

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