RWC: Anthemwatch

With Egg and Mini Egg having sat through multiple anthems (and enjoyed some of them), it got us thinking – if the match ended after the music stopped (and, mercifully, before the Haki (plural) begin), who would take home Bill?

Let’s preview:


France: The clear favourite. La Marseillaise is, without any doubt, the best national anthem in the world. Even for non-Frenchies, it makes the spine tingle, and is so republican, it would induce Mike Tindall to start sharpening the guillotine for Granny-in-law. And then induce the rest of les proles rosbifs to start sharpening it for Mike Tindall. Here is a SPECTACULAR rendition, one night in Cardiff in 2007.

Italy: Some anthems seem very much appropriate for their country. For example, Deutschlandleit seems rich, confident and suave, just like the denizens of Munich, Stuttgart and Berlin. In the same vein, Il Canto Degli Italiani seems jaunty, cool, but slightly unreliable (whats with the oom-pah bit?), and is an appropriate combination of boring Milan, dangerous Naples and sexy Rome. Altogether now: bom-bom-be-bom, bom-bom-be-bom, bom-BOM-be-bom, bom-bom-be-bom!!

USA: The best thing about the the Star Spangled Banner is that Americans positively encourage involvement and interpretation, as befits a nation which defines itself by its ability to assimilate. Can you imagine any other country allowing noted rock or rap stars the option of doing their “version” of the anthem at the country’s biggest sporting event every year? Unlikely. Yet the Yanks can’t wait for the anthem before the Superbowl. It’s optimistic, emotional and adaptable – and very hard to dislike.


Russia: Now, Egg Chaser is no flaming Commie, far from it. But there is something powerful about the old Soviet anthem, now adapted for Russia. It’s not without its controversy, as many Russians rightly remember the murder and explotation of their countrymen and women by psychopathic leaders, and refuse to sing along. For most, perhaps, its the perverse pride in remembering when Russia mattered. Anyway, check out the Paul Robeson version from the 1940s and at least appreciate the idealism. And here’s a flavour of what non-Russian former Soviets think of the anthem.

Wales: As befits a nation of choirboys choristers, Land of My Fathers is tuneful, musically sound and enjoyable. The impenetrable Welsh tongue makes this local anthem very much exotic. Maybe its stereotypical, but the Welsh players also seem like better singers than other nations. Or maybe its just the magic atmosphere in the Millennium. Either way, its a dark horse for the title.

South Africa: Like Ireland, the South African ditty is a prisoner of history and politics. The anthem shares the distinction (with the Italian one) of being in 2 keys, although the South African one is in 2 keys essentially because it is 2 songs merged together – Nkosi Sikelil iAfrica and Die Stem. The current anthem contains 5 languages and tries manfully to knit together a desperately fractured country. In spite of the grim music (particularly in the second half), a national anthem is about much more than that, and the sight of 15 proud South Africans singing every word in 1995 was simply incredible, and lifts this to contender status.

Going home early:

England: An absolute dirge. God Save the Queen has bored generations of Englishmen and antagonized generations of foreigners, which is perhaps part of its ongoing appeal at home. In true British fashion however, it has a great backstory. Firstly, no-one actually knows who wrote the song, and there is disagreement over what key it hould be played in. Secondly, it has been continually re-written, and current and former colonies continue to drop it (including England themselves for the Commonwealth games!). According to “protocol”, the Queen doesn’t sing it, we wonder does she just think its shite.

Ireland: Once again, the Irish manage to out-do the English on the rugby field by having not one, but two dirges. The much and rightly-maligned Ireland’s Call is virtually unsalvageable, but Amhran na bFhiann isn’t a whole lot better. Now, Egg Chaser is as patriotic as the next man and sings it with as much gusto as anyone else, that is a medium murmur, but it’s all pretty uninspiring, which is disappointing from a nation which has some cracking old tunes – some close to Egg’s heart are here and here, although Tommy Bowe’s version of one old favourite was fairly … errrrr … average. Despite all that though, this was amazing.

Scotland: Flower of Scotland is so dull that this is generally accepted to be the most rousing version ever performed. The most rousing! Ever!! It’s a pity, because the lyrics very much appeal to the Braveheart Scottish self-image, although it can seem a little incongruous when being sung by Alasdair, Hugo and Hamish the Tartan Tories in Murrayfield, Edinburgh, the most British city in the UK. Scotland deserves much much better.


Ireland v Russia: Preview

Tomorrow morning, as Palla greets the citizens of Rotorua with a doffed cap, Egg Chaser will be sleeping and letting the UPC auto-record thingy kick into gear. Then when he gets up and avoids Twitter, all will be revealed. Ireland will win with a bonus point, anything less is virtually unthinkable, but what should we look for?

Minnow Conditioning: The Russkies, amazingly, have a fully professional league. This should ensure their conditioning is a little better than, say, Romania and Namibia, who looked drained in their 3rd matches. The Bears are hardly likely to be like Duracell bunnies with 10 minutes to go, but they won’t collapse either. If Deccie empties the bench after 60 minutes (revolutionary, I admit), the game could peter out as opposed to exploding in a Bok-esque try-fest.

Solid as a … errr …. rock. Ireland’s defence has been excellent in this tournament to date, with only 1 try conceded, and that an 80th minute intercept. However, the 10-12-13 axis that made that happen (mostly) has been replaced with the fun-sized Rog-Pwal-Superstar combo. We do think that they will do ok – Rog and PWal aren’t salloon doors in reality and are reasonably familiar with one anothers games, and Earls (surely) can’t be as bad as he was against England – but its worth keeping a beady eye on, especially because of…..

Bath-barians rugby: The Russians came into this tournament touting themselves as a team who like to throw the ball around at every opportunity. They showed some sharper teeth in the last 50 minutes against Italy (after Yanyushkin came in at 9) and kept pace with the Azzuri in that time. Ireland aren’t exactly renowned for their patient approach, but throwing the ball around from the first whistle might actually pay dividends (for once) against a team who want to play it loose.

World Cup Preview: USA & Russia

Group C Opposition: Australia, Ireland, Italy

Pedigree: Having been at every tournament except 1995, the Eagles are respected members of rugby’s second tier. They have two wins in RWC history, both against Japan. Regular tests against professional B-teams due to the Churchill Cup means they are well-steeled. Russia are here for the first time, although they declined an invitation (as the Soviet Union) to compete in 1987. Bizarrely, they have a win against the Barbarians on their CV, 29-23 in their first international as Russia in 1992. The USA are also reigning Olympic champions (albeit from 1924).

Players to watch: Those who watch their rugby only on YouTube will point to Takwudza Ngwenya as one of the best wingers in world rugby, while others call him an overrated sprinter who once outpaced another overrated sprinter. Highly-regarded Highlanders wing James Paterson is a much better player, and he actually has a reason to wear a USA shirt, having gone to school in Colorado, and captained the USA at underage. Trinity College Dublin lock and captain Scott LaValla has just signed for Stade Francais – a step down in our opinion.

There is also a Southside connection in the Russia squad – with former Blackrock College flyer, and newly-minted Northampton Saint, Vasily Armetiev Roysh on the wing. Leinster briefly scooped up Artemiev alongside his school-mates Luke Fitzgerald and Niall Morris for the Academy, but he didn’t make the grade (although he did play U-19 for Ireland). Artemiev will be joined in the Premiership by lock Andrei Ostrikov, who will be helpng Mushy blow the Sale Sharks kebab budget. One who did get to put on a Leinster shirt was the Russian-sounding Adam Byrnes, a Melbourne Rebel who qualified under the Granny Rule – though presumably not Granny Byrnes.

Good Tournament: Very easy – the aim is to win against one another. And hopefully not get too embarrassed by the big guns.

Bad Tournament: Not winning against one another.

Prospects: The contrast between these sides as rugby nations is very interesting. American rugby hotbeds tend to be swish colleges in well-to-do suburbs – Rhode Island, Connecticut or California. Russia, on the other hand, has its egg-chasing centre of influence in Krasnoyarsk – a grimy Siberian hell-hole better known for industrial pollution and decrepit nuclear weapon storage. It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast in world rugby then the pampered trust fund frat boys of the US team and the hard-bitten Russkies, except of course that between the tough, honest warriors of Limerick and the flakey posh dandies of D4.

Russia very much buck the trend of Eastern European rugby – that is, they eschew the 8 man game played by Georgia and Romania in favour of something more expansive. It’s a laudable ambition but seems rather counter-intuitive in a country where weightlifting is so popular. They were far from disgraced in a 54-19 defeat to Northampton, which included 19 points given up when a man down in the first half (they were just 26-12 down at half-time), and also play the Dragons and the Ospreys, both this week.

In recent years, they have been fully integrated into the global IRB schedule, and will be familiar with other second tier nations. They have a scalp of Romania in Bucharest on their CV, but have fallen short repeatedly against Georgia, Canada and the US, and endured a 72 point beating by Japan last year.  This may be one RWC too soon for them, but there is a feeling they could be a force in the future.  Remarkably, there is a professional league in Russia, and the sport’s recently acquired Olympic status has given it access to state funding and top class facilities (Russian schools can only play Olympic sports).  There is a huge will to grow the sport in the country.

The USA play to a pretty consistent template – domestic (typically college) players with a smattering of Europe-based pros who are familiar with what is required to not disgrace themselves against Test opposition. They are perfect for Eddie’s hands-on coaching style – the American sporting psyche very much likes an overarching dictator imposing his will on the team – and will be better off for his big tournament experience (stop sniggering at the back!).

The US have been putting themselves up against Six Nations B sides (or Wolfhounds or whatever) in the Churchill Cup for a while, but haven’t quite got the giant-killing factor nailed down – they haven’t any notable wins from 9 years of the series, which has now been discontinued. What they do have is money, high-tech facilities and a man who was being touted as the next Lions coach this time 4 years ago. The 9/11 game against Ireland will be emotional for the players and also for the coach, who will have to watch as the men he overlooked in 2007 put their hands up for the Wallabies game.

Verdict: If this was 1972 and it was a basketball (or chess) game, the world would be watching. Regretably it’s 2011 and rugby, and the audience is likely to comprise two men, a dog, Egg Chaser and Mini Egg. Russia look exciting and are attracting a lot of positive media coverage, but the USA are more solid, and should win. Regarding the rest of the group, the Eagles caused England, Samoa and Tonga a few awkward moments in 2003, so Ireland or Italy might struggle to put them away, but should in the end. Russia’s open gameplan could end in humiliation against the Wallaby reserves and possibly Ireland, although we tend to get dragged down to the level of inferior teams.