Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Mon 8 October 2007

In praise of the 'round ball game'

One of the things that makes my life interesting is that my wife was born in New Zealand. It therefore follows that she sees things from a distinctly non-British angle that adds a nice element of variety to your day-to-day existence.

As her husband, I've had to come to terms with one thing above all others - her compulsion for watching Rugby Union at every opportunity. This isn't something I share her passion for particularly, although I've tried to catch one or two games involving the All Blacks by way of 'showing an interest'.

Anyway, as you can imagine, my TV watching schedule has been severely disrupted this last few weeks by the arrival of the Rugby World Cup 2007. With some inevitability, I've ended up with no other choice but to watch some of the action taking place from time to time, although I can at least claim to be supporting the current world champions - even if I don't know most of the England team that won four years ago.

It's with this new-found knowledge that I now feel capable of giving all you non-Rugby types out there my concise guide on how the Rugby World Cup differs from the Football equivalent. Here's what you need to know…

1) Tiny countries that barely ever appear on the radar internationally qualify to play in the Rugby World Cup Finals purely because they own a ball. When did the likes of Tonga, Fiji and Western Samoa ever take their place alongside the Brazils and Germanys of this world in Football?

2) The Rugby World Cup Finals feature only sixteen teams but last for seven long weeks. That's how long it takes the FIFA World Cup to take place including all the qualifying games.

3) Because of the small number of teams capable of playing a decent standard of game and the long duration of the tournament, the International Rugby Board are thinking of downsizing everything for 2011. By contrast, FIFA's tournament has grown and grown to the point where we could soon actually see Fiji and Samoa qualifying as of right.

4) When FIFA say they've award a country the rights to host the World Cup they mean a country. The 2007 Rugby World Cup was awarded to France, however the IRB in their infinite wisdom pencilled in five games to take place in Cardiff and Edinburgh. Go figure.

5) Frequent stoppages take place in Rugby World Cup games so that the referee can call up a video replay of a contentious incident. These instances only delay the game by about 5 minutes at a time and happen no more than 8 or 10 times in a game. Matches last for eighty minutes which means fans get to see a good half an hour of action every time. Football World Cup matches don't use the video replay system. Discuss…

6) Players are only allowed to receive medical treatment when a referee deems it to be life-threatening. Broken bones, dislocations and blood seen emanating from flesh wounds are not considered reason enough to allow players to leave the field of play. In the football equivalent, a player only needs cough to ensure the game is stopped for 25 minutes while a priest administers the last rights to him.

7) The controversial issue of the 2007 Rugby World Cup has been the 'roundness' of the official match balls. In the last football World Cup, one of the main issues was that the ball was too round. This caused many shots to fly over the cross-bar - a positive boon in rugby matches.

There may be more things I can think of, but I'll leave it up to you to add more if you like. Personally, it's made me all the more hungry for South Africa 2010...

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