One week in and we can well and truly say the circus is in town.
Of course such intense scrutiny is hardly warranted, or indeed necessary. With the example of drinking we seem to be blowing things out of proportion. These guys are at the top of their physical game, live through an intense schedule of training and analysis and face a daily battle with fatigue and mental burn-out.
It is naive to assume that most teams, including the hosts New Zealand, will be banned from drinking. It is also naive to assume that players are getting tanked up on booze and missing training sessions or nursing hangovers during press conferences. These are professional athletes and media savvy management teams we are dealing with here. The Rugby World Cup is a big deal and performance would not be jeopardised by a renegade night out.
In this drawn out tabloid dialogue about Mike Tindall’s run in with a barmaid during a dwarf tossing event (I’m not entirely sure how this works, either) we have neither heard of whether this ‘blonde’ was dissatisfied with her treatment nor whether anything untoward actually happened. We have also not recently heard any stories of how Zara Phillips is herself said to be a bit of a loose cannon on a night out. As England Rugby come under the spotlight everyone else becomes whiter than white.
We are talking about recently married royals, nights out and a rugby player letting their hair down. No one has died, no official statements have really been released and the England senior player is getting on with his job of trying to beat Georgia. Anyway, I’m pretty sure Prince Harry -patron of English rugby, royal and chronic tabloid botherer- is celebrating a birthday. I’m sure the red tops can focus on him.
The reason this seems blown out of proportion is because the English team get so much more international coverage than everyone else. It is ridiculous. It does also help keep Scotland at least appear focussed and professional during this World Cup.
In the last month we have had to bear witness to stories about: Shirt colour; the numbers on the shirt; the birthplace of many of the English squad; the night-out antics of their senior centre; bungee jumping; knees to the face and; how they play.
During this time Scotland have played their group games, spoken only about the rugby or squad attitude and the hospitality of the New Zealand people and they have played it safe, socially.
They have also definitely had a night out.
The difference? None of the Scotland players have done anything untoward or have been in plain sight of hounding paparazzo as they head out towards some ill thought out social event.
Players have to let their hair down. This is true. Everyone relaxes differently as well. From the other side of the World I can only assume how intense the playing environment has been. I read the articles, survey my emails and official releases and I talk to people I trust. Which is the key. As a Scotsman I trust that the management and senior players for Scotland are wise enough to look after the squad in the right way. I trust they will not have any beer-based shockers.
Anyway, these slightly (only slightly) amusing distractions shroud what has been an eventful tournament.
We have seen sides rise up to match teams much higher in the World Rankings than them. We have seen New Zealand pick a backline out of a tombola and still score 19 tries in 2 games. We have seen Scotland top the group. We have seen Canada cause an upset and USA get their first win. We have seen player bans, player injuries, more player interviews than in any previous events and more different French and Scottish players on the park than is possible to keep up with.
We have been spoilt through exposure. Of course huge numbers complain about ITV’s coverage. They have a well preened parade of former internationals grossly untrained in public speaking. They do, though, have blanket coverage of all games and Francois Pienaar. That is enough for me. I can put the sound down (although I will say, why pay an inexperienced and dull Phil Vickery to commentate, or just scream in support of England, when they could pay a wee bit more for Austin Healey who will call a spade a spade and do some proper analysis?). I can put up with it.
We will see more sublime and ridiculous action during the next month. The circus keeps rolling up. We’re all under the big top and New Zealand are getting to show off their country. I’m happy with this. I just hope someone other than England get to jump through hoops for a week or so.