Rugby World Cup: Expect more of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Matt Williams: Whether you’re Clint Eastwood or a rugby fan with no name, there has been plenty to enjoy and ponder in the first acts of the sport’s showpiece event


The iconic actor, director and producer Clint Eastwood is an avid rugby fan. Eastwood, who is still making movies aged 93, was entranced by the reality of a divided South Africa healing itself through the leadership of president Nelson Mandela.

Mandela used the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a vehicle to reach out across his country’s vast racial divide to hand the tall blonde Springbok captain, Francois Piennar, the William Webb Ellis Trophy and unite his people. Eastwood recalled that momentous triumph in his 2009 movie Invictus.

In homage to Invictus – and Eastwood – let us look back at the week that was and forward to what could be, using Clint’s body of work.

The entire shebang of the opening ceremony, followed by the French outplaying the Kiwis was a Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997). With players still walking the stadium and thanking their community in the wee small hours, the magnificent Stade de France remained buzzing from both the result and the low-key opening ceremony.

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A pageant that portrayed a stereotype of a long-gone France. It was full of baguette-wielding, beret-wearing figures, last sighted in the 1950s, and it left many French people embarrassed, while the rest of the globe lapped it up.

It was all fun and games until French president Emmanuel Macron and World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont appeared for the formalities and walked The Gauntlet (1977) of an angry French mob.

The booing of Macron was loud and incessant. While those in the stadium may have been well lubricated and yelled their anger at their president, again many in the wider French community were appalled by another negative image of France being broadcast to the world.

The great Beaumont unwittingly found himself In the Line of Fire (1993) appearing on the same stage as the politician who has recently told the French people that the last five decades of retiring at 55 on full pay for life are over and they will have to work until 64. While economically justifiable, it does not make for a great environment as a co-speaker.

Then there was the small matter of the rugby. Surprisingly, the French Million Dollar Baby (2004), Antoine Dupont, had by his own exceptionally high standards, an ordinary game. Sadly for the Kiwis, the other 22 French players did not. As a collective the French rose to the occasion and in the second half turned their Kiwi opponents Every Which Way But Loose (1978.)

For New Zealand their Heartbreak Ridge (1986) could be a quarter-final exit where their likely opponents, either Ireland or South Africa, appear far superior.

Last Saturday in Bordeaux, throngs of Irish supporters braved the scorching heat and witnessed the emergence on to the world stage of The Rookie (1990), Joe McCarthy. The giant 120 kilo tight head second rower’s exceptional power behind Tadhg Furlong may see him selected ahead of his rivals to blunt the soon to be encountered Springboks’ scrummaging tactics.

McCarthy is developing as The Enforcer (1976) in the Irish pack, adding the last missing ingredient to a very well-balanced team.

Johnny Sexton, while not quite as old as Clint, was like Inspector Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry (1971) and he ruthlessly delivers results. After five months away from the game Sexton dominated like the true great he is.

Before their match, Cry Macho (2021) was the Scottish theme as they told the world they were the best Scotland team of all time. What strategic advantage could be gained in broadcasting to the world such an audacious, and it would appear, baseless claim in the week before meeting the world champions remains a mystery. They now appear to be in the deep end of The Dead Pool (1988) or up the Mystic River (2003) with very few paddles.

The Springbok game plan for this World Cup is to apply vast pressure that strangles the life out of their opposition. Which is exactly what they did to Scotland. With a rushing defensive line, led by a gargantuan pack – plus six or seven more on the bench -, they are intent on grinding all before them. The Boks are again both championship-winning material and a cure for insomnia.

The Achilles heel of their forward-dominated play that aims to produce multiple penalty shots at goal is their outhalf, Manie Libbok. If he continues to kick from the tee with such low percentages, their plan will have no foundation.

A note to the Jersey Boys (2014) and girls who design our players’ apparel – the last time I saw a shirt worse than the Springboks alternative strip was decades ago, worn by the lead singer of Earth, Wind and Fire.

Packed French stadiums, full of enthusiastic rugby geeks, are pouring A Fistful of Dollars (1964) into the bank accounts of the tournament organisers. Which is great news for the game. So it is with more heartache than the final scenes of The Bridges of Madison County (1995) that I am forced to mention the errors displayed by our officials last week.

The marginal differences between Tom Curry’s red card and no card at all for South Africa’s Jessie Kriel may not be a True Crime (1999), but it is a highly complicated storyline for us all to follow.

Consistency, like that displayed Eastwood over his long and prolific movie making career, is what we crave from our officials.

As the festival of rugby tumbles on into its second round, no doubt there will be more of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) from our game’s vast, complex and highly entertaining showpiece.

Try to enjoy the ride across the pool stages. It’s supposed to be fun.