Syd Millar expects RWC 2011 to raise the bar
NELSON, 3 Sept. - It has been four years since former Ireland front row forward Dr Syd Millar stepped down as chairman of the International Rugby Board, but his passion for the sport continues to burn as brightly as ever.
Following South Africa's success in France, when he retired, Dr Millar declared the 2007 tournament to have been the best and he is confident there will be similar sentiments at the end of RWC 2011.
"Good rugby is the first thing. I want players to enjoy the occasion as it is all about the sport," Dr Millar said. "Each of the last two tournaments have raised the bar and I think they can do it again."
Dr Millar was in Nelson to present the Italian players their Rugby World Cup caps at a welcome ceremony at the Maori Marae in the city. About 500 people attended and it came a day after a large welcoming committee met the team at Nelson Airport.
Despite the pressure the players are under, Dr Millar says the links between the host cities and participating teams are crucial to the success of a tournament.
"It is very different for the players and coaches," he said.
"They have less time than we used to. I first came here in 1959 (on a Lions tour) and we played 26 matches. Then we had four in Australia and two in Canada, but these days they are under more pressure."
One team under increasing pressure is Millar's former team, Ireland. Declan Kidney's side lost all four of their August warm-up matches and experienced flanker David Wallace to injury.
Their final pool match with Italy in Dunedin on 2 October is likely to earn the victors a place in the quarter-finals, and despite their recent wobbles, Ireland are the favourite.
In the 2011 Six Nations, Ronan O'Gara slotted a late drop goal to win the game 13-11 after the Azzurri appeared set to beat Ireland for the first time since 1997.
"Ireland haven't been playing well, but this is cup rugby and they know how to win close games," Dr Millar said. "Nick Mallett has done a super job with Italy. They beat France this year and could have beaten Ireland. Then they only lost by seven points to Wales and Scotland.
"Having two clubs in the RaboDirect Pro 12 has really helped. They've been able to bring players home and have a professional set-up so their best players don't have to go to France or England."
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