From the Touchline
AUCKLAND, 12 Oct. - A lighter look at Rugby World Cup 2011.
1 - The first semi-final between Wales and France will be their first meeting at any Rugby World Cup tournament.
6 - New Zealand will play in a record sixth Rugby World Cup semi-final when they face Australia for the third time in Sunday's second semi-final.
He said it
"A lot of pressure is on them to win this competition on home soil, so I’m sure they’ll be worrying about how they go about their game, more so than myself.”
- Wallabies fly half Quade Cooper's steps up the psychological warfare ahead of Sunday's semi-final with Australia.
Welsh dragon roars back home
As Rugby World Cup fever spreads like wildfire through the principality, the clamour for tickets for a free breakfast-time screening of Wales' semi-final against France at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Saturday has sent the Welsh Rugby Union's website into meltdown.
All 25,000 freebies for the broadcast, dubbed Wake Up for Wales, were snapped up within hours of their release but the governing body has now made another 20,000 available by opening the middle and upper tiers of the East stand.
The stadium will open at 07:30 and alcohol will be served from 09:00 when the match kicks off. All present will be hoping it is a case of beers, cheers and no tears.
Ben McCalman is renowned for the brute physicality he brings on to the rugby field but the Wallabies' loose forward's raw strength apparently fails to serve him as well in other sports.
The 23-year-old was spotted sheepishly returning a tennis racquet with broken strings to the reception area of the team hotel.
Asked about the damage, McCalman swore it was already there when he borrowed the racquet for a casual hit on the hotel's court with teammate Luke Burgess.
Next question: where was the ball they had borrowed? “It’s out there somewhere,” McCalman said, indicating the street beyond the court. “The other bloke has just gone to find it.”
Back in the middle
IRB Referee Manager Paddy O’Brien refereed his first match since hanging up his whistle at the end of 2005 on Tuesday and he must have derived no little pleasure from supervising the behaviour of those put his officiating under the microscope during 11 years at the top - the international media.
New Zealander O’Brien was scrupulously even-handed in overseeing the match at Auckland's historic Ponsonby Rugby Club in which hacks from the northern hemisphere handed the south a rugby lesson with a 34-0 victory.
IRB Chief Executive Mike Miller was on hand to present north captain Paul Morgan with the Colin Elsey Shield, ending a southern stranglehold on the quadrennial contest which was played for the first time in 1991.
However, a frank and meaningful discussion over the outcome ensued in the club bar afterwards with the southerners claiming a “ring-in” for the north, in the very solid shape of New Zealand native and former union and rugby league professional Steve Skinnon, might have influenced the outcome.
The RWC Media Challenge Match commemorates the life and achievements of the late ground-breaking sports photographer Colin Elsey.
Quade's nana from heaven
Quade Cooper may have been public enemy No.1 in New Zealand during Rugby World Cup 2011 but news that he has the support of the patrons of Kaikohe Bowling Club, in the Far North of the country, has gladdened his heart.
The Australia playmaker's 76-year-old grandmother Millie, who calls Kaikohe home, has reportedly spent the last few weeks doing the rounds at the club to drum up Kiwi support for him.
Cooper says he has since been inundated with text messages from his beloved nana. "She sends me a lot of messages that all of her friends from the local bowls club are right behind me," he said. "So that gives you a very heart-warming boost of confidence."
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