It’s time. The 2019 Rugby World Cup is upon us. It’s pervading the sporting consciousness for the next month or so. It’s ready.
And so are we, armed with a host of footballing comparisons to get you primed for the tournament.
Don’t know what makes Japan and AFC Bournemouth genuinely inseparable? Well, look no further.
Argentina – West Ham
One of the forebear of international football, Argentina are a steady bastion of the rugby world, though this is not their ripest squad.
The West Ham comp is definitely a bit harsh, but I just couldn’t shake the image of Pablo Zabaleta turning into Mario Ledesma (the Pumas’ coach) in 10 years time out of my head. See for yourself
Australia – Manchester United
Christ, look at them.
Anyway, the Aussies are United and United are the Aussies. This is evident from – yep, you guessed it – their historic success and their current stature.
Still, to be fair to the Wallabies, they do turn up at the big tournaments, something the Red Devils haven’t done in quite a while, and in Michael Cheika they have a genuinely competent coach which, yeah, United don’t. Probably.
Canada – Brighton
Both seemingly liberal places (although, to my knowledge, Graham Potter has never blacked up), with middling sporting gravitas.
The Seagulls made a good start to the Potter era, but the seeds of a spiral seem to be growing. As for Canada, with both New Zealand and South Africa, they could be in for an absolute pumping. We’re talking World Cup record-breaking pumpings. Sorry.
England – Tottenham
Ahh, the lads. Eddie Jones’ boys. Ready to take on the world. Ready for #glory. Or are they? Two years ago, England were on track. They were there, at the top. And now they’re…not?
Or are they? You see, it’s the hope that kills you, as any Spurs fan* will tell you. You never know. Owen Farrell and co. will probably reach the semi-finals – just as Spurs will probably make the top four – and after that, it’s anyone’s guess.
They could definitely replicate Tottenham’s 2019 Champions League campaign with a trip to the final, and they could also definitely get roundly beaten once they get there. But they have done it before. And that’s more than the north Londoners can say for themselves.
*Knowing that I’m not a Spurs fan will help you appreciate that this is *hopefully* the world’s greatest reverse jinx. England are the arrogance kings of the rugby world, and this is just my way of swinging the hubris gods back their way.
Fiji – Leicester
Invigorating youth? Check.
Serious scalp capability? Check.
Numerous players who would qualify for ‘One to Watch’? Check.
Dark Horses™? Check.
France – Chelsea
Here they are. Les Bleus. The Roosters. Ready for Japon, the cultured folk that they are.
The only problem? They’re young, naive, brittle and temperamental. Just like the Chels.
Georgia – Wolves
Look at the size of that arm. Get lost in it. Then gravitate to those two shaven titans, locked in passionate, patriotic embrace. This. Is. Georgia.
They’re the new boys on the block, but they’re streetwise AF. Remind you of a certain Wolverhampton-based outfit?
Ireland – Everton
Here is Ireland’s World Cup record:
1987: Eliminated in quarter-finals.
1991: Eliminated in quarter-finals.
1995: Eliminated in quarter-finals.
1999: Eliminated in quarter-final play-offs
2003: Eliminated in quarter-finals.
2007: Eliminated in the pool stages.
2011: Eliminated in quarter-finals.
2015: Eliminated in quarter-finals.
That is Evertonian behaviour, if ever I’ve seen it.
Italy – Newcastle
They’re both still here, both still kicking, and they’ve definitely got passion, but at a certain point you’ve got to ask yourself: what’s the point?
Japan – Bournemouth
Japan and Bournemouth. The Cherry Blossoms and the Cherries. United at last. Together they will rewrite history. Just you wait.
Namibia – Norwich
A tough beat for Norwich, but sometimes that’s how the cookie crumbles. Namibia are not very good, but they sure all likeable while they’re doing it.
There’s also the ‘N’ connection, obviously, which is very much key to this rich text of a comparison.
New Zealand – Manchester City
The two ruling overlords of their respective dominions. City are seeking a third successive league titles. The All Blacks are on the same quest for consecutive William Webb Ellis trophies.
But are the cracks beginning to show on these historic sporting edifices? Only time will tell.
Russia – Burnley
I feel like Russian Rugby should enter into the lexicon as a synonym for Sean Dyche’s style of play at Burnley.
Samoa – Crystal Palace
Samoa. South London. They are the same thing.
Scotland – Aston Villa
Here’s a picture of when Scotland were last genuinely good at rugby. I mean actually good, not just in a perpetual state of ‘this could be their year!’ and never have it come to fruition. You have to spend similar time digging through the archives to find Aston Villa’s glory days.
South Africa – Liverpool
The main team troubling New Zealand for the title, the Springboks are from fresh from victory in the Rugby Championship (competed between the All Blacks, South Africa, Australia and Argentina) for the first time since 2009, a bit like Liverpool’s European success.
Both have been reinvigorated by recent redevelopments, and both are probably the fittest teams in the world. Can they make it count?
Tonga – Southampton
Tonga: a Polynesian kingdom of more than 170 South Pacific islands, many uninhabited, most lined in white beaches and coral reefs and covered with tropical rainforest (as per Google).
Southampton: essentially exactly the same.
But wait, I’ve made that joke about Samoa and south London and, you know what, in the time it took to copy and paste that Tonga stuff I’ve realised there is in fact a profound connection between these two.
Both produce tons of exceptional talent, only to have them poached by bigger teams with bigger pockets. Southampton are the Pacific Islanders of world football! Nailed it.
Uruguay – Watford
Unfortunately, the ‘Eureka!’ moment that came before has not been replicated here.
The only real connection I can find is Miguel Britos, who is Uruguayan, but he just left Vicarage Road after four years, having joined in 2015. Maybe there’s a World Cup cycle connection to be found? Maybe not. Let’s move on.
USA – Sheffield United
Sheffield is in South Yorkshire. Yorkshire finished 12th at the 2012 Olympics. Yorkshire are good at a lot of sports. So are the United States.
Wales – Arsenal
*Cracks knuckles* here we go. The piece de resistance. These two are forever connected, forever intertwined.
You see, both play in red (you have to start with the fundamentals). Both have been good-to-great pretty much throughout their history. Both have seen legends pass through their halls. Both have won stuff. But they have’t won the big one. Not yet. Not the Big-Eared beauties.
Wait, there’s more. In Warren Gatland, Wales have their Arsene Wenger. Their generational game-changer, their iconic coach…who may have bitten off more than he can chew. There, I said it. He may be imminently departing, but he won’t do so on a bang. Mark my words.
Oh, and George North is the Mesut Ozil of international rugby. Think about it.