stephen jones scarlets

Stephen Jones - one of six centurions at the 2011 Rugby World Cup

A lighter look at what is happening at Rugby World Cup 2011.

The numbers

6 – Days to go until the start of RWC 2011, and players starting the tournament with at least 100 caps for their country:

113 Brian O’Driscoll (IRE)

111 Ronan O’Gara (IRE)

107 Victor Matfield (RSA)

106 John Smit (RSA)

105 Chris Paterson (SCO)

100 Stephen Jones (WAL)

He said it

“In Argentina they say we have two good things – the meat and the girls. In New Zealand, I haven’t been out much so I have only seen reporters and males.”

– Argentina captain Felipe Contepomi reflects on his change of scenery since arriving for the World Cup.

Cattle class

In these days of mollycoddling for modern rugby players, former Scotland captain David Sole has offered a reminder of how much has changed since he was part of the inaugural World Cup in New Zealand in 1987.

Twenty-four years ago, he and his amateur teammates were not under any strict dietary regime and did not even dream of exclusive use of the first-class cabin.

Sole recalls of the ‘cattle class’ flight Down Under: “We were joined by the Welsh and Irish teams and we stopped off in Los Angeles to pick up the Canadian team. Thirty-six hours had passed by the time we landed in Auckland and we were all feeling slightly the worse for wear when we disembarked.

“There was no embargo on alcohol, which was almost an essential relaxant if you were to get some sleep in economy class. How times have changed in the modern era of team travel.”

Beauty and the Bears

After rumours that Russian president Dmitry Medvedev or prime minister Vladimir Putin would be attending their country’s match with USA in New Plymouth on 15 September, it has been confirmed that Putin’s right-hand man, Alexander Zhukov, will be attending instead.

Although it will be the first visit to New Zealand by a Russian deputy prime minister, the cameras at Stadium Taranaki may be focusing on a more eye-catching compatriot. Natalia Ganimurova, Miss Russia 2011, will take a seat beside Russian billionaire Toustam Tariko after they fly in on his private jet.

Home from home

The England team bus was scheduled to have at least one notable absentee on its return to their hotel after a training session in Auckland on Saturday afternoon.

The run-out was held at Mt Smart Stadium, home of rugby league side the Warriors and former happy hunting ground of England centre Shontayne Hape before he switched codes and nationalities.

”We’ll train there (on the No 2 ground) and I’ll stay behind and watch the game,” Hape, 30, said.

”I’ve still got a few friends there and the coach (Ivan Cleary) is someone I used to play with. It’s hit home that we’re getting on a bit now.”

Strum machine

One England teammate seeking recreation away from the playing field is powerlifting prop Andrew Sheridan.

After two days in New Zealand, the 31-year-old, who has released an acoustic rock album, decided he needed to strum away some stress – so went out and bought a guitar.

No, you good thing

Some Australians might be cockily tipping the Wallabies to face New Zealand in the final, but not one of their country’s leading union writers, Jim Tucker.

He is not willing to see past Australia’s predicted semi-final showdown with England, which he rates as a huge stumbling block for Robbie Deans’ side.

“England always play the tournaments well – they beat Australia twice last year and they will certainly not be scared of us. The man in the street may have Australia already in the final but not me.

“In the pool games, Australia have to beat Ireland and that will also be a titanic match. There’s been some great contests between the countries since 1991 and some of Ireland’s old players, such as Brian O’Driscoll, still have a few big games left in them.”

Oh brother

Of the 12 sets of brothers playing in this tournament, one pair might find family get-togethers a little strained after this tournament.

Michael and Sailosi Tagicakibau are in the Fijian and Samoan squads respectively and on course to meet in their Pool D match on 25 September.

Meanwhile, Fiji front rower Campese Ma’afu lined up last year against his brother Salesi, the Australian prop. In case you were wondering, Campese was named after Wallaby great David, such was their father’s admiration for the Australian wing.

The Tuilagi brothers – Samoa’s Alesana and England’s Manu – are the only other pair from the 12 playing for opposing sides.