ALMOST exactly 200 years ago, a 25-year-old English poet John Keats wrote that autumn is a season of mists and mellow fruits. Not so in 2023. We have instead September and October overflowing with a rugby World Cup, a tennis US Open and a golf spectacular Ryder Cup clash. In Keats’s day they had no such things.
1 September sees the third tennis round at Flushing Meadows leading to latter stages, and building to a final a week later, with the sensational young Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz defending. 9 September sees the world’s best 20 rugby nations vying for the Webb Ellis Trophy through 48 matches and seven weeks, all in France.
The autumn period closes on 28 October until month’s end featuring raw golf nationalism in matching up the USA against Europe, to be played in front of noisy crowds on a new course, Marco Simone, Rome, Italy.
Twenty rugby playing nations are scrumming down for the World Cup in four pool groups.
They are there through rankings or a series of gruelling qualifying matches that have featured around the world. Unfortunately Zimbabwe is not one of them and Africa will have only two representatives – South Africa and Namibia.
The South Africans are holders of the Webb Ellis Trophy, having beaten England in the 2019 final in Japan. The entire event will be held in France with the final to be staged naturally in Paris. Early betting made New Zealand favourites.
But in a late warm-up match the All Blacks, having performed their “haka” with full-blown confidence, were severely mauled by the South Africans, who scored an almost unheard of five tries against the All Blacks in a 35-7 score. However the New Zealanders had one player sent off and two others had 10 minutes in the sin bin.
Predicting the championship winner is therefore a fascinating exercise. It is really wide open, with New Zealand quoted by bookmakers at 5-2, followed closely by France (3-1), South Africa (7-2), Ireland (9-2) Australia (11-1), England (12-1) although on present form it is hard to see a case for the latter two.
Australia have recently beaten the All Blacks in their regional Bledisloe Cup but suffered a return loss. In the last warm-up match of the summer series they lost heavily to championship hosts France 41-17,
What about England, who come to the event following dismal results? There has been in their recent repertoire a win and a loss against Wales, who were later slaughtered by South Africa with a score in the 50s, though it has to be said that Wales were missing nine players with injuries.
England went down badly to Ireland and then in the final warm-up match played a spirited Fiji, ninth in world rankings. That resulted in a 30-22 triumph for the Fijians, astonishing everybody including the Pacific islanders themselves and was described afterwards by them as the greatest day in their rugby history. .
Venues for the Championship proper are Paris, Marseille, Lille, Lyon, Bordeaux, Nantes and Nice.
The winners of each pool will play quarter-final matches against runners-up from a different pool, those successful forming the quartet of semi-finalists. The final is at Paris.
*Guest columnist and Portsmouth-based veteran journalist and author John Kelley, who regularly contribute to the NewsHawks, worked in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe for nearly five decades.