But first, here's kiwi NRL player Jordan Kahu spinning a few yarns...
Aotearoa is a bubble, a rugby bubble to be exact. There is no time when this is more evident than Rugby World Cup time and it gets a bit crazy; too crazy? I'll let you be the judge of that, but us kiwis get so caught up in supporting the All Blacks that sometimes we miss the whole point of a Rugby World Cup.
Supporting the All Blacks means kiwis feel the pressure. Sure they don't feel the same amount of pressure as the players but there's always an Aussie, Englishman of South African ready to tell you that the All Blacks are the biggest chokers in RWC history. No one wants that tag, so when it's time to compete for William Webb Ellis' little shrine, we all hope that the boys in black are able to translate their consistent world domination into winning a RWC - back to back RWCs in fact.
The RWC for me though is about seeing a bunch of different countries playing rugby, all in the same country, around the same time with varying degrees of festival vibes. What puzzled me so much about the Cricket World Cup was the eagerness with which people wanted to see the 'minnows' kicked out of the CWC - that's the whole point of a World Cup.
We're going to see what Romania, Georgia, Canada, Japan, Namibia and the USA are like at rugby. When I remember just how small a sport rugby is on a world scale, I want to see it grow and that means that I want to see it grow from the bottom. I want to see the minnows offer some hope that if World Rugby continues to develop the game around the world, then we could see rugby reach new and exciting markets. Thus making international rugby far more competitive than just three or four really good teams.
I don't know if it's because this RWC is being hosted by England, or if the professional era has just gone to a new level because it feels like there's far more players who earn a living playing in Europe than what I can remember. Heck, when I was doing my Pool Play Previews, teams like Romania, Namibia and Georgia all had players who play professionally in Europe - we should never look down on that because that's how international rugby can build a stronger foundation.
Most of the Samoan, Fijian and Tongan squads earn healthy livings in Europe - more than what they'd earn here. While obviously nearly all of the European nations' players play in Europe as well, which got me thinking about power in international rugby. The All Blacks are and have been the most dominant team for sure, but the money of the Aviva Premiership in England or the Top 14 in France really holds the power because they offer Pacific Islanders opportunities that Super Rugby can't offer as well as offering kiwis, Aussies and South Africans something different.
This does have an impact on local rugby and kiwis will be quick to say something like "but it's ruining French rugby". Well we're going to see just that aren't we. The professional club rugby scene in Europe exists on its own level with more and more foreign players taking up that opportunity, so the RWC will give us a great chance to see how that is impacting on the strength of England, France, Italy, Ireland etc.
We'll also see whether this is a positive or negative for the Pacific Islands. I think it's great that there's such opportunities available to the best natural rugby players in the world and I reckon we're going to see the strongest teams from Samoa and Fiji especially, but also Tonga that I can remember.
Enjoy the All Blacks and the angst that comes with it, but I encourage you to enjoy the RWC for what it is - a rugby festival. There's players you've never heard of, styles you've never seen and the good vibes that come with seeing minnows just loving the fuck out of some rugby. But I'm also going to enjoy watching how the last four years of professional European rugby have either positively or negatively impacted world rugby. I think it's for the better which could give us one hell of a competition to enjoy.
Oh, what's this? A weekend viewing guide? Yeah, you da man Doc.
NRL - Roosters vs Bulldogs | 9:30pm | Sky Sport 2/Illegal Streams
RWC - England vs Fiji | 6:45am | Sky Sport 1/Illegal Streams
NRL/NYC - Junior Warriors vs Junior Broncos | 7:00pm | Sky Sport 2/Illegal Streams
NRL - Cowboys vs Sharks | 9:00pm | Sky Sport 2/Illegal Streams
RWC - Tonga vs Georgia | 10:45pm | Sky Sport 1/Illegal Streams
RWC - Ireland vs Canada | 1:15am | Sky Sport 1/Illegal Streams
RWC - South Africa vs Japan | 3:30am | Sky Sport 1/Illegal Streams
RWC - France vs Italy | 6:45am | Sky Sport 2/Illegal Streams
NHL (Hockey) - Women's 3rd Placer Playoff | 9:00am | Sky Sport 3
NHL (Hockey) - Men's 3rd Placer Playoff | 11:00am | Sky Sport 3
NHL (Hockey) - Women's Final | 1:00pm | Sky Sport 3
NHL (Hockey) - Men's Final | 3:00pm | Sky Sport 3
RWC - Samoa vs USA | 10:45pm | Sky Sport 1/Illegal Streams
RWC - Wales vs Uruguay | 1:15am | Sky Sport 1/Illegal Streams
RWC - New Zealand vs Argentina | 6:30am | Sky Sport 1/Illegal Streams