Do You Love London?

The Vauxhall Foodbank, run by volunteers from ChristChurch, London, provides emergency food for people in crisis. This is a video I produced for ChristChurch last week as part of their Love London event…

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Place Your Bets – Rugby World Cup 2011

Usually I support the red, white and greens, but for the next month I’m right behind the roses in white. The excitement has been brewing for weeks and months, especially for the players, and as the first match between New Zealand and Tonga in Pool A kicks off this morning, there’s no going back.

At Eden Park, Auckland, both opening teams perform their Haka war dance whilst throwing torrid expressions across the halfway line to their opposing contenders. What a great way to begin a match of such intense physical challenge. The slapping of thighs and clenching of teeth aim to intimidate opponents before they start crunching in battle. Unfortunately, England don’t have a response to this pheromone infused affront, but it’s understandable. I imagine a traditionally English May Pole dance wouldn’t have quite the same impact.

As the Rugby World Cup gets underway, it’s hard to predict a winner. The likes of England, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and perhaps France are fine prospects with measurably high hopes but once the knock out matches begin, it’s anyone’s competition.

Although it pains me to say it in anticipation of England’s first match against Argentina tomorrow, I think our South American assailants are going to be the dark horses of 2011. Finishing a very respectable third place four years ago, they’ve proved their worth in the past, yet the general feeling is that they aren’t as strong a side as in 2007. Still, I believe if no.10 Juan Martin Hernandez recovers from injury in time to represent the Pumas, and Head Coach Santiago Phelan implements some wise and aggressive tactics, Argentina could go beyond what is expected once again.

This isn’t to write off England as I don’t doubt a victory through from Pool B. But, England are riddled with injuries, including Mad-Dog Moody our international captain, and even though camaraderie within the ranks seems first-class, it won’t guarantee the play will follow suit when the finals loom. I’d love to see our third final appearance in as many World Cups and I have faith that the Roses can make it, but an uphill struggle is ahead.

New Zealand, on the other hand, will be under tremendous pressure to deliver a win after their 24 year drought, especially as host country. The rugby-obsessed nation will be expecting a replay of the 1987 victory at home, which set them a precedent they haven’t yet been able to uphold. Crowd support will be a major psychological advantage to the All Blacks and some stylish displays in the Tri-Nations will have boosted morale, but for years New Zealand have been clear favourites from the outset, only to consistently fail to deliver the goods.

Australia’s Tri-Nations victory last month showed they can perform on the big stage and their tenacity and skill will stand them in good stead for a roaring first place slot in Pool C. England have beaten Australia in their last two meetings, including a fantastic 35-18 win at Twickenham last November, but that was almost a year ago, and Australia are playing a lot stronger. With fly half Quade Cooper’s esteemed position at number 10 and a number of quality backs, including James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale, Kiwi coach Robbie Deans has a lot of talent to play with. Plus, with two World Cup victories under their belt already and a runners-up place against England in 2003, who could deny them a shot at the Webb Ellis Trophy this time around?

Reigning champions South Africa will be pulling out all the stops to keep their hands on their prize, though a disappointing run in the Tri-Nations won’t have given fans much hope. Still, the Rugby World Cup is a new competition and South Africa are certainly a team to be reckoned with. They’ll get to the semi-finals at least.

France on the other hand, who knows? They couldn’t stave off attack from Italy in the Six Nations this year, despite winning in 2010, as Head Coach Marc Lievremont’s experimental team approach proved a wrong move. There’s talent in the French squad for sure, but if Lievremont can’t cook up a team sheet as perfectly as the French make beef bourguignon, they could be out before you can say sacrebleu.

So, as the Rugby World Cup returns to where it first was held, there is sure to be some history made over the next six weeks.

Place your bets.