And now for the Rugby World Cup disappointments

The U.S. against Samoa. Are the Eagles condemned forever to be the team of the future?
The U.S. against Samoa. Are the Eagles condemned forever to be the team of the future?

There’s a flip side to the best rugby matches in Rugby World Cup 2015, and that’s the games that disappointed. Not surprisingly, all of those are the matches that involved the United States team — four losses and no bonus points in the standings, which means they never came within seven points of an opponent and they never scored four tries in a game.

The quickest way to list the disappointments would probably be to look at the margin between winner and the United States, and that would bring the South Africa game right to the top: 64-0 with the Springboks scoring 50 of those in the second half.

Next would come the Scotland game, a loss by 23 points, then Japan (10 points) and Samoa (nine points).

But did anyone expect the U.S. team to beat South Africa, even after Japan knocked them off the opening weekend? I didn’t. Maybe not lose by 64 points, but a win against the Springboks ranged beyond even my open optimism.

Samoa and Japan seemed the games that the U.S. could win, but giving up 15 points on penalties against Samoa doomed that chance of victory. More penalties and poor defense sunk the chance of a win against Japan.

So given my expectations, here’s how I would list those games from the most disappointing to the least:

Samoa

Japan

Scotland

South Africa

Stuart Barnes, writing in The London Times, listed his first to worst teams and somehow the U.S. made it up from the bottom to No. 15, but I suspect his disappointment in England’s performance and a general dislike of things French put those two teams below the U.S. along with Canada, Tonga and Samoa.

What Barnes said about U.S. rang true: “They are always touted as the coming team but seem to be in no great hurry and rarely looked like a cohesive team in their sorry sequence of defeats.”

That statement reminds me of a story I did back in the 1960s while working for the Associated Press. The story was about transportation systems and what might be coming in the cities of Ohio, where I worked. I asked a Cincinnati transportation planner about the prospect of monorail as an answer to moving people efficiently. His answer: “Monorail is the transportation of the future and always will be.”

Right now that looks like the fate of U.S. rugby: The world’s forever future team.

Random thoughts, from Regents’ roses to powerful plays

Regents Park in London.
Flowers were still in full glory at London’s Regent’s Park in mid-September.

By Kathy

We’ve just said farewell to our good friends Trish Espedal and John Sims, having had a great time together exploring, eating, discovering and eating some more. We’ve been busy enough to keep me off the keyboard til today, so I’m playing catch-up with a few random observations. To wit:

Roses in Queen's Circle in Regents Park.
In Queen Mary’s Gardens, “Singing in the Rain” roses.

The Wednesday before Trish and John arrived, I had my first day alone — to wander around London while John toured the town of Rugby. I began with a stroll through Regent’s Park in the heart of the city. It was amazing that, despite the constant cacophony that is London, I could walk just a few yards into this lovely park of 395 acres and feel serenity. Black swans gliding on a peaceful pond; willows gently weeping; birds chirping and cooing; curved benches under wooden arbors arranged in graceful arcs. And roses. Thousands upon thousands of roses in Queen Mary’s Garden. One more beautiful than the next, in every color and size, practically as far as you could see. I didn’t want to leave.

This gardener has a very green thumb.
Just inside the gate at Regent’s Park, a topiary gardener with a very green thumb.

But after a restful ramble of more than two hours, I was off to sleuth out the location of the Sherlock Holmes Museum — at 221b Baker St., of course. It was easy to spot, given the crowd of enthusiasts standing outside waiting to get in. The museum is really an old home, outfitted just as it might have been if Sherlock were really there. As visitors prowl through four floors of rooms set with period furniture, they’re treated to displays of everything from pistols and antique prints to the tools of the detective’s trade and wax figures posed in scenes from his famous cases. I was mostly on a mission to find a trinket for my brother (a Sherlock aficionado) — and that was more than easy to do!

Blustery weather turned to a torrential downpour that lasted the rest of the day. By the time I met John, I was soaked to the skin. I’d taken refuge in a great tapas bar for as long as I thought decent, and trolled through Selfridge’s and H&M long enough to buy some dry socks and warm up a bit. But I was worried. John and I had tickets to see “Kinky Boots” that evening, and I was still wet from the knees down. But once we were in our seats, I had on my new socks, and the lights dimmed, all was well. The performance was, by turns, hilarious and outrageous, pointed and poignant (I sobbed through the pretty much the entire singing of “I’m not my father’s son”). Theater doesn’t get much better than it is here.

It was equally fine a week later in Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-Upon-Avon. “Henry V” was on stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and it was a treat to see it so well-acted, from the foppish Dauphin’s pratlings to the earnest king’s stirring “band of brothers” speech on the eve of battle. It was a fitting end to a day spent mostly at Bletchley Park, where, centuries later, the British waged a different war, laboring in anonymity to unravel the ultra-sophisticated military messaging systems of Hitler’s Germany. The work, recently highlighted in the book/movie “The Imitation Game,” is thoroughly explained through various media, including interactive games and recorded interviews with those who were there.

While the movie focused on the tragic story of Alan Turing, the exhibit takes a sweeping view of the whole enterprise. We see and hear stories of the painstaking work done not only by the nation’s brightest minds but also by ordinary folks: folks like the women who listened for hours on end to the tapping of Morse code, translating it to pages and pages of seemingly meaningless letter combinations that were then decoded by other teams. All worked for hours on end in dark, cramped, often cold huts, most not having any real idea what they were doing, and all under strict orders to keep silent about their activities — even to those in other huts.

I wonder if, in these fractious, more cynical, some would say selfish times, so many would sacrifice so much for so long — trusting their government’s word that it was being done for the greater good.

Trish and Kathy in front of our hotel in Brighton.
Trish and Kathy in front of our hotel in Brighton. This one’s for you Lynn!

Coming to England soon: 466,000 visitors

The video above is provided by England Rugby 2015, responsible for running the six-week tournament. Each of the 20 teams in the Rugby World Cup is being given a welcome ceremony, either in the city where they will play their first game or where they are training.

Running the tournament is a huge task, but the financial rewards for England Rugby 2015 and its parent, Rugby Football Union, are huge, according to an article in The Sunday Times. And the benefits don’t stop there.

Peter Evans and Mark Souster, who wrote The Times article for its Business section, report that the economic activity generated by the tournament will be 2.2 billion pounds with an estimated 982 million pound boost to the British gross domestic product. Broadcasting rights have gone to 205 countries, and 466,000 visitors are expected to come to England for the games.

Ticket sales stand at 93 percent sold and that has brought in 200 million pounds. The Times article included an estimate from the commercial side of the tournament, Rugby World Cup Limited, that the “surplus” (profit) would be 150 million pounds with much of that to be reinvested in the game through tournaments (the Las Vegas Sevens, for example), development of the women’s game and enhancement of the game in Africa and Asia.

Broadcast rights are 60 percent of the income and more comes from the sponsors, most notably Heineken, Land Rover and Emirates airlines.

Pubs are also expected to do well. Evans and Souster ended the article with this quote from a pub owner comparing football (soccer) fans to rugby’s: “People who like rugby tend to arrive at pubs earlier than football fans. They stay all day and they drink more.”

Rugby is ever in the news in England these days

The English papers have been filled with rugby news these days, and with the World Cup less than two weeks away, we’re starting to see rugby players featured in other parts of the papers, much like when the Seahawks head to the Super Bowl and Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman show up in the Features section talking about all things except football.

Same here. Ben Machell with The Times of London did a piece on the post-pro rugby life of Mike Tindall, who talked about being a father and about his marriage to Zara Phillips, grand daughter of Queen Elizabeth. Tindall, 36, has 75 caps for England and was part of the 2003 World Cup champions. The article points out that his most known exploit during the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand was leading teammates on a drinking spree that included a visit to a bar that featured dwarf throwing.

The writer spent some time wondering about Tindall’s oft-broke nose, describing it as a “much-loved chewable dog toy; a normal nose staggering home after ten pints; something by Picasso.”

You gotta love this about Tindall: While not playing professional rugby any more, he hasn’t given up the game. He plays for Minchinhampton, an amateur side, but to level the playing field he has made a rule that he will not score any tries.

On the same day as the Tindall article, The Times featured Lewis Moody, another former England player, who has put his house up for rent for RWC fans. The four-bedroom , three-bathroom house goes for 150 pounds a night. The Bath house is offered on Airbnb and the rent goes to the Lewis Moody Foundation, set up to help children and families affected by serious illness.

Careful though before you jump at a chance to stay there. Moody, who played 71 times for England and was also on the 2003 team, has set down some special rules: No Wales or New Zealand All-Black rugby shirts; no haka; and you must sing “God Save the Queen” every morning at 8.

And no parties — unless England wins the Cup.