Seems like it's ages since the last one, but the Rugby World Cup opening game has finally rolled round.
Fans of all allegencies turned up for the opening ceremony and first game of the tournament. The French were, of course, in the majority, but I saw lots of English, a few Irish, a significant number of Argentines and the odd Aussie & Kiwi wandering about outside the ground. All getting on famously, and the French riot police in attendance had little to do except strut around in their body armour looking menacing, as only the Gendarmes know how.
The French seemed very keen to dress up, and I caught this bloke [left] wearing a chicken on his head and still grinning madly!! (The French team's emblem is a Cockerel, but I'm not convinced it should have been blue and furry).
Once inside, the atmosphere was building as the minutes ticked by. The opening do was a bit pants, to be honest - lots of tumblers cavorting around in brightly coloured suits, but I think the analogy was lost on most people, it certainly was on me.
I was glad the exuberant flag-waver above wasn't sitting directly in front of me, or I wouldn't have got many pictures!
France vs Argentina was always going to be an entertaining show, and how it turned out to be! Not the result the French would have liked, but most of the English supporters I could see seemed to be shouting for Argentina!
[The Pumas win their lineout]
The French just didn't live up to the promise of recent games. Cedric Heymans kept dropping stuff and suffered from wayward kicking. The rest of the team didn't seem to be able to intercept or pass very well. On the Pumas' side, Juan Martin Hernandez [right] had a great game, his first playing at Fly Half. He ran all over the place and kicked accurately. His Fullback Ignacio Corleta seemed to chase every high ball, and scored the only try of the game.
At the set pieces, the Argentine pack seemed to be doing well in the scrum - perhaps their lineouts weren't as good as they could have been, but they certainly didn't get pushed about too much. The French were certainly surprised to go in at the break on the wrong end of a 17-6 scoreline. I can only imagine the Gallic ranting of M. Laporte in the dressing room at half time.
The dressing-down must have had some effect, as I thought the French were going to score just after the break. They were camped in Argentine territory, about 5m from the line, for over a dozen phases of play. But the Argies put up some immense defence, and eventually only gave away 3 points for an infringement.
David Skrela [left] had a shocking game, and never really looked comfortable. He missed a straightforward penalty on 55 minutes, and didn't link well with Pierre Mignoni at Scrum Half. Skrela limped off in the last quarter, to be replaced by Freddie Michalak who didn't fare much better, missing a morale-boosting penalty on 70 minutes. Mignoni was subbed for Elissalde with 8 minutes left. Too little too late.
One player who did make an immediate impact as a replacement was the scary figure of Sebastien "Sea bass" Chabal, who stole a lineout almost as soon as he stepped on the field. He didn't get it all his own way, as the Argentines weren't afraid to go after him with the ball:
[Sea Bass Chabal gets attention of the Argentine defence]
France kept plugging away in the last minutes of the game, with amazing defence from their opponents. Argentina thought they had cleared but France got the ball back and managed to kick a final penalty, but still went in at the end down by 12-17.
All in all, a fantastic game, tremendous atmosphere and a great way to kick off the 2007 tournament. Bring on the next games!