Oval Talk

  • Team-by-team guide

    For your definitive team-by-team guide to the Rugby World Cup, click on the team names below:

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  • Rugby takes a back seat

    You might think that in
    order to become the star of a World Cup tournament, you have to score a
    handful of stunning tries or kick your team to victory.

    You might think that, but
    you'd be wrong.

    After drawing the biggest
    cheer of the night on Friday at Eden Park when he exposed his chest (the All Blacks beat Tonga 41-10 in case you've forgotten), barely a page of the newspapers in New Zealand have been free of Sonny
    Bill Williams's face.

    Or more precisely,
    barely a page of the papers have been free of Sonny Bill Williams's naked torso.

    Williams's right shirt
    sleeved ripped during the match

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  • Precious Kiwis need all-black history lesson

    Whoever came up with the idea of an all-black England second kit must have a large smile permanently etched upon their face.

    The plan has worked perfectly: the mind games are in full swing with the World Cup now just five weeks away.

    There have been plenty of Kiwi complaints this week, largely from UK-based sycophants who cannot believe the level of 'disrespect'.

    When did this turn into the fourth chapter of The Godfather, exactly? Why shouldn't England play in black? New Zealand do not possess any pre-ordained right to the colour.

    New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key, disagrees - and

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  • Meet the men in charge

    Oval Talk runs the rule over the eight men who will be looking to lead their nations to World Cup glory.

    Graham Henry (New Zealand)

    Widely regarded as one of the best coaches the game has ever seen, Graham Henry's task is unenviable.
    The 65-year-old manages the most talented rugby nation on the planet, and with the Rugby World Cup taking place on home soil this year, anything less than a first title since the inaugural event in 1987 would be deemed as a failure.

    The former Wales and British and Irish Lions boss is currently the longest serving leading national team coach having first taken

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  • Opening ceremony sights and scenes

    With the rugby World Cup kicking off with a look back at New Zealand history, we thought we'd bring you the best photos from the opening ceremony.

    In the battle of the hakas, Tonga were the first to take the stage ...

    But, unsurprisingly in Auckland, New Zealand got the bigger cheer of the two.

    The ceremony began with a traditional call to arms ...

    ... before the boats arrived ...

    ... and a traditional haka began.

    A great display of rugby prowess as a school boy fought off fully grown men to score a try.

    A huge Webb Ellis Trophy was also one of the features of the ceremony, as the

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  • Where the World Cup will be played

    12 different stadia will be used to host rugby matches at the 2011 Rugby World Cup:

    AUCKLAND: Eden Park (Capacity: 60,000 - Matches: 11)

    One of the most famous sporting stadia in the world, Eden Park will make history on October 23 when it becomes the first venue to host two Rugby World Cup finals.
    It also staged the final of the inaugural tournament in 1987 and the first game of the competition on May 22 of that year.
    The All Blacks won both matches and will be hoping that history repeats itself on a ground where they have not lost since 1994 and where they have won around 80 per cent

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  • Australia lay down World Cup marker

    With less than a couple of weeks to go
    until the World Cup, Australia
    have laid down a marker to everyone else after they beat New Zealand 25-20 on Saturday.

    The victory secured Australia's
    first Tri-Nations title in 10 years and the bookies have reacted by trimming
    their odds to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for a second time. William Hill cut Australia's
    odds from 4-1 to 7-2.

    The transformation of the team over the
    last year is quite remarkable. When England
    beat Australia
    35-18 at Twickenham in last year's Autumn international most pundits had
    written off the Wallabies. But their Kiwi coach

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  • North star to light up World Cup

    If Oval Talk had to pick one player to particularly get
    excited about ahead of the Rugby World Cup then it would have to be Wales'
    George North.

    Having watched him first hand play for the Scarlets before
    seeing him make his international debut against South Africa at the Millennium
    Stadium last Autumn it was clear very early on that the guy is special. It is
    not hyperbole to say he could be the star of this year's World Cup.

    On that day against South Africa North scored two tries and
    terrorised the opposition throughout. The 19-year-old did not deserve to come
    out on the losing side with the

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  • England need creativity as well as possession

    For England this is no time to panic - but
    the defeat away to Wales should be a wake-up call for Martin Johnson.

    His side looked a shadow of the one which destroyed
    Australia last autumn then went on to win their first Six Nations Championship
    in eight years.

    The 19-9 loss at the Millennium Stadium
    might only have been a warm-up match for next month's World Cup in New Zealand,
    but England only have one more chance to show what they can do before they
    travel out there.

    The match against Ireland on August 27 is
    one in which Johnson should field his strongest team and replace some of the

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  • Integrity of English rugby in jeopardy

    let it be said that things are dull when the RFU is involved. You could go as
    far as saying the RFU puts the fun into dysfunctional.

    Union's internal problems over the past few months have caused such an outcry
    that it has damaged its reputation almost beyond repair. The Board responded by
    asking their disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett, a man
    respected throughout the rugby world, to chair a review of how the Union had
    acted during that time.

    In particular the report focused on the
    dismissal of John Steele and the Union's inability to appoint a performance
    director. And it

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