Ben Cohen. Photography by Jonny Schultz.
Kicking off on 9 September and running for six weeks, the seventh Rugby World Cup will be soon taking place across the North and South Islands of New Zealand, culminating in the final at Eden Park in Auckland on 23 October. Here at So So Gay we’re lucky to have a few ardent rugby fans (not least our permanently injured Editor-in-Chief), and we know that there are plenty of other gay fans out there. What better reason, then, to talk to rugby union’s globe-trotting anti-homophobia champion Ben Cohen about the game?
RWC hosts New Zealand won the inaugural tournament in 1987, but despite laying claim to being the number one team in the world far more times than any other nation, they have conspired to miss out on any further RWC titles, earning them the moniker of ‘chokers’. This time around they have easily the strongest side entering the competition – but could the pressure of competing on home soil undermine them yet again?
Former winner Ben Cohen gave me his thoughts. ‘They’re expected to get into a final, that is non-negotiable. I dont think they’ll cope with all that pressure. I think England’s minimal requirements is semi-finals, bearing in mind England are the most consistent side in the history of the world cup. But I do think Australia will lift it and win.’
With England faltering in two warm-up games to Wales, anxiety is creeping into the England fan-base about how ready the side are. I asked Ben about what you need to become unbeatable. ‘It comes down to what’s inbetween your ears – the mental side of it. You’ve got to be desperate. When you have people who wear their heart on their sleeves for their country or club, you exceed your expectations of your own performance and perform out of your skin. If England can take that down to New Zealand then they could go all the way.’
The truth is that there are several sides that on their day could go all the way. France, Ireland, Wales, England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are all in with a shout – but I have to agree with Mr Cohen on this one, I too think the Aussies will overcome the fractious All Blacks on home soil. See my interview with Ben below:
Of course, when the Rugby World Cup winner is decided, we will be just eight months away from the start of the ‘world cup’ for gay rugby teams. The 2012 Bingham Cup – the non-professional international gay rugby union tournament – will be held in Manchester, where resident team the Manchester Spartans will be hoping to knock their arch-rivals, the King’s Cross Steelers, off their podium as the top European team, after the Steelers took the Europe-wide Union Cup back in June (we profiled the Steelers shortly after their victory). Support from Ben Cohen and the openly gay rugby league star Gareth Thomas helped secure the bid, and the organisers will be hoping to deliver a similarly fantastic event, albeit on a slightly smaller scale than we will witness in New Zealand. And the following year another major gay international tournament comes to the UK, as the Bristol Bisons host the 2013 Union Cup. For now though, the stage is set in Auckland, so prepare yourselves for some early mornings in the UK, Rugby World Cup 2011 is about to kick off.
What to say… and what not to say during the Rugby World Cup
- As the All Blacks captain infringes at yet another ruck but the penalty goes his way: ‘Cheryl Cole will be back on the X-Factor before McCaw gets pinged for anything.’
- As France are about to start any match at RWC2011 or in the last fifteen years: ‘Well the problem is, you just never know which French team will turn up.’ (Note: I predict the French will knock England out at the quarter finals, so this will be a key phrase then).
- Someone will say, ‘Bless Italy, they’re still quite new to rugby arent they?’ to which the only reply is: ‘Eleven years in the Six Nations, not really.’
- And when your boyfriend or potential date says, ‘Who the hell is that?’ then check this shortlist: Dan Carter, Morgan Parra, Sergio Parisse, Mike Phillips, Sean Lamont or Ben Foden.
Ben Cohen was speaking on behalf of the RFU.com podcast in association with the Choose Rugby initiative. For more information about Ben and his anti-homophobia and anti-bulling work, visit his official website.
If you’re in the UK and interested in playing rugby union, the RFU (England), Scottish Rugby, Welsh Rugby Union and Ulster Rugby websites offer links and information about local teams. For more information about the gay rugby teams mentioned here, visit: