England rugby ace turns pundit to share views on the Rugby World Cup
Time Out Abu Dhabi staff
What brought you to the UAE? I am one of the OSN pundits, along with Scott Gibbs and Joost van der Westhuizen. The network is airing all 48 matches, so we will be giving our unique take on the 2011 Rugby World Cup. I have been coming to Dubai since the mid-1990s, so I know the region very well, and my brother lives here too so I jumped at the chance to do some work surrounded by friends and family.
Did you pick OSN over work at the tournament? Absolutely. I had plenty of opportunities to go New Zealand. The BBC doesn’t have the rights to the tournament, but I could have gone with the radio guys. I was faced with a choice between beautiful hot weather or the cold and mud of New Zealand, so there was only one choice! You won’t leave New Zealand with a tan will you?
Where are your favourite places in Dubai? They are mostly golf courses! I am fanatical about the sport, even though I only started playing at 22. I am a 10-handicapper and plan to whittle that down into single figures by the end of my seven weeks here. I have already played the Majlis at Emirates Golf Club, which is, in my view, the top course in the region. I also hope to play Greg Norman’s Earth at Jumeirah Golf Estates soon, which will host the Race to Dubai in November. Away from the course, I have been very impressed by West 14 on the Palm. We had a very lively launch party there. I am also a fan of Atlantis and am looking forward to eating at Frankies.
If you could play golf with anyone, who would it be? Samuel L Jackson, Eddie Murphy and Sophia Loren!
Who will win the Rugby World Cup? The hosts, New Zealand. They have a bit of a reputation as chokers. Every year, they seem to start as favourites, but they have only ever won the trophy once, back in 1987. That was on home soil too and I expect them to repeat the feat this time around. Don’t write off reigning champions South Africa because of their physicality and intensity. They are very direct, but not as strong as they were four years ago in France. Unfortunately, I see the winner coming from the southern hemisphere.
How do you rate England’s chances? Pretty good. I wasn’t sure whether Martin Johnson was the right man to lead them, but he is slowly proving his critics wrong. Martin was a surprise choice to lead England: he’s from Leicester, he’s boring and he had no experience on the CV. I was shocked when he got the role. However, he has really come into his own of late. The likes of Ben Youngs, Chris Ashton, Ben Foden, Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole have added impetus and belief to the squad over the past 18 months. These youngsters have given the side energy and it took a long time for Martin to realise that was a vital quality at international level.
Who are the players to watch? You have the usual suspects, like New Zealand’s Dan Carter and France’s Sergio Parrise, who is the best number eight in the world, but I am hoping some of the home nations’ guys shine. Leicester’s Ben Youngs could be the player of the tournament. He showed that against Australia last year. Also look out for Samoan Alesana Tuilagi. Samoa are in Wales’s pool, which is very much the group of death, and he could be influential in helping his country cause an upset or two.