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Byline: Andy Nicol

THE wait is almost over. The biggest sporting event in the world this year starts on Friday in Sydney.

The first match, as in the football World Cup, is played by the holders and as they happen to be the hosts as well the competition will start with a real bang on when Australia take on Argentina.

Four years ago Wales were the official hosts but in reality all four home nations and France could have been regarded as such.

The competition just never took off and certainly did not grab the public's interest.

This was due to the tournament being spread around five countries, one of which speaks a different language, and ITV didn't showcase the event as well as they could have.

The World Cup in 1999 did, however, have a very tough act to follow as South Africa excelled in staging a fantastic tournament in 1995.

Who can forget the sight of Nelson Mandela presenting the William Webb Ellis trophy to Springboks captain Francois Pienaar when wearing the same player's No.6 shirt?

The `95 World Cup was, and still is, regarded as the best ever and one of the main reasons was it didn't have to share the tournament with any other country.

But I am very excited about this year's event and believe it will exceed South Africa and be the best Rugby World Cup ever This optimism is also based on the fact the Aussies have proved at the Olympics in 2000 and with the British Lions tour a year later that they know how to stage a big sporting event and the public simply love their sport.

They have encouraged fans to adopt a second country to support when Australia are not playing and the cities hosting teams are making a real effort to make them welcome.

The people of Coloundra in Brisbane where the Scotland team are based for the first three weeks have gone out of their way to make the Scots' stay enjoyable with posters and flags everywhere pledging their allegiance.

It will be interesting to see how many of these people are still supporting us if the two countries meet as scheduled in the quarter-finals. Not many I bet.

The same thing happened when I toured New Zealand with Scotland and stayed in Dunedin for the first Test.

Everyone told us they were Scottish descendants as you would expect in a city called the Edinburgh of the South but when it came to the game everyone was head to toe in black!

By all accounts, training has gone well in the Scotland camp with the intensity of the sessions suggesting everyone believes they have a chance of being selected for the first game against Japan on Sunday.

The only real injury so far has been a clash of heads between Jason White and Bryan Redpath which resulted in the big, hard flanker needing six stitches after hitting the small but even harder scrum-half.

Jas is not the first and definitely won't be the last, to find that Basil is hard as nails despite being vertically challenged.

Ian McGeechan has said he will mix and match his teams over the group matches but that is a bit of gamesmanship and smart coaching. He will pick as close to his first choice team on Sunday to ensure we get off to a good start.

And as there are eight days until the next game against the USA giving plenty of time for recovery there is a chance he could pick the same 15 again.

I expect a very strong side to be announced for the first match with maybe a couple of changes for the second because momentum is vital in a World Cup. This breeds confidence and a confident side can be dangerous.

The Greatest Show on Earth is about to begin and I've a sneaking feeling Scotland can cause a surprise or two. Let's hope so.


UP FOR THE CUP: Scotland players hit the heights during line-out practice at the World Cup in Australia; BIG BAD BRYAN: Redpath is a real tough guy
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 8, 2003
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