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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 00:26 GMT
Rugby league's rollercoaster ride
By BBC Sport Online's Sean Martin
It was billed as the most thrilling sporting spectacle in the United Kingdom this year.
But the Lincoln World Cup, apart from fleeting glimpses of the power and pace linked with top level rugby league, has struggled to capture the public's imagination.
It has played to empty stadia across the country, with attendances blighted by poor weather and one-sided matches.
But despite failing to ignite the passions of the public at large there have been a number of moments that will live long in the memories.
Wales' stunning first half effort in the semi-final against Australia will remain with many as the previously infallible Kangaroos were pressured into errors and run ragged in a 20 minute spell.
That, coupled with New Zealand's stunning demolition of England and Lebanon's last gasp draw with the Cook Islands, were noteworthy performances on the field.
Fans wanting to buy tickets on the day of the match have faced lengthy delays - some only getting into the grounds after the kick-off - so much so that rugby league bible the Rugby League Express has urged an urgent inquiry into the handling of the tournament.
"Never again must rugby league repeat some of the errors that have been associated with the Lincoln World Cup," the weekly newspaper said.
Kiwi coach Frank Endacott has also leant his weight to the disatisfaction about the way the tournament has been handled.
"They have had poor marketing and their ticket sales have been disorganised," he said.
"I know Jonathan Davies helped promote our game against Wales in Cardiff but he told me three or four thousand people were turned away because they couldn't buy tickets at the ground.
"I haven't seen any posters, billboards or banners about the World Cup. It hasn't been good."
But despite the criticism organisers have been quick to dispel any notion that the tournament has not been a success.
"There are issues with the timing - it is four weeks later than in 1995 and the weather has been cruel. Maybe we need to look at the number of teams but I don't think it needs to change too much."
Members of the International Board have been impressed with the organisation, so much so that the UK may be offered the tournament again in 2004 instead of heading to Australasia.
"The proof of the pudding is in the eating and it has made a surplus and a healthy one at that so I'll be recommending that it is hosted here next time round," said board member Gerald Ryan.
Off the field there have been highlights aside from the problems.
During New Zealand's romp against the Cook Islands at the Madejski Stadium in Reading the crowd never lost their sense of fun.
"When the Cooks go marching in" and "Who Cooked all the Pies" were sung every time the Cook Islands got over the halfway line.
When the Cooks got a try to reduce arrears to a mere 48-4, one punter screamed "you've got 'em on the run now!".
Anyone amongst the hardy souls who endured a miserable day in Gloucester were warmed by the chant "C'mon the Lebs" that went up for the Lebanon.
But he also pinpointed Lebanon's stirring comeback from 22-10 down against the Cook Islands with three minutes remaining as a memory that would live with him.
"The sheer delight that both teams displayed after previously never having won a World Cup match was a great moment to witness.
"They both took their applause with smiles on their faces and it was a contrast to those hard-bitten professionals."
French also recounted how he was surprised to be mobbed by fans in a pub in Belfast.
"It just showed what reach the game has got," he said.
BBC Sport Online's Phil Gordos has been our man at the tournament and he has picked Wales' effort in the semi-final and Russian resilience as his Cup highlights.
"Everyone was expecting a massacre so when Wales scored one try, then a second and a third it was just unbelievable. Everyone in the press box was just amazed because this was not supposed to be happening."
Gordos also travelled with the Russian side before their 110 point annihilation by Australia and came across a side delighted to get their chance on the world stage.
"They had a training session in Hull, but at around 4.30pm it was so dark they couldn't see what they were doing.
"They were so enthusiastic they turned the team bus around and shone the lights out onto the field and they continued practising in this corridor of light."
BBC Sport Online's John Mathews has also experienced the highs and lows of the tournament and his pick came at a bitterly cold Kingsholm ground in Gloucester.
"Lebanon were outclassed by New Zealand but they stuck to their guns from start to finish on a freezing day.
"Four of them ended up with hypothermia, but the effort and commitment they put in demonstrated the way the game should be played and was something to behold."
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