SYDNEY: The worst fears of World Cup organisers have been realised after only five matches, with a series of crushing defeats for the tournament minnows highlighting the gulf between rugby's rich and poor.
Italy, Fiji and Uruguay were all overwhelmed by heavyweight opponents, conceding a combined total of 30 tries and managing a mere three in reply.
The carnage continued yesterday when co-favourites England thrashed Georgia in a David-and-Goliath Pool C game at Perth's Subiaco Oval.
While no team has yet suffered a beating on the scale of Japan's record 145-17 defeat to the All Blacks in 1995, there was stark evidence that the chasm separating the haves and have-nots is wider than ever.
Uruguay's team of amateurs put up creditable resistance against the Springboks in Perth but the writing was on the wall within six minutes of the start as Joost van der Westhuizen scored twice.
Saturday night's Pool C game finished 72-6 in South Africa's favour, a record score for the Springboks at the World Cup.
Worryingly for Uruguay, and for International Rugby Board officials looking for signs of improvement amongst rugby's developing world, South Africa's victory was substantially bigger than their 39-3 win over Los Teros in 1999.
Not that Uruguay are complaining though.
It's disappointing but we did do some positive things. The team is better than you saw today, said coach Diego Ormaechea.
Ormaechea said amateur sides could not hope to compete with professional opposition, but insisted the soul-destroying disparity would not break Uruguay's spirit.
Professional rugby is so different off the field, said Ormaechea, the oldest player to play in a World Cup match when he appeared aged 40 years and 26 days for the defeat to South Africa four years ago.
But we're not here to cry, we must work and hold our head high and go forward. We are here and we must dance, we are in the party.
Nowhere was the difference between those teams which have money to spend on fitness and conditioning and those which don't, more evident than in Brisbane.
Fiji, one of several second-tier teams who have lost key squad members in the controversy over player releases, began each half brightly against France before visibly running out of gas to lose 61-18.
Fiji coach Mac McCallion was in no doubt that France's superior fitness had been the difference.
It is something I have been working on over my time but when some of the players are not professionals and you come up against a professional side like France it is bound to be difficult, McCallion said.
Italy meanwhile were no match for rampant New Zealand in a Pool D match in Melbourne, going down 70-7 as the All Blacks ran in 11 tries.
Italy coach John Kirwan was able to take positives from the defeat however.
What struck me today was the courage of the players. We held them out for quite a few phases, said Kirwan, who said last week that the World Cup must be judged on how successfully the minnows perform.
On that score, there was a glimmer of hope emanating from Gosford's Central Coast Stadium, where Romania scored twice in a spirited display before finally succumbing 45-17 to Ireland, ranked third in the world by the IRB.
It is only two years since Romania hit rock-bottom in a 134-0 defeat to England at Twickenham, but Saturday's performance indicated that 'the Oaks' may have turned a corner.
We are disappointed with the result, said Romania's French coach Bernard Charreyre.
Today the difference between the teams should have been 10-12 points. AFP