IT MAY not appear so at the moment to glum Welsh fans but this is turning into the greatest Rugby World Cup of all.

It has been superbly organised - save the ridiculous fixtures in Cardiff and Murrayfield - with excellent crowds and a feeling of the whole of France buying into the competition.

Everywhere you go there are signs publicising the event - if only that had been the case in Wales in 1999 - and the transport infrastructure around the country puts our pathetic efforts in this country to shame.

And this is all before the drama on the field. That has provided something of everything- so-called minnows performing way beyond expectations (Georgia, Tonga and especially Fiji), decent teams (Wales, Ireland) failing inexplicably, Argentina finally coming of age and then last Saturday two of the more remarkable results in the sport's long history.

If I told you that I tipped both England and France to win you would not believe me. But I did. It's just that I did not do so in this newspaper last week because I was too busy settling scores with Glamorgan's chairman Paul Russell.

But I have a witness. Glamorgan wicketkeeper, Mark Wallace, is the man. As we were travelling back from a golf day in North Wales last Friday night and negotiating a particularly annoying diversion around Leominster I told him of my predictions.

The dark, winding roads were already causing him enough bother without such a preposterous suggestion and as a result some poor badger nearly copped it for daring to take a peek out on the road.

But equilibrium restored, Wallace retorted: "They'll both lose by twenty points."

I protested, but deep down I thought he might well be correct.

I know I probably should not be revealing his predictions but there is a reason. It is his stag do in Galway this weekend and he and his dastardly colleagues have decided to dress up in French garb on Saturday night.

They are lucky that I'm only going for the one night otherwise there would be trouble. Regular readers of this column might know that I am from Lydney, which just happens to be in England.

Wayne Barnes is from Lydney, too. Or the tiny village of Bream just outside, anyway. In case you are wondering Barnes was the referee for the New Zealand versus France match in Cardiff last Saturday night.

He's been receiving some awful stick since. So it's time to stick up for him. He might have spent his early school years at Whitecross in Lydney but he did go to Monmouth School in the sixth form, so there is plenty in common between us.

What's more I thought he had a decent game. OK, he missed a forward pass in France's final try but which referee hasn't done that in this World Cup and any other big rugby match recently?

Forward passes seem to be pulled up about as often as crooked feeds at the scrummage.

More help from the touch judges might be useful.

And Barnes showed considerable courage in standing up to the legend that is New Zealand's skipper and openside flanker Richie McCaw.

Unlike so many awe-struck, star-revering referees, Barnes was prepared to penalise him for playing the ball off his feet at the ruck and, in a trice, nullified one of New Zealand's most potent attacking weapons - turnover ball.

It was not because of Barnes New Zealand lost. They lost through a combination of their own arrogance and naivety as well as France's remarkably resilient defence.

They lost because they had no idea how to close out a game. Late on pummelling away at France's line for 26 phases of play not once did it occur to them they might position themselves for a drop goal attempt. Their only attempt at such had come earlier from Dan Carter from some 55m out.

I hope Carter was struggling with his calf injury throughout the match.

Because if he was not, then he is not the player we thought he was. What on earth was he doing attempting a cross kick in his own 22 during the first half? New Zealand were only 13 points up not 30.

I wrote in these pages some weeks ago that the northern hemisphere's structure to a season is all wrong compared to that in the south. I still adhere to that.

Everyone would still benefit from a British League at worst, a European League at worst. Even if England do achieve the unthinkable and retain their crown. It could happen now, you know.

But what I had failed to pay attention to is the lack of knockout rugby played down south. Its absence was written all over New Zealand's increasingly frantic second half performance.

The Tri-Nations rarely has the death-or-glory element of a Grand Slam decider. In Super 14 there is always another day.

Not for New Zealand and Australia now there isn't. I won't abuse them too much. That's been done in spades elsewhere this week. What I will use is a word called schadenfreude'.

A lot of mates abuse me for using it when writing. Too clever they say. So I thought I'd look it up to check I was using its correct meaning. It is a German word meaning "the malicious enjoyment of another's misfortunes".

Don't tell me you haven't been experiencing some of that since New Zealand and Australia lost last weekend.