Rugby World Cup 2015 beckons in September by Derek Wyatt
Having just completed the best Six Nations tournament for ages, our finest players will hardly have time to take breath.
In less than three months time they will have given up any chance of that beach holiday because in August these self-same six nation players will be assembling at squad camps to ready themselves for a series of friendly matches. Some friendlies! England will play Wales twice as well as France whilst Scotland will play Italy – home and away – and Ireland and Scotland both away.
These games will hone the players skills and settle once and for all their actual squads for the Rugby World Cup itself. This kicks off at Twickenham on 19th September with England (the hosts) playing Fiji under lights at 8pm. England have the toughest group with games against Wales and Australia to follow. Only two can qualify for the quarter finals.
The rugby world cup started quietly in New Zealand in 1987 but picked up momentum in 1991 when it was shared by the five home nations. It arrived as an integral part of the world sporting scene in 1995 “the Mandela moment” when South Africa both hosted and participated in it for the first time. They had been banned previously.
In 1987, the All Blacks were the clear winners in their final against the French. The poor French have been in three finals – 1987, 1999 and 2011 – and lost them all. They had their best chance of reaching the finals in 2007 when they hosted them but lost to a re-born England team who had looked out of sorts in their first round matches.
In the last world cup in 2011, France ran a nervy New Zealand close losing 8-7 in a dour match. It was a game the New Zealand nation had to win; had they not there would have been a real danger of the North and South islands drowning in a sea of tears. But it was also a tournament where the Welsh deserved their place in the sun but Sam Warburton, their captain, was harshly sent off early in the semis and they lost to France 9-8.
Hosting the world cup helps the home side. Consider, New Zealand who hosted in 1997 and 2011 and were surprise, surprise winners in 1987 and 2011. It rankles the Kiwis but they do not travel well. Or England, part hosts in 1991 (losing to Australia at Twickenham in the final) and 1999 (you do not want to know) and finalists in France in 2007 (a mere 22 miles away). Or South Africa who are itching to host a second world cup in 2023 (but Ireland and Argentina may also bid). They won at home in 1995 and away in 2007.
Aside from France and New Zealand, only two other nations have reached the finals three times in the last seven tournaments. Australia: winners away from home in 1991 and 1999 then lost to England in a truly great final in Sydney in 2003. And then there is, surprisingly, England, losing in 1991 and 2007 but winning in 2003.
Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy have really struggled to make their presence felt in any of the rugby world cup tournaments to date (save Wales in 2011). As we speculate as to how they might perform in September and October (the final is 31st October, 2015), it was clear from the recent Six Nations that both Ireland and Wales have the players and the motivation to reach the semi finals.
Scotland and Italy will both struggle. France? Well who knows about France – brilliant in one match, leaking fifty points in the next. They are the “Unpredictables” but never bet against them.
As for England, they are truly the unknowns. They have a tendency to fall asleep during a game; sometimes this has been fifteen minutes before half time: sometimes fifteen minutes after half time. They continually lose matches in “extra time” when it matters most. Most means when playing New Zealand.
My bet for the semi-finals would be England, South Africa, New Zealand and Ireland. There has only been one southern hemisphere final (1995) so let’s hope England and Ireland avoid one another. Imagine a world cup final England v Ireland at Twickenham? Dream on? Yes, but that’s the charm about this great game.
(Derek has attended the RWC finals in 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007; he has also written three books about them)