Rugby World Cup
There was much to cheer at RWC2015.
The best rugby came from the Japanese at Brighton when they caused the upset of the tournament on the second day by whipping the Springboks 34-32. They just beat the wonderful Pumas who enthralled Twickenham in their semi final against the Wallabies. There were barely 3000 Argentinian supporters at that game but by the end there were 70,000.
The second best rugby came from the second tier countries like Canada, USA, Georgia, Romania, Uruguay and Namibia. They may have struggled to win many games but their adventure, never say die attitude and sparkle was evident throughout their games. In the foothills of the history of the game their efforts will be forgotten but for sixty minutes of every game, they gave their all. Now they return home knowing it is not just technique they must work on but their overall fitness levels.
For Fiji, Tonga and Samoa it must be difficult seeing their best players representing Wales, England, Australia and New Zealand. The current regulations allowing players to play for their adopted countries sticks in the throat. They should have to be born or have a passport in the country they represent. The current laws - based on three years residency - is against the very spirit of the game. It also stops these three small countries from competing at the very top - at least at 15 a-side.
The six nations of Europe - Italy, France, Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland - showed how the gap is growing between northern and Southern Hemisphere countries. Italy and England failed to qualify for the quarter finals whilst none of the other four failed to advance to a semi final. A first for a rugby World Cup.
Much was made of Scotland's demise in the dying minutes of their game against Australia. As my letter in The Times suggested had both captains (like cricket) had the right to call for the TMO (Television Match Official) once in each half, the referee's decision to award a penalty would have been rescinded. But Scotland's form throughout was patchy and one heroic game does not mean they are about to emerge from their slough.
Of Wales and Ireland in the end injuries caught up with them. In essence this meant their squads were not quite yet of the highest class. Their best XVs suggested they had the talent to reach the finals but it was not to be. I thought Ireland were the best of the six nations.
France has been to three finals - 1987, 1999 and 2011 - but their form was ragged and selection awry. They were taken to the cleaners and back by a wonderfully inventive New Zealand team in their quarter final.
England. Gosh what a dreadful World Cup the team had. We chose to leave some of our best players out of the final squad like Cipriani and worse some who have chosen to play their club rugby in France like Armstrong. But to bring in a rugby league player like Burgess before he had settled to the rhythm of union was crass. Selection was also indifferent at best.
Whilst it was true we had the best pack in 2003 and 2007, we did not in 2011 and in 2015 we looked laboured and short of match fitness. And every other major rugby country has now surpassed us. We were off the pace.
Much has been said about Lancaster, the coach. Woodward had at best an indifferent World Cup in 1999 but we won it in 2003. I would retain Lancaster, appoint a chairman of selectors, change the back room staff and sack the senior thinkers at HQ.
Above all else, I would bring in promotion and relegation into the Six Nations. I would create a Twelve Nation tournament adding Romania, Georgia, Russia, Spain, USA and Canada to the mix. Of course the Blazers of the Six Nations would not vote for this but their short-sightedness will ultimately lead to the final of the World Cup always being won by a Southern Hemisphere country.
As to the winners (I am penning this before the final has been played) both New Zealand and Australia have won two world cups (1987 & 2011; 1991 & 1999) and lost one (1995 & 2003). They have both set a precedent in reaching a fourth. To my mind, it will have been the All Blacks to lose. There is no other country so committed and so competitive as Australia and in a tight game I expect the Wallabies
to have edged by one point! What dear reader would I know?