A Rugby World Cup to Savour by Derek Wyatt
The All Blacks came, they played, they nipped their yips – against France winning 62-13 in the quarters - and finally won a rugby world cup outside their own country. They were the complete team. Salute them: there were no others, in this the finest of finals. Salute especially, Ma’a Nonu, the slinkiest and dinkiest of runners, the sheer quality of Dan Carter’s passing and kicking and the inspiring captaincy of Richie McCaw.
On Saturday at a garlanded Twickenham, Australia were eventually run off their feet. They were drained and exhausted. But this relatively young team will come again. It has huge promise. And they had had by some way the toughest run in – England, Wales, Fiji, Scotland, Argentina and then at the last the extraordinarily gifted New Zealanders.
So here's a funny thing, Australia have been a wash out for the past few years and then along comes new coach Michael Cheika. Barely a year in situ and hey, his side makes the final. The difference between them and England was they went out on the pitch to play with fizz and win with adventure whilst dreary England went out not to lose.
The team of the tournament was Japan coached by the evergreen and wily old bird, Eddie Jones. They knew they had to play a half a metre faster if they were to succeed and like many of the second tier countries - Canada, USA and Georgia - throw caution to the wind.
To win three from four and not advance to the quarter finals seemed somehow unfair. The time has come to allow the second tier countries defeated in the group stages to stay in the host country and advance to their own world cup. (By the by, the Japanese RWC19 exhibition at the QE11 Centre in London was outstanding.)
Argentina also surprised us. They have as yet no professional league at home so their players play in Italy, England, France and Australia. Yet, they were inventive, rock solid upfront though not so in the lineouts (ditto Australia) and again played with verve and a can-do attitude. World Rugby has been dilatory in not advancing their cause fast enough (so red cards to them all).
As for the “home” countries themselves, they may glory in their grand slams and triple crowns but their record in the world cup is woeful. Since the inaugural tournament in 1987, only France and England have ever made it to the semi finals and only England has won it and that was twelve years ago.
Ireland, Wales and Scotland had their moments this time round but none have sufficient skill and wisdom in depth in their squads. This was Ireland’s best chance ever but injuries mounted at the wrong time for them. One difference is that the southern hemisphere countries keep the ball in play longer during a game (by seven minutes) so have to be fitter.
The Six Nations competition is hermetically sealed. It is doing a serious disservice to advancing the game in the northern hemisphere. It is time for there to be a second division six nations tournament comprising USA, Canada, Romania, Georgia, Russia and Spain with promotion and relegation between the two.
There were some lighter moments, so hats of to the team which put the Samsung rugby advertisements together on television. Comedian Jack Whitehall was brilliantly scripted – he has a Peter Sellers quality to his humour – and Dallaglio, Johnson, Robinson and Alphonsi all seemed to be having a ball. You wonder how many takes each “episode” took.
There are some serious issues that need addressing. Captains should be able, as cricket can, to ask the television match official, once in each half, to check a referee’s decision. The tackle law is too dangerous and players should have to aim for the chest; any higher and it would be an immediate red card. The defensive lines of both teams are too close to one another and this makes for bish, bash, bosh rugby. Players deserve better. A new ten metre rule needs to be introduced.
The elephant in the room was concussion. There was a BBC Panorama programme and a R4 Today story on the subject but there were no solutions offered by the rugby fraternity. There needs to be a world class Concussion Institute in London attached to Imperial and UCH for research, teaching and advice. Nothing more: nothing less and World Rugby should take the lead.
But let’s finish by giving a collective standing ovation to the players and coaching staff from 20 countries, to the spectators, supporters and volunteers, for ITV’s coverage and RWC15’s organisation. It has been the most wonderful six weeks.