So it ends…
After a whirlwind six weeks, we have the misfortune of having to wait another 4 years until the world comes together to celebrate its greatest sport. Another 4 years until we get to watch the giants of the Southern Hemisphere take on those of the Northern. Another 4 years until the smaller nations get to dine with the big boys and show what they can do on the grand stage. And, most gallingly of all, another 4 years until England have a chance to get their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup. George Gregan had some famous words for New Zealand in 2003. We now know exactly how they felt.
So, after the storm, let’s have some reflection on the tournament that was.
World Cup of individual performances
It is difficult to say that one team has stood out for the entirety of the tournament. South Africa were worthy winners, but the pre-tournament suspicion that it would be the most wide open for years materialised. Most of the big teams produced at least one performance to strike fear into their opponents (England v NZ, NZ v Ireland, SA v England and Japan v Ireland to name but a few). However, each team also had their weaker performances, which proved costly for most. Whilst they could conceivably have been eliminated before the final, South Africa wrestled their way through and saved their best until last.
I am still bitter that I didn’t manage to make it over for the tournament for the first time in a long time, but by all accounts, Japan have been sensational hosts. It was a great forward-thinking move by World Rugby to send the tournament to a developing nation and it seems to have paid dividends. The people played their part in making it a special tournament, supporting every team as if they were their own. Out on the field, Japan played a brand of rugby that was a delight to watch and they did their part in lighting up the tournament.
Consequently, Japan are now everybody’s second team and I’m sure many people will be considering a trip out there at some point. Let’s hope the game continues to explore new territory. USA/Canada 2027, anyone?
Underlying frustrations with World Rugby
Whilst World Rugby have made a very positive move in taking the tournament to new shores, they must take blame for a few factors that killed the momentum of the tournament. Firstly, the inconsistencies in refereeing were unacceptable, particularly around the high tackle and particularly in the opening weeks. Rugby is a multi-faceted game so there are always likely to be different interpretations and referees are only human, but certain directives (e.g the tackle) need to be strictly enforced. Secondly, whilst the typhoon was out of the control of anyone and an absolute travesty, the fact that games were outright cancelled gave the tournament an element of disparity. It should have been anticipated in advance with the amount of time there was to plan.
Return of the wee men
Body size in rugby has been getting steadily bigger tournament on tournament. How refreshing it was to see some of the stars be some of the more diminutive figures on the pitch. Cheslin Kolbe is towered over by most, but his dazzling feet more than make up for that. The same could be said of the Japanese wingers. Faf De Klerk is another who doesn’t let his height get in the way of a physical battle. When Darcy Graham was given a chance, he was one of the better performers on the Scottish team. The list could go on, but let’s hope that there is a shift to skill levels taking precedence over size.
What were your abiding memories of the tournament? What will you miss? What won’t you miss? What do you want to see in four years? Which teams look set to progress further ready for France 2023?
by Joe Large