Sunday 21 October 2007

Rugby World Cup 2007: Post mortem

What a World Cup. Not what we expected but entertaining all the same. Under-performers were in abundance, a couple of surprise packages and plenty of incidents to discuss along the way.
The tops:
South Africa, obviously. I think the Boks were the best and most consistent performers and worthy champions.
England. Defied the odds and their own awful form to go all the way to final. A great finish for the many over-30s who won't be around in four years.
Fiji. Well worth their place in the knock-out stages. Beat Wales with some scintillating rugby and the score against SA in the QF was a bit harsh on them.
Argentina, naturally. The Pumas really came of age and fulfilled their game plan (albeit a limited one) perfectly on their way to third.
The flops:
New Zealand. The best team in the world, maybe but they paid the price of a soft group and some dodgy refereeing against the hosts. Graham Henry suffered the ultimate punishment.
Wales. Gareth Jenkins paid the price for a group stage exit at the hands of Fiji. A lot of retirements from that team too, before the 2008 6N championship.
Ireland. The best team in the 6N over the past two years, many would say. I'd love to now what happened in the squad to make so many good players under-perform. O'Sullivan isn't going to suffer Jenkins or Henry's fate, but the wisdom of that will only be seen in the coming years.
The lessons:
1. Kicking is back in vogue. The Argentinians in particular used the kick to great effect. Often deliberately not finding touch in order to gain territory and push opponents onto the back foot. Other teams started to follow this example to varying levels of success.
2. The breakdown. Again the Argentinians typified the importance of the breakdown and fast, hard rucking. Against both France and Ireland they rucked their way to victory. The kicking gave them territory and the rucking gave them space for drop-goals and earned them penalties.
3. What minnows? Yes, Portugal got battered by the ABs and Japan by the Wallabies, but that was about it. Canada, Georgia, Namibia, Tonga all did themselves proud and were good value for both the IRB investment and their place at the tournament.
Ultimately, I think the win for SA is a good thing for rugby. England did well, but given the standard of rugby they played, they would not have been ideal champions.
The Springboks were consistently competitive and played to a good standard all through. The 36-0 v England in the group stage was one of the performances of the tournament. The final was not exciting try-laden stuff, but it was a good finish to a crazy 7 weeks.

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