Rugby World Cup Lessons and Prospects

October 9th, 2011

We’re now at the semi final stages of the Rugby World Cup. It’s been a strange tournament; engrossing at times but seldom spectacular. The weather may have played a large part in that – I’ve seldom seen so many kicks missed – but there seems to be something a bit apprehensive about much of the play, as if the worries of the home fans that everything could go wrong again have spread to the other teams too.

Some of the results have been a bit odd too. All of the teams that were in Scotland’s group, including England, are out. Ireland, who started so well with a victory against Australia and who have been playing some lovely stuff, are out. South Africa, who beat Wales in their group, are out.

France, who have looked disjointed and disinterested, who were hammered by New Zealand in their group, whose coach couldn’t even give away free beer to his players, are in. Australia, who seem to have lost their character, lost to Ireland, and were largely dominated by South Africa, are in. If you are a fan of either New Zealand or Wales then you’ll be feeling optimistic right now. Except that for the Kiwis there is the worry of whether any of their stand-in stand-offs can replace the injured Dan Carter.

What of Scotland?

The stats would suggest that Scotland had a bad tournament; after all this is the first time we’ve failed to make the quarter finals. We didn’t score heavily against either Romania or Georgia while our main rivals did. However it can be argued that we got them early when they were at their most determined and the weather was against high scoring or the game we wanted to play. Then there were the two games we lost. Argentina should have been beaten: only the referee seemed not to see one of the most blatant offsides at the crucial drop goal at the end of the game. We were in charge for most of the game and really should have put enough on the board to render their late try irrelevant but we failed to find that crucial finishing edge. Against England the final result was a travesty that was probably brought about by a failing optimism in the last few minutes that we could maintain enough of a winning margin to get the bonus point we needed. The fact was that despite bad luck in losing Jackson early and Evans at half time, and a couple of very dubious penalty awards that allowed England back within the magic margin, that we were again in control of the match for 70 minutes. Three times the excellent outside breaks of Ansbro were inches from escaping the last tackle (if only that had been Evans), Foden performed outstanding heroics in getting a hand to prevent Danielli scoring, and De Luca will still be having nightmares about the failed pickup with the line abegging.

So despite the results I’m optimistic about the forthcoming 6 nations and with England as the first game the players should be really fired up for it. I hope Paterson stays to provide both his experience and kicking ability for a little longer. I’d like to see Mike Blair back at his best as I think he’s still lacking a bit of his old sharpness, but Jackson is still developing very promisingly.

Semi final prospects

But back to the World Cup. Can New Zealand win without Carter? They’ve been the best team in the world for as long as I can remember yet they haven’t been World Cup winners for 24 years. It seem inconceivable that they can’t win on home turf. Yet their games against Australia often don’t go to form.

Can Wales re-emerge as a genuine world force and give their supporters some new legends to supplant the memories of the golden age of Barry John, Gareth Edwards, JPR, Gerald Davies et al. In Shane Williams they have a supreme finisher who would crown a fabulous career with a winner’s medal in what would probably be his last match. They seem to have come together as a team and have an inspirational captain. But you just never know what the French are likely to do next – they could be awful or they could be incredible.

I’d dearly like to see a New Zealand – Wales final full of running rugby instead of some of the boring finals decided by kicks that we’ve seen too often. And if that happens then the best team on the day will be worthy and popular winners.

Entry Filed under: sport

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