We English sure as hell know how to throw a party.
Let’s face it the English campaign was woeful. Selection issues, in-camp arguments, inexperience, poor decision-making, lacklustre defence and Brad Barritt, who carried the ball a grand total of about 3.5m, all added up to a combination of approximately sweet FA in terms of positives we can take out of the performances.
BUT enough of that. Because the Tournament itself was an overwhelming, roaring success. England Rugby 2015 has reportedly generated over £250m in ticket revenues and will deliver an £80m surplus to World Rugby as well as £15m to the RFU to be invested back into the development of rugby.
Despite the home nation’s poor exit just 15 days in, we more than lived up to our stiff-upper-lip stereotype by forgetting about our own dismal performances and enjoying everyone else’s. Long lost relatives, GAP years, holidays and a plethora of honourary connections to other countries each more tenuous that the last were rolled out as we opted to support our second, ‘adopted’ nations.
Remarkably, the weather was pretty good too.
You need a specialist openside.
Or as Australia proved, having two can be pretty useful.
The David Pocock / Michael Hooper combination proved its worth as they proceeded to prolifically ruin England’s party, the pairing’s ‘Pooper’ moniker becoming ridiculously appropriate.
Whilst playing out of position at no.8 to allow for Hooper’s inclusion, Pocock was simply devastating at the breakdown, clocking up a staggering 17 Tournament turnovers, despite missing the group stage game against Uruguay and quarter-final v Scotland. It is remarkable that a single player can be so influential in a team of 15 and the Pooper combination even troubled the mighty All Blacks in the first half of the Final.
The importance of having a specialist ‘fetcher’ was demonstrated across the Tournament by the more successful teams with the likes of Francois Louw (13 turnovers), Richie McCaw and Sam Warburton (7 each) and even Thierry Dusautoir (9) – amongst an otherwise poor French team – generally being a pain in their oppositions’ backsides.
Compare this to the most turnovers won by an Englishman. A paltry 4 by Joe Launchbury. As for Chris Robshaw … 2. Hmm.
The Tier Two nations are closing the gap.
The defeat of South Africa by Japan will live in the memory as one of the great games of not just World Cup but rugby history. Eddie Jones masterminded arguably sport’s biggest upset but the fact that this performance wasn’t a one-hit wonder and they went on to also defeat Samoa and USA has allowed the Brave Blossoms to break into the world rankings top ten.
Their Super Rugby stars were worth their weight in gold as Fumiaki Tanaka was a livewire at scrumhalf and Michael Leitch led from the front as a one-man wrecking ball; second only to Schalk Burger in the rankings for carries over the gainline (with 36), despite not playing the knock-out stages. At full-back, Ayumu Goromaru gave the likes of Joaquin Tuculet and Ben Smith a run for their money as the 15 of the Tournament with 58 points and two man-of-the-match awards and will himself join the Super Rugby ranks since signing for the Queensland Reds for the 2016 season.
Canada and Romania proved tricky customers, particularly giving the Italians a run for their money, and Fiji were desperately unfortunate to end up in such a tough group, deserving more from back to back fixtures with England, Australia and Wales.
Even the Uruguayians, who boast a grand total of four semi-professional players amongst their ranks, far from disgraced themselves against the more powerful nations, even going as far as to score their first Rugby World Cup try against Fiji and following this shortly after with a second. That they had to play their final fixture against England after a five-day turn-around was somewhat cruel and unfairly reflected in the 60-3 scoreline.
But the southern hemisphere sides (most notably the All Blacks of course) are widening it.
The quarter-final clean sweep made it blindingly obvious how Europe is trailing the southern hemisphere ‘giants’. Light-years ahead, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina are playing more skilled rugby and at a faster pace, while the northern hemisphere teams vainly try to emulate.
New Zealand particularly have realised that having 15 highly skilled players on the pitch, all equally confident with the ball, is a formula that will nine times out of ten beat a team of trudging behemoths. Even South Africa, who still rely on a game based on power, proved they can blend this with a degree of subtlety when necessary. It was a sublime offload by Duane Vermeulen, one of the game’s most powerful players, that set up Fourie du Preez’s try late in the quarter-final to topple Wales.
That said, New Zealand are happy to ‘win ugly’ when required. At a rainy Twickenham they comfortably soaked up South Africa’s aimless bludgeoning through their central ranks in the semi-final and it’s this versatility and game management that saw them through as Champions.
Argentina too, famous for being reliant on a dominate set of forwards, are now a rounded-team with an electric back three and gifted ‘footballers’ who pull the strings in Nicolas Sanchez and Juan Martin Hernandez. The Pumas produced a 20minute period of beautiful running rugby, to decimate Ireland side, albeit with the boys in green missing the likes of O’Connell, O’Mahony, O’Brien and Sexton.
The ‘values’ of rugby live on
We could wax lyrical all day about the qualities of Sonny Bill Williams on the field but the man demonstrated more than just skilful rugby during the Tournament by giving his winners medal away to a young kiwi fan and embracing Jesse Kriel after South Africa suffered defeat in the semi-finals. This mutual respect and sportsmanship captured everything that is great about our beloved sport.
This respect was also hugely evident amongst the fans, the most potent example being the South Africa v Japan match – forget the superb action on the pitch, it was the scenes in the Brighton Community Stadium (and TTT was lucky enough to be there) that resonated While the Japanese contingent in the crowd were largely sobbing enormous tears of joy, the Springbok fans were on their feet, applauding the Brave Blossoms’ momentous achievement.
When these values were threatened, for example in the case of Stuart Hogg diving like a roundball player in Scotland’s game v South Africa, the shut down was sharp and succinct. Nigel Owens, famous for chastising such behaviour, told him, “If you want to dive like that, come back here [Newcastle United’s ground at St James’ Park] in two weeks and play.” Kudos Nigel.
And finally a word on Sam Burgess…
We think he’s doing the right thing moving back to League. Why wouldn’t he when Union has let him down so badly?
— South Sydney (@SSFCRABBITOHS) November 5, 2015
It was pretty common knowledge that he was going to be fast-tracked into the World Cup campaign and yet there was widespread consternation when it happened, while club and country argued over what position to play him.
England needed a ‘wrecking-ball’ to replace Manu Tuilagi and Burgess has the skill level and athleticism to be successful at that level. Indeed he demonstrated on a number of occasions that even without ball in hand he can be troublesome by drawing in defenders.
Even though the #BlameBurgess campaign was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, it stemmed from the wrongful blaming of Burgess for a multitude of sins. But let’s not forget that he was a huge presence in his debut against France. His combination with Henry Slade was one of the highlights of England’s warm-ups and begs the question, why did the coaches bother with this combination if they weren’t going to use it again? And it seems to have been conveniently missed that England lost to Wales after Burgess was replaced in the second half.
The overriding emotions on social media over the last 48 hours have been ones of support, with Jonny Wilkinson, Will Greenwood et al backing Burgess’ return and, given the betrayal, why wouldn’t he rejoin his brothers in Sydney where he’s rightly heralded as one of the sport’s greats?
On the very slim chance you didn’t think England rugby had cocked up recently, they have now.