The Rugby World Cup 2011 Report Card
Well the party’s over the fat lady has sung and the Rugby World Cup is over for another four years. The host nation and pre-tournament favourites won the 2011 Rugby World Cup and lifted the Webb Ellis Cup and many of us will not hear the last of that until the next one is decided.
But now things have cooled down a bit, lets take a look at how the major sides faired in the 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament. While we are doing that it is worth noting that everyone has their own heroes in the tournament, but some participants looked like heroes of the big screen, so we will be taking a look at them too.
The host nation, pre-tournament favourites and long time world force in Rugby had not picked up a Rugby World Cup title since the inaugural tournament, which they hosted 24 years ago, despite the fact that they have frequently been ranked the number one side in the world over that period. But they won it and won it well, even though they finished the 2011 Rugby World Cup with their fourth choice fly half on the field early in the final game.
It was a pity for all Rugby fans that Dan Carter was injured out of the tournament before the knockout stages. He is one of the all time best in his position and all true followers of the game would have enjoyed seeing him play in more games. At 29 I don’t know if he will be around for the next Rugby World Cup, but I would like to see him there.
The All Blacks won all of their games convincingly, with the exception of the final, which they got through with the narrowest of all possible margins. Was it the choke? Was it the injuries? Was it the French? You will have to make your own decision; personally I think it was a bit of all three.
There is no doubt there will be a whole lot of new All Blacks for the 2015 Rugby World Cup tournament. In a country that considers Rugby its number one sport they are always uncovering new talent and will be there or there abouts, but can they win outside of New Zealand? We will have to wait and see.
France started the tournament badly and finished well. They stepped up when they needed to and won the vital games, except the last and even then could not have come closer.
There were rumours of dissension in the ranks, players having problems with the coach and each other. Fortunately they never let it descend into the debacle that their Football team did in the last Football World Cup.
Can they go the next step at the next Rugby World Cup and take the championship. I doubt it, but you never know. The only thing certain about the French is that they are unpredictable.
Australia could have and maybe should have done better, but they were plagued with injuries throughout the tournament. Radike Samo who was selected as a Number 8 also played Flanker and Second Row and even started a game as a Winger. At 35 he will not be back for the next Rugby World Cup, but he certainly has some stories to tell his Grandchildren, at 35 he may even already have some Grandchildren.
I think coach Robbie Deans made mistakes in selection, taking only one recognized Open Side Flanker for example and persevering with Pat McCabe, despite a seriously injured shoulder, was ill advised to say the least. I do not know what Matt Giteau has done to upset the coach, but leaving behind one of the games most gifted players can not really be forgiven, without some major justification to the Australian public.
James O’Connor displayed his prodigious talent in all aspects of the game, running tackling and kicking goals. At only 21 he should have at least 2 more Rugby World Cups in him. Even though O’Connor manages to get himself very involved in the game from the Wing, I would like to see him start at Centre.
Nathan Sharpe picked up his 100th test cap in the Rugby World Cup 3rd place play off. Many people believe it will be his last. I hope not, he is a great leader and always contributes. At least the Western Force are going to enjoy his leadership in 2012
Australia’s (only) open side Flanker, David Pocock was, for me, the man of the 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament. He was involved in every breakdown in every game he played and at 23 will be around for future Rugby World Cups and for the Western Force in the Super Rugby competition. Let’s hope he stays fit.
Digby Ioane did not really manage to shine as much as I expected on the other wing in this tournament, but I am pleased that he has decided to stay with the Queensland Reds and not sell himself for the big Yankee dollars in Japan. I hope to see him back in 2015
Can Australia improve on their 3rd place at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, most definitely and having played in 3 Rugby World Cup Finals and won two of them on British soil, no one can write them off.
Wales mixed it with the big boys, losing narrowly to South Africa, France and Australia. Although to my eye both of their tries in the 3rd place play off were suspect and would have made a big impact on the final scoreline had they been disallowed, as they should have been.
The pass that put away Shane Williams for his try was a mile forward and a Welsh player was in touch on the opposite wing, before the ball was moved across the field for the Halfpenny consolation score.
That said, the Welsh played well and their final position was probably justified. But I doubt that anyone, without Welsh blood in their veins, seriously believes that they can win a Rugby World Cup.
South Africa dominated their early games, with the exception of Wales and lost by only 2 points in the quarter final to Australia. Of course the Springboks complained about the refereeing, don’t they always? But this is an aging side in many positions, so there will be a lot of changes before the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
There was also a strange selection policy, with Peter de Villiers continuing to pick captain John Smit at Hooker when Bismarck Du Plessis is clearly their best man for that position.
For me Argentina are the best emerging nation in world Rugby. They narrowly lost to England in their pool match and were knocked out by the host side and eventual champions in the quarter final.
Next year they join the Tri-Nations tournament, to take it up to the Quad-Nations, Quatro-Nations, Four Nations, I don’t know. But regular games against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa can only see them grow ever stronger and I believe they will be an excellent outside bet for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Ireland started the tournament well, with an early win over Australia and big wins over Russia and Italy. But they would have been extremely disappointed to be knocked out at the quarter final stage by Six Nations rivals Wales.
A good solid side and some nice flair and talent but, like Wales, I think only their countrymen could really fancy them for a Rugby World Cup title.
England battled well, winning all of their group matches, including a stoic encounter with Argentina in their very first game. But they showed very little flair and excitement.
Both the team and their fans will be immensely disappointed to have been defeated by France, although France did turn it on in this game, having been pathetically below par up until this point.
Undoubtedly there will be many changes in the England set up before the 2015 Rugby World Cup with old stagers Steve Thompson, Lewis Moody, Simon Shaw, Nick Easter, Mark Cueto, Mike Tindall and Jonny Wilkinson long retired by then.
There is even talk of coach Martin Johnson getting the heave ho. If he does not bring in some good results before then, there is no doubt he will be replaced by the next Rugby World Cup.
England did make the final the last time that they hosted the Rugby World Cup, so all Englishmen will be hoping to at least match that performance.
There were many great performances in the pool stages of the 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament from the sides that did not go through. Samoa deserve special mention. For a tiny nation, they punch well above their weight and can give any of the top sides a run for their money on any day. The other Pacific Island nations also bring a great deal of colour to the tournament, not to mention flair and ferocious tackling. It’s also great to see the development of the game in Eastern Europe and of course the USA and Canada. Long may it continue.
While we hold on for the next Rugby World Cup we have much to look forward to in the coming months. Club Rugby continues in the Northern Hemisphere with the Rugby World Cup stars returning to their sides. Australia play Wales in Cardiff on December 3rd. The Six Nations Tournament begins in February and following that the Super Rugby competition in the Southern Hemisphere.
So even if you are not a Kiwi, there is no reason to look down.
By Max Power