RWC2015 will go down as the best edition of the tournament since inception. Great credit must go to England for the manner in which they hosted it. I went to a few of the games, and everything worked like clockwork.
The bronze medal match between South Africa and Argentina did not live up to expectations. Its a money grab and often produces a sterile fixture. There were some good passages of play but in truth the fixture did not provide nearly the level of excitement that some of the early games had … even though there was much at stake. The players were blown and it must have been really tough for them to lift themselves. The game was not refereed sympathetically by John Lacey, and the resultant high penalty count was a constant intrusion into a game that needed a soft hand every now and again. I thought quite a few decisions went against Argentina, especially early on. The game proved a final farewell for a few of the great players that SA has produced of late, including Fourie du Preez, Victor Matfield and the Du Plessis brothers. They should be honoured for their commitment as well as their contribution to the game.
I thought Schalk Burger was immense throughout the tournament, playing above expectation and delivering a work rate that few could match. Duane Vermeulen got better as the tournament progressed, and he too was huge in the physical exchanges. Frans Malherbe showed that he will be around for some time to come, not only because of his improved scrummaging, but his incredible work rate! Flo delivered his best performance in the last game when others were out on their feet and ended up only second to Pocock as the tournament’s leading fetcher. Habana was selfless and equalled Lomu’s try-scoring record, but was subbed by Meyer with a quarter of the game still to play, as he was suffering from cramp. De Allende is a massive presence and will go on to become a great. Fourie du Preez tried manfully to pull the strings against NZ coming up just short, and his exceptional decision making will be missed.
But my Bok player of the tournament is Lood de Jager whose exceptional carry and incredible tackle count mark him as one for the future. He was the only non-loose forward to appear in the tackle stats and that says something to me.
Argentina have improved dramatically in the last couple of years and it just shows what regular competition against the best actually does. They have some special players in their ranks, including Sanchez, Bosch, Auerza, Creevy, Fernandez-Lobbe and Imhoff. They dominated the stats against South Africa, except the penalty count, but couldn’t round off their plays against a well-organised and tough-to-penetrate Bok defence. Their group is still young enough to make real inroads, and they have an excellent coach in Hourcade!
The final was the best I have seen. Ever! I was at the game, sitting in the crowd nicely tucked away somewhere around the 22m area. It was a special occasion and well worth the trip to England.
What made the final different was the pace of the game and the fact that the referee, Nigel Owens, allowed play to rock on with an empathetic view on what was developing in front of him. He made a couple of errant judgment calls, but in general delivered a performance that befitted his profile (there were no surprises). He allowed the game to breathe and made key decisions that benefited the game. He was the best referee in the tournament by a country mile and did as good a job as I have seen in any final.
The first quarter was played at speed, not really percentage football as was expected. Both defences were solid and committed, with especially the Wallabies holding their line under pressure. A couple of important decisions just before halftime, which went in favour of the All Blacks, were a clear forward pass which was missed (understandable ) and the play led to 3; an accidental offside where I think McCaw and Whitelock ran into each other denying the opportunity of an offensive tackle (a judgment call ) which led to the first try just before halftime (how important would a captain’s challenge have been here?). Now, I’m really not expecting World Rugby to send out a statement clarifying what a forward pass looks like, or what constitutes accidental offside, but they were clearly important calls made at an important time in the game (probably also should mention that Kepu was involved in a couple of dangerous and late tackles, but I agreed with the referee’s interpretation in those instances.
The second half was an excellent advert for the game. Both teams gave it their all until the final whistle. I thought the carding of Ben Smith was spot on and well handled by the officials. In that time the Wallabies exploited the numerical advantage and scored 14 points of their own to close the gap to 21-17 and it was game on! I thought there was one more odd call, where what looked like a dangerous tackle on a Wallaby was waived away in Slomo (not dissimilar at all to the one where NZ went ahead 9-3).
After absorbing more pressure with momentum on the side of the Wallabies, NZ finally nailed the game with a superb drop by man-of-the-match, Dan Carter, an act that I feel was defining in setting the tone for the championship minutes. Another try by Beauden Barrett sealed the deal and the best team in the world had won back-to-back titles. This is an incredible feat, no matter that they have been the most consistent team over the past four years. They held their nerve when people thought they couldn’t or wouldn’t and gave a glorious send off to an illustrious band of names … And brothers.
As I said, these errors notwithstanding, I thought Owens was outstanding, and I don’t know of anyone else who could have facilitated such an awesome fixture! I loved the fact that Cheika refused to get sucked into the blame game in his first live interview after game. It showed incredible resolve and class in a world where it is all too commonplace to find a scapegoat. The heavy-handed tackle by a security official on an over-enthusiastic young lad brought one of the moments of the RWC when Sonny Bill Williams handed his medal to the youngster in a moment where the true ethos of our sport came shining through!
So what will the tournament be remembered for?
- Hosts England suffering the humiliation of not making it through the pool stages.
- Japan’s heroic win over the Springboks.
- No Northern Hemisphere countries competing from semis onwards.
- The All Blacks’ defence of their back-to-back titles.
- The quality that both teams delivered in the final to make it one of the best ever.
- The travails of the TMO early on in the tournament and the impact of questionable management on the domain?
- The odd refereeing error which may have hampered your teams chances of winning a fixture.
- The inconsistent rulings of the judiciary.
- The unprecedented statement by World Rugby after the quarterfinal which effectively threw one of their own assets under the bus.
Whichever you decide, and there may be other moments that you preferred;, it was a world-class event that provided an ideal platform to showcase the sport. There were some special matches which will long live in the memory, and when all is said and done, we had the best team, with some of the best players ever to play the game, rightly winning the title as World Champions of RWC2015!
My team of the tournament is:
- Israel Folau
- Ben Smith
- Damien de Allende
- Ma’a Nonu
- Julian Savea
- Dan Carter
- Aaron Smith
- Keirin Reid
- Richie McCaw, captain
- David Pocock
- Sam Whitelock
- Lood de Jager
- Frans Malherbe
- Steven Moore
- Marcos Ayerza