Highlights of Pool Stages
With the RWC pool stages concluded and only 8 of 48 games remaining to be played it seems timely to review proceedings so far. The tournament has provided thrilling rugby, drama, upsets and no shortage of controversy. Most would agree that RWC 2011 has been substantially more entertaining than that in 2007.
There have been some notable moments, achievements and discussion points during the pool stages and here are some that are worth acknowledging.
Ireland’s victory over Australia in Auckland had the biggest impact on the tournament by ensuring that the final will again be a northern versus southern hemisphere encounter. Only in South Africa’s win over the All Blacks in 1995 has the final been contested by teams from the same side of the equator.
However, Tonga’s thoroughly deserved win over France in Wellington was to be the surprise of the competition so far. The 19-15 score line flattered the French, who were fortunate not to be on the end of a hiding.
The 6 Nations is the only major rugby competition not to use the bonus point system. There is a view that the use of bonus points can result in unfair outcomes. Interesting to note that in Pool A, France and Tonga won and lost two games each. France earned three bonus points, while Tonga only picked up one, ensuring Les Bleus a place in the quarter finals.
If the bonus point system were not in use, the teams would have finished level on points and Tonga would have qualified for the knock-out stages based on them having won the pool game between the two teams.
The most recent IRB ranking show Tonga has moved to ninth (their highest place since the ranking was introduced in 2003) and France have slipped to eighth. A pyrrhic victory for Tonga perhaps.
There has been no shortage of tries scored in this year’s tournament, with an average of six scored per game during the pool stages. Pool A saw the most tries scored with 73 in total (36 by the All Blacks), compared with a mere 38 in Pool B (inevitable given the forward dominated nature of some of the teams). Pool’s C and D were similar with 65 and 66 scored respectively.
Namibia fared worst conceding a total of 36, while Russia had 29 scored against them. At the other end of the spectrum, England conceded only 1 try, SA 2 and Ireland 3. The All Blacks might be disappointed to have allowed 6 tries to be scored against their much vaunted defence.
England’s Christ Ashton was the highest try scorer with six to his name, compared with the four scored by the entire Scottish team in their four pool matches.
The New Zealand public has ensured the success of RWC 2011 by the manner in which they have embraced the visiting teams. In towns and villages throughout the country lesser teams have been adopted and some of the bigger centres have had the opportunity to host teams. Flags and bunting have been flown and visitors made feel welcome.
Thousands of Tongan supporters welcomed their team on arrival at Auckland airport and continued to provide colourful and vociferous support through each of their four games. However, for their sheer number, enthusiasm and sense of fun the Irish diaspora deserves this accolade. The atmosphere at Ireland’s pool games has been extraordinary and they will no doubt make their presence felt in Wellington for the quarter final against Wales.
The off field allegations against the England team have been a distraction and it is surprising that with Martin Johnson at the helm that standards of behaviour were allowed to slip. It is hardly a surprise that against this back drop that England have not yet performed to their potential on the field. They have sufficient strength,flair and ability within their squad to make an unprecedented fourth appearance in a RWC final, but will need to improve dramatically for that to happen.
The RWC quarters will be a poorer place without the likes of Andrew Sheridan, Francois Steyn, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, Gonzalo Tiesi, Drew Mitchell and Daniel Carter, who were all forced out of the competition by injury. With the ferocity of the collisions in the game today it appears inevitable that there will be more casualties in the knockout stages of the tournament. I hope this prediction proves to be incorrect.
JG’s Team of the Pool Stage
15. Israel Dagg
14. Tommy Bowe
13. Brian O’Driscoll
12. Jamie Roberts
11. Richard Kahui
10. Dan Carter
9. Mike Phillips
8. Viliami Ma’afu
7. Sean O’Brien
6. Jerome Kaino
5. Paul O’Connell
4. Dannie Roussow
3. Martin Castrogiovanni
2. Bismarck du Plessis
1. Cian Healy
And if I were to pick a referee it would be Craig Joubert.