It would be a shame if the abiding memory of Wales’ contribution to RWC 2011 is the red card received by Sam Warburton for his tip tackle on Vincent Clerc. Alain Rolland correctly applied the IRB guidance to such situations. Some say it spoiled the game, but perhaps it made a contest of an encounter that Wales would have run away with, if they had 15 players on the field for the 80 minutes.
Despite a narrow loss to the Springboks, Wales were one of the teams of the pool stages. They survived a tough encounter with Samoa, before doing a demolition job on Fiji. They convincingly defeated Ireland in a magnificent quarter final and assumed the mantle of “darlings of the tournament”. Led by the youngest captain ever at a World Cup, Wales effectively combined youth and experience, producing performances that rightly drew comparisons with the legendary Welsh teams of the 1970’s.
There have been false dawns for Welsh rugby in the past but this feels different. There will of course be players who are coming to the end of their international careers but with youngsters such as Warburton, North, Roberts, Faletau, Priestland and Halfpenny now firmly established, the future looks bright. Rugby will be better for a resurgent Wales returning to the upper echelons of the world game.
The Australian players and coaches showed great dignity in the wake of their defeat against the All Blacks in the semi final. It was clear they had been well beaten and there was no attempt to suggest otherwise. Ultimately the Wallabies were a disappointment in this world cup.
The defeat by Ireland in the pool stages while missing the injured Digby Ioane, David Pocock and Stephen Moore, was evidence that they did not have the strength in depth required at a world cup. The quarter final victory over the Springboks was viewed as a travesty given the extent to which the South Africans dominated that game. While the semi final loss to New Zealand saw them comprehensively outplayed and tactically outmaneuvered.
Robbie Deans is contracted to the ARU until after the Lions tour to Australia in 2013 but there are bound to be calls for Ewen McKenzie to be included in the coaching group in some capacity. With his experiences from coaching the Reds and the Waratahs in Super rugby, as well as his term as assistant Wallaby coach from 2000-2003 he would surely be a good addition.
The enigma that is Quade Cooper had a tough world cup. He was subjected to a level of abuse and ridicule from the New Zealand media and public which has been disgraceful. Of course he has not helped himself by playing poorly and being seen to fire cheap shots at Richie McCaw at every opportunity in recent times.
However he has been put in his place now and it would be good for rugby were he to learn and come back to this stage in the future and do justice to his exceptional innate talent. Perhaps a change of manager would help him develop, mature and realise his potential. He should also be allowed to play in New Zealand in the future without the cacophony of booing and abuse which greeted his every touch of the ball during RWC 2011.
The Springboks departed Wellington early on the Monday morning following their loss to the Wallabies in the RWC quarterfinal. It will have been a long trip home and physically arduous in the aftermath of another tough encounter.
While the players contracted to the Bulls were not required for their game against the Leopards on Friday, a large number of the defeated squad turned out in other Currie Cup games. Pat Lambie, JP Pietersen, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Odwa Ndungane and Willem Alberts all played for the Sharks in the win over the Golden Lions in Durban on Saturday. Meanwhile Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Schalk Burger and Jacque Fourie all played in Western Province’s 43-18 win over the Pumas.
Respect to those Springboks who got back in the saddle so soon after returning home.
Home and Away
French manager Jo Maso won the toss to determine which team would be “at home” for the final. Of course there is only one team who will be playing at home on Sunday night in Auckland but the right to use the home dressing room and to wear the home strip fell to France. They should be applauded for their decision to wear their white shirts therefore allowing New Zealand wear their traditional black strip.
Maso said his team were happy to change strip to acknowledge “the welcome they’d received from the people of New Zealand, the faultless organisation of the tournament and the honour and pleasure of playing the 2011 Rugby World Cup final in the legendary stadium of Eden Park”.
This is a great gesture. However, we must remember that the French are the team who can lure you into a false sense of security. There is no fear that the All Black management or players will be complacent ahead of the final. However, the New Zealand supporters would be wise to treat this game as they did the semi final against Australia.
Be nervous. Treat the French with respect. Do not start the celebrations until the Webb Ellis cup is secured. If victory is yours enjoy the moment because your team is clearly the best in the world and deserves the title.