The beaten quarter finalists from RWC 2011 are now home or nearly there. It is a sudden and brutal end to the dream for players, some of whom are amongst the greatest the game has seen. It seems appropriate to look at the 4 most recently departed teams and assess their contribution to the tournament and to acknowledge some legends that have played in their last world cup.
The Springboks managed to lose to Australia despite having 76% territory and 57% possession in the quarter-final. Heinrich Brussow’s departure in the 18th minute allowed David Pocock to run riot. South Africa may feel they were hard done by at the breakdown but ultimately they failed to convert dominance into points.
As significant, was the conclusion of the international careers of John Smit and Victor Matfield. With 111 and 110 caps respectively these men have brought qualities to the game both on and off the field which should be used as case studies for any players embarking on careers in the professional game. They shared success in the Tri Nations, as RWC winners in 2007 and won a series against the British & Irish Lions in 2009. Both exhibit outstanding leadership qualities and possess dignity and grace which sets them apart from their peers.
A new era beckons for Springbok rugby with changes in leadership both on and off the field. An heir apparent awaits the number 2 shirt and indeed it would be a surprise were Bismarck du Plessis not to become a talismanic leader in the Smit and Matfield mould.
Despite some memorable moments during the competition ultimately the history books will show that Ireland failed again to reach the semi finals of RWC. The intensity of the performances against Australia and Italy was missing in the quarter final defeat against Wales and some of the players failed to deliver when big performances were required from all. They were well beaten on the day and will rue the fact that their world cup challenge ended with somewhat of a whimper.
Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell will not grace the stage at a world cup again. Both are acknowledged as amongst the greats of Irish rugby. They have won Heineken Cups for their respective provinces, and shared Triple Crowns and Grand Slam successes for Ireland. Additionally, and perhaps the greatest honour of all, both captained British & Irish Lions tours.
There is a new generation of Irish players coming through and it is hoped that the likes of Jonny Sexton, Cian Healy & Sean O’Brien will in time leave their mark on the rugby world as O’Driscoll and O’Connell have.
While never hitting the heady heights of 2007 where they finished third, this aging Pumas side still left their mark on RWC 2011. Despite being without several key players they showed that they will be worthy contestants in the soon to be expanded 4 Nations competition. Additionally they are likely to benefit from participation in such a competition on an annual basis.
Julio Farías Cabello’s try after 30 minutes in the quarter final against the All Blacks, was just reward for a compelling first half performance by Argentina.
Felipe Contepomi is unlikely to feature at RWC 2015. He is deserving of inclusion in a list of the great Pumas alongside the likes of Hugo Porta, Diego Dominguez, Agustin Pichot and Juan Martin Hernandez. He is an intelligent player, a great leader and his articulacy would shame many players for whom English is their first language.
While a career in medicine awaits Contepomi when his playing days are over, let’s hope that he is not lost to the game. Rugby can ill afford to lose intelligent men who also possess qualities such as great leadership, integrity, dignity and humility.
The RFU is in a state of shambles with no CEO, elected Chairman or Finance Director. The acting CEO/former Chairman may face disciplinary action from his union. With this backdrop it is hardly surprising that the performance of England on and off the field at RWC 2011 has been poor.
Narrow victories over Argentina and Scotland in the pool stages guaranteed England a place in the quarter finals. They were completely outplayed in the first half by France, and never deserved to qualify for the semis. Chris Ashton is top try scorer at the competition with six – alongside Vincent Clerc of France. England’s defence was sound conceding only 3 tries in total in their 5 games at the tournament.
There are 2.5m registered players in England – players who look to the professional ranks for inspiration, leadership and entertainment. With a RWC to host in 2015, England will swiftly need to get their house in order. They may well announce record profits for 2011 but to many they appear at risk of moral bankruptcy.
Jonny Wilkinson never made his mark in RWC 2011, with his usually reliable kicking producing a disappointing 50% success rate. Of his 4 World Cups, Wilkinson will be remembered for his decisive extra time drop goal in England’s win over Australia in the 2003 final.