It is ironic that it was the (English) RFU who in 2009 published a report entitled “The Code of Rugby”. It was a laudable effort to ensure that as the popularity of rugby grew, the standards of behavior which are its strengths were maintained. Players, coaches, referees, administrators, parents and spectators were urged to uphold the “core values of our sport”, namely, teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship.
While winning the Webb Ellis Cup was the goal of every player who participated in RWC 2011, for many this may have been unrealistic and for most it was unrealized. Having had time to consider the tournament, below are listed a number of individuals who deserve recognition for the manner in which they conducted themselves, often in the face of adversity. They each demonstrated an intrinsic understanding and embodiment of rugby’s core values. The RFU should vigorously promote the standards which were identified in the report and perhaps some England players might make the following list in 2015:
Thanks to a torn adductor longus tendon, Carter’s dream of kicking the winning points in a RWC final on home soil lay in tatters. He picked himself up, dealt with the anger, faced the media and then one of the greatest players the game has seen became a motivator, leader and spectator. He selflessly demonstrated an understanding of team dynamics and contributed in a leadership role and as mentor to the various young men who wore the number 10 jersey. He posed for photographs and signed autographs with an engaging smile. He must be the most marketable player in the game, whether playing or not. In adversity Carter confirmed himself as the ultimate sporting role model.
As the youngest captain ever at a world cup, Warburton immediately caught the eye in Wales’ opening game against South Africa. While Wales lost the game, Warburton won man of the match, winning his breakdown battle with Heinrich Brussow in an outstanding display. He never let his standards slip, and led his team with a quiet authority to which his players responded magnificently. Only Warburton will know the level of despair he felt when sent off in the semi final against France. He did not appeal the decision or make any inappropriate comments to the media. In fact, he remained in New Zealand to support Wales in the 3rd/4th place playoff and attended the final with his parents. On returning home Warburton acknowledged that referee Alain Rolland had correctly applied the laws in awarding the red card. For a 23 year old to demonstrate such maturity is nothing short of extraordinary.
It was disappointing for Matfield to end his rugby career in the quarter final loss to Australia in Wellington. With 110 caps, he is the second most capped Springbok of all time, and rugby fans throughout the world will miss his presence on the field of play. His achievements for the Bulls and the Springboks are well known. However it is not just for his lineout work, his fearless commitment or his leadership that he is so highly regarded. Matfield possesses humility and dignity to a level rarely seen at the highest level in any sport. He is polite, respectful and articulate when interviewed after games, regardless of the result. Captain John Smit described Matfield as the greatest Springbok ever; he is also one of the greatest gentlemen to play the game in the modern era. Let’s hope that Matfield continues to grace the game with his presence in some form in the years to come – rugby can ill afford to lose a man of his calibre.
Horwill was as shocked as everybody else when Robbie Deans appointed him Wallaby captain just prior to the world cup. He had led the Reds to Super 15 success and captained Australia for the first time in the Tri Nations winning game against the All Blacks in Brisbane. After the poor performance against Ireland in the pool stages of the world cup, the Wallaby’s defied every statistic in a remarkable defeat of the Springboks in the quarter final, only to lose out to the All Blacks at the penultimate stage. Throughout this roller coaster ride Horwill was consistently professional – total in his commitment on the field, while fair and rational when confronted by the media. It is no surprise that his confidant is John Eales; a legend in his own right and a man who personified the great virtues of sportsmanship. Rugby in Australia can only benefit from having such a quality individual leading the Wallabies.
When McCaw injured his right foot in preseason training in February, the first chapter in the tale of a metatarsal was written. The story will only be completed at some point in 2012 when he has recovered from surgery which will remove the screw from his foot and repair further damage done while playing through the pain barrier in the world cup. Only those closest to McCaw know what he endured in the latter stages of the tournament. Unable to train in the lead up to the knock-out stages he walked through training, leading from behind, at all times focused on the team and the task at hand. McCaw was in inspiration not just to his team but to all who follow the game. His professionalism and discipline in the face of baiting by opponents, alleged eye gouging and a litany of inane questions from the media was extraordinary. It was fitting that this man was rewarded with the honour of holding the Webb Ellis Cup aloft at the end of the final. He is a magnificent player but a remarkable man.