Paint it Black
What’s the verdict on the Home Nations Rugby World Cup 2015?
Article by Andy Barnham
The Rugby World Cup 2015 has been the largest and most successful to date. 2.4million tickets were sold (97% of those available), and a record 89,000 attended Wembley for Ireland’s match against Romania. With half a million overseas fans, 1.5 million visitors to fan zones, and unprecedented global TV audiences, the event has generated a profit of £160m.
Whilst the teams that progressed past the group stages were certainly the strongest and all Tier 1 nations, it is the colour and vibrancy of the Tier 2 nations that have made the competition. Only the most intransigent fan wouldn’t agree the tournament was set alight on the opening weekend with Japan beating South Africa; who doesn’t love to support an underdog? The sport must grow and continue to have similar upsets for rugby to grow. If Japan was the high of the tournament, the low was the treatment of ref Craig Joubert, his victimisation and being hung out to dry by World Rugby, and the wider usage of the TMO system with some saying we need it more and others saying less. Either way the system is currently imperfect and needs to improve.
What now for the Home Nations after being white washed, for the first time, at the quarter finals? Our season, which runs though winter and pitches resembling quagmires, undoubtedly hampers fluid, attacking, running rugby in favour of muscle bound wrestling matches, with players preferring the comfort of contact rather than looking for space when the ball becomes wet and passing risky. Is relegation, with teams scared to be adventurous, a factor? This argument is difficult to justify when relegation exists only in the Aviva Premiership (England) and not the Pro12 (Ireland, Wales and Scotland) when all Home Nations failed at the World Cup. Is our season too long and does it burn out the players? Certainly England’s summer tour of Australia in 2016 means players potentially only having three weeks recovery from the end of one season and the start of the next. Are our skills just not good enough and compounded by unrealistic expectations?
It is difficult not to look at Argentina and Australia who have turned their fortunes around in short time frames and not be jealous. Argentina have bred a new style of flair and uncovered gems in their backline, built on their traditional forward dominated power and now play in a style similar to how France used to play. All in three years. And 10 months on from winning only one European tour game, Australia were in the final. Where do the Home Nations sit in relation to all of this? Japan won more games than England, and Argentina made it to the semi finals and with both countries fielding teams in the Southern Hemisphere Super competition in 2016, it is fair to assume standards for both countries will increase. Against this backdrop, and no change in the status quo for the Home Nations, it is hard to see how and when improvements will be made. Whilst the 6 Nations remains incredibly tribal and well supported, how important is it on the global stage when all the teams fail to compete regularly against Southern Hemisphere sides with a score card of 9 wins from 45 matches (at World Cups)?
If England had been successful with ‘that’ kick against Wales and drawn, they wouldn’t have been the first hosts to fail to exit the group stage. However they didn’t and the fact many concerns raised regularly during Lancaster’s tenure were never answered will be cause for concern. Anyone trying to make comparisons with Woodward would be wide of the mark; Woodward had been in charge for one year before England lost in the quarter finals, Lancaster; four. The failure has led to comments from all sides and expect more to come when the competition is over; word on the street is many people are keeping quiet out of respect that the tournament is not yet over. Though a review into the result was welcomed, the make up of the panel makes the outcome already look like a done deal with self interest firmly placed before the good of the game. With such a large player base and resources, fans are bewildered at the lack of achievement with the team winning only one 6 Nations since 2003.
With a path culminating in a match against France to win the group, Ireland had a relatively easy route and cantered comfortably over minnows Canada and Romania before struggling with Italy, winning by only 7 points, and then beating Les Bleus by 15. Injury hit for their last game, Ireland were humbled by a strong Argentina and the win against France must be looked at in context of how easily France rolled over to New Zealand a week later with a record 62- 13. The oft quoted saying of ‘earning the right to go wide’ was ripped up by Argentina who exposed Ireland’s narrow defence by going wide quickly and blitzed them in the first and last 15minutes of the match. Emotion was running high and by the time Ireland tuned in, it was too late. Having won the last two 6 Nations, fans would have wanted and expected more.
There have been a lot of fine margins for Wales this Word Cup. Winners over England by 3 points, they beat Fiji by 10 before then losing to Australia by 9 points and South Africa by 4 points. Well drilled by Gatland, their use of ‘Warrenball’ means new players can slot quickly into the system, which was fortunate given Wales lost almost an entire back line to injuries. Winners of the 6 Nations after World Cups, in both 2008 and 2012, Wales continue to be frustrated by Southern hemisphere teams with their losing streak against Australia now standing at 11. Often called World Beaters on any given day, as it stands this needs to be caveated to Northern Hemisphere teams only.
Scotland’s three wins this competition equals their wins in the 6 Nations since the 2011 World Cup. A three point win over Samoa saw them finish second in the group, though who knows what would have happened against Japan had the Brave Cherries had a full recovery period following their historic win over South Africa. Pushing Australia all the way to the final minute of play, Scotland were denied by a controversial penalty, highlighted by the ref’s decision to sprint off the pitch at the final whistle and not stay and shake hands with the players. Fans will be hoping the style of play will continue and that the results will come through their adventurous and attractive running style.