What sold rugby to the world

Even the Ger­mans tuned in to watch cham­pi­ons New Zealand play

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

THE great­est Rugby World Cup ever staged was the unan­i­mous view of those who at­tended, par­tic­i­pated or of­fi­ci­ated in the global show­piece event that was con­cluded with the tour­na­ment’s best- ever Fi­nal at Twick­en­ham last week­end, and it wasn’t just hype.

Just in terms of num­bers, there re­ally is no ar­gu­ment – more than 2.5 mil­lion peo­ple went to the sta­di­ums, which saw record at­ten­dances for a sin­gle match be­ing bro­ken sev­eral times over but was topped in the end by the Ire­land v Ro­ma­nia game at Wem­b­ley. In ad­di­tion to that, more than 1.5mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited the fan zones in the host ci­ties.

Of course that all trans­lates into a whack of money that is still be­ing counted, and which will be hope­fully spread to the grass­roots of the game, and in par­tic­u­lar to those de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that dur­ing the pool phases showed what can be achieved when fi­nances get in­jected into the in­fras­truc­ture.

But there was much more to this World Cup than just the num­bers and un­less you in­tend to write a book about it, the best way to en­cap­su­late the suc­cess story, and to out­line what can be learned from this World Cup – not least by South Africa – is to deal with the as­pects that to­gether made up the fan­tas­tic whole. 1.The style of rugby played THERE were re­ports of non-rugby strongholds like Ger­many re­ally be­ing cap­ti­vated by this World Cup, and a big rea­son for that would have been rooted in the style of rugby that was em­ployed by most teams.

There were ex­cep­tions, and to a neu­tral the quar­ter-fi­nal be­tween South Africa and Wales must have been like watch­ing paint dry, but the play­off games, which are sup­posed to be the show­piece events, were gen­er­ally far more en­ter­tain­ing than they’ve been in the past.

The good teams, and by that we re­fer to mainly to the cham­pi­ons, New Zealand, were the ones that had sev­eral strings to their bow and could play more than one way. They em­ployed a tac­ti­cal game to beat South Africa when it rained in the semi-fi­nal, but there was no deny­ing their skil­ful pass­ing game when they piled it onto Aus­tralia shortly be­fore half­time in the fi­nal.

Wal­laby coach Michael Cheika ad­mit­ted af­ter his team’s nar­row es­cape against Scot­land in the quar­ter-fi­nal that he per­haps should have closed up shop and played more per­cent­age tac­tics at stages of the game, but then added that the style of rugby his team em­ploys is what their sup­port­ers ex­pect.

Apart from Ja­pan, who be­came ev­ery­one’s favourite team af­ter their epic win over the Spring­boks and went on to win three of their four games play­ing en­ter­tain­ing rugby, the big­gest movers in terms of grow­ing their game were Ar­gentina, who now play with width they weren’t in­clined to­wards, nor ca­pa­ble of, pre­vi­ously.

The Pu­mas per­haps over­did it in the semi-fi­nal, where the Wal­la­bies pun­ished their mis­takes, but if they learn from that, and don’t fall into the trap of ne­glect­ing their tra­di­tional strength in their quest to grow, they are go­ing to be a for­mi­da­ble force in Ja­pan in 2019. 2.The con­di­tions AL­LIED to the above was the con­di­tions that most of the matches were played in. Be­fore­hand, coaches were jus­ti­fy­ing per­cent­age tac­tics by point­ing to the prob­a­bil­ity of the matches be­ing played in wet weather and on heavy sur­faces, but the con­di­tions that most of the tour­na­ment was played in were, by Bri­tish stan­dards, more late sum­mer than early au­tumn. It led to the quick tempo, South­ern Hemi­sphere style pre­vail­ing.

Is that a rea­son to re-open the ar­gu­ment in favour of a global sea­son which would en­tail the North­ern Hemi­sphere switch­ing to sum­mer rugby?

You bet it does. The demise of England led to spec­u­la­tion that the in­ter­est would fall off later in the event, but it didn’t hap­pen and part of the rea­son for that was be­cause of the en­ter­tain­ment value.

If the World Cup had been played in De­cem­ber and Jan­uary, when the rain and some­times snow and sleet makes the rolling maul the sta­ple of most teams, there wouldn’t have been as many rugby con­verts from places like Ger­many.

The firm soc­cer pitches en­coun­tered in the pool phases were al­ways go­ing to pro­mote a faster game, but the tra­di­tional rugby venues hadn’t seen enough rain to change that in the knock­out stages.

The bot­tom line – if you re­ally want to sell the game, the type of rugby played at this tour­na­ment does it, and if that means you fit the sea­son to suit the en­ter­tain­ment im­per­a­tive, then that is what should be done. Al­ready clubs like Sara­cens have in­tro­duced ar­ti­fi­cial sur­faces to fit that ob­jec­tive. 3. The coach­ing FORMER England player and cur­rent com­men­ta­tor Stu­art Barnes put it best in his col­umn that summed up the tour­na­ment in The Sun­day Times – this was a World Cup where brains over­came brawn.

South Africa did get quite far on brawn, but that wily fox Ed­die Jones com­pletely out- thought Heyneke Meyer at the start of the tour­na­ment, War­ren Gat­land did the same, even though he got de­feated in the quar­ter-fi­nal. At some stage the col­lec­tive South African rugby penny has to drop if the Bok game is ever go­ing to grow.

Yes, kick­ing is im­por­tant, and the All Blacks do it a lot. But have you seen how New Zealand do it in com­par­i­son to South Africa? For­eign in­flu­ence in the coach­ing staff was seen to help Wales, Scot­land, Ja­pan and a host of min­now na­tions in this World Cup, and it can do for South Africa. 4. The im­prove­ment of the min­nows THIS is re­lated to the above point. Coach­ing acu­men from New Zealand in par­tic­u­lar is be­ing tapped by the smaller na­tions, and with dra­matic re­sults. It is prob­a­bly true that the All Blacks never went

Highs and lows

High: It didn’t mat­ter that it was the Boks who were the vic­tims – Ja­pan’s win was de­served and was when the mes­sage sent out was that this was go­ing to be a spe­cial Cup. Low: It wasn’t great to see the host na­tion get knocked out; it meant the round-ball game started to hog the news­pa­pers more than it would oth­er­wise have, but lit­tle beat the low of read­ing peo­ple who should have known bet­ter slat­ing Craig Jou­bert for what was an un­der­stand-able mis­take in the quar­ter­fi­nal round. Best at­mos­phere: The Mil­len­nium Sta­dium for Ire­land v France. The fa­nat­i­cal sup­port en­joyed by Ire­land made up for the ab­sence of England. Most ab­sorb­ing game: The sec­ond half of the Aus­tralia v Wales pool game, when Aus­tralia de­fended their line with 13 men. Wales beat­ing England wasn’t far be­hind. Best qual­ity game: The fi­nal it­self. Most watch­able team: Ar­gentina Most id­i­otic de­ci­sion: Chris Rob­shaw’s kick­ing for the touch­line when a kick for posts would have squared the game against Wales. Bravest de­ci­sion: When the Ja­panese cap­tain did the same thing against the Boks – the dif­fer­ence be­ing that the game end­ing in a draw would not have helped Ja­pan’s quest for a place in the play­offs, whereas for England it would have. The dis­ap­pear­ing act: Were France and Italy ac­tu­ally at the World Cup? full tilt in the pool stages, but it is still to the credit of the smaller na­tions that there were no blowouts like there were in pre­vi­ous World Cups. The 64 points the Boks scored against a sec­ond-string USA team was the joint most, along with Ar­gentina against Namibia, scored in any one game in the tour­na­ment. 5. Wor­thy fi­nal­ists and cham­pi­ons THERE are some South Africans, in­clud­ing the na­tional coach, who sub­scribe to the myth that there is just two points sep­a­rat­ing the All Blacks from the Boks be­cause that was what the score­board said af­ter the semi-fi­nal.

Any­one who was there will tes­tify that the Boks were dom­i­nated as much, if not more, on the field of play by New Zealand in the semi­fi­nal as the Wal­la­bies were in the fi­nal. When Aus­tralia were just four be­hind with 12 min­utes to play, they looked like they could win just be­cause we knew they were ca­pa­ble of scor­ing tries.

The Aussies, and to an ex­tent Ar­gentina, are the com­ing teams in world rugby, but the Ki­wis, as their record over four years will tes­tify, are the undis­puted kings. But for good­ness sake some­one catch them…

EPA

WHERE’S THE BALL? There were no tries but Aus­tralia’s 15-6 win over Wales was ab­sorb­ing.

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