The Pool Draw
It was said when the draw was made in 2012 and it will be said again: Who’s foolish idea was it to draw the pools three years before the competition? Enough can happen in a year, let alone three. Yes, Wales had a horrific autumn, losing all their test matches and falling outside the crucial top eight, but having a pool with the second, fourth and fifth ranked (in September) teams was just idiocy. Even worse, it was cruel on Fiji who, ranked 9th in September, were deprived of the opportunity to reach their first quarter final; had they been in Scotland’s group or that of France and Ireland, they could have had a chance. Move the draw to the year before the world cup and the chance of another “pool of death” situation will diminish.
A POOL CONTAINING THE SECOND, FOURTH AND FIFTH RANKED TEAMS WAS JUST IDIOCY
The Short Turnaround
The minnows suffered, no more than Japan who, arguably, could have made the quarter final in Scotland’s place had they had a fair rest. After giving their absolute all to come back at South Africa twice before clinching the winning try in the dying moments, the Brave Blossoms had only 3 days rest before facing Scotland. This made them the first team to win three group stage games and not make the knock out stages. Instead of being fresh and ready, Japan had to play tired, aching players against a team who were playing their first match, meaning they haemorrhaged tries in the second halve, conceding the try bonus and failing to get the losing point.
For tier one countries this is less of a problem as they have sufficient squad depth. For the smaller nations though, playing a second team would condemn them to defeat. Therefore, there has to be fairer scheduling, maybe making the more developed teams play after a shorter rest, and give the less demanding schedule to those who need it.
The Gap is Closing
In 2003 Namibia were beaten 142-0 against Australia. This year they only lost 58-14 to the champions, claiming two tries in the process. When looking at the “minnows” there has been huge improvement with all teams having competitive, quality games.
More needs to be done by tier one teams to develop rugby in these countries, by playing them on summer tours. This would not mean sacrificing games against the Southern hemisphere giants, just playing the developing teams in warm up games. This could mean the end of the Barbarians but surely encouraging more countries is more beneficial for the sport.
Some have proposed a plate competition, as in sevens tournaments, so that those who do not reach the quarters still have a piece of silverware to play for. This would work; there would be mid-week entertainment, stadiums would benefit and teams would get much needed playing time. However, the IRB would, and should, fund this, as many second tier nations players paid for their own costs throughout the tournament. The developing countries need more support from the rugby community. Look at how far Argentina has come with a bit of support.
One man turned a broken team into Rugby Championship winners and World Cup runners-up in less than a year. Michael Cheika gave mavericks a chance, developed the most potent backrow and was strong enough to change the rules. Ok, England changing their residency rules would not have allowed one certain player in but by giving the likes of Dean Mumm, previous Exeter Chiefs captain, hope that he could break into the Wallaby team if he returned to Australia the country gained a leader and a fantastic player. If Stuart Lancaster had done this maybe a talented openside would have come home.
A strong team needs many different characters. Kurtley Beale, a man with many misdemeanours, was forgiven and showed why in the final, making a huge impact when coming off the bench early in the first halve. Cheika has said that his players have views ranging from the centre right to the far left, and they are allowed to express these. This makes a team of leaders, a group of players who are not afraid to speak up, be bold, and try something ambitious on the pitch. Cheika has turned this team around by trusting his players.
Cheika gave mavericks a chance, proving a strong team needs many different characters
Northern Hemisphere embarrassment
When Scotland, the team who lost all their 2015 Six Nations matches, provide the best performance of any northern hemisphere team you know you’re in trouble. Yes, Wales and Ireland suffered a horrific number of key injuries, but England and especially France have no such excuse, with the latter losing to New Zealand by a larger margin than Namibia. Ouch. Something needs to change; France need to give Top 14 teams incentive to develop home grown talent instead of importing proven stars, whilst England need to be braver and give younger, talented players earlier opportunities on the big stage, and Wales need to stop doing whatever makes their men more injury prone. God help the Lions 2017 tour of New Zealand. If things stay as they are, it’ll be a car crash.