Iain Morrison looks back on a world cup that provided lots of action, a couple of surprises and plenty to talk about
Team of the Tournament
New Zealand won the event and Argentina put everything on the line but the team of the tourney has to be Japan. They showed what good coaching and the strict application of a game plan could do to the big guns. Scotland were the only team to beat them and the Brave Blossoms’ win over South Africa was not only the biggest upset in rugby history it may have been the biggest upset since Goliath told David to give it his best shot.
Turkey of the Tournament
Ireland failed to fire when it mattered and France were embarrassingly bad but no one can snatch this award from the hosts’ clammy grasp. You feel for Stuart Lancaster and England who were in control of their own destiny before imploding on the home stretch against Wales. They will, to borrow a phrase, be back.
Japan’s skipper Michael Leitch gets a mention for going for broke against the Springboks when the world was urging him to settle for a draw, but Uruguay win this award. They looked like a second division side from the amateur era, and a small one at that. In one memorable moment it took four of them to wrestle a giant Fijian to the ground but they tackled everything that moved, they played their hearts out and they never gave in. “Small forwards, big hearts,” as my pal Eduardo from Uruguay put it.
Canada were cruising along nicely against Romania and, 15-0 ahead with half an hour to play, looked like picking up their first win before the Oaks rose from the dead like a latter-day Count Dracula. The Romanians stuck the ball up their jumper and scored two tries from driving mauls before centre Florin Vlaicu kicked the winner from wide out on the left. Former Edinburgh coach Lynn Howells broke with his own tradition and cracked a smile. The team surely cracked a brew or two.
There were any number of candidates but the five points that Canadian winger DTH van der Merwe scored straight from a restart against Italy was an absolute corker.
You pays your money and all that but for drama, atmosphere and edge of the seat exhilaration the Australia/Scotland quarter-final takes some beating. One English pal said it was the best atmosphere he had ever witnessed at any rugby match, anywhere.
Player of the Tournament
Michael Leitch, Nico Sanchez and Julian Savea all get a mention in dispatches but no-one comes close to matching the influence that Wallaby breakaway David Pocock had on this tournament.
Spirit of Rugby Award
The All Blacks invited Namibia’s amateurs into their dressing room for a beer after their match, but the award goes to the Bokke coaches and players who dug into their pockets and flew their regular bus driver Greg Levendahl over to experience the World Cup.
New Zealand, obviously, but also the RFU’s bank balance, the World Cup as a global event, Japan and Eddie Jones, the fans’ joyful immersion in the whole occasion and also the TV coverage. Nigel Owens, Greig Laidlaw and Gareth Davies, running rugby which beat the kick-and-chase brigade hands down, Nicholas Sanchez in particular and Argentina rugby in general, Michaels Cheika and Pocock, Fijian rugby which is getting there slowly, Scotland who have made huge strides but couldn’t quite prevent two all Southern Hemisphere semi-finals and Mark Bennett for his emergence.
South Africa who failed to do due diligence against Japan and failed to find plan B against the Kiwis, overpriced tickets, Stuart Lancaster and English rugby which has been a pickle since 2003, Craig Joubert... and all those who hurled hysterical abuse at the South Africa ref, that absurd disciplinary process, French rugby RIP, the deus ex machina that is the TMO, the unknown video editor who flashes up replays on the big screen thereby influencing at least two crucial decisions, the Newcastle lamp post I hit while cycling, Ireland who have yet to make the semis and the two North American teams who failed to win a match between them.
Best of the best
IAIN MORRISON’S WORLD CUP XV
15 Ayuma Goromaru (Jpn)
14 Nehe Milner-Skudder (NZ)
13 Jonathan Joseph (Eng)
12 Matt Giteau (Aus)
11 Drew Mitchell (Aus)
10 Nicholas Sanchez (Arg)
9 Aaron Smith (NZ)
1 Soane Tonga’uiha (Ton)
2 Bismark du Plessis (RSA)
3 Ramiro Herrera (Arg)
4 Brodie Retallik (NZ)
5 Leone Nakarawa (Fij)
6 Michael Leitch (Jpn)
7 David Pocock (Aus)
8 Mamuke Gorgodze (Geo)
The good, the bad and the bizarre
1 The open, exciting nature of the games with the skill and speed of Nehe Milner-Skudder and Matt Giteau outfoxing the power game of route-one behemoths like Mathieu Bastareaud and Brad Barritt.
2 Respect for referees, at least until the Joubert blooper which clouded the issue.
3 Georgia, Canada and Fiji all putting the wind up the big boys at one time or another even if Japan were the only ones to scalp one of the favourites.
4 The fans who filled venues with raucous good humour. The average attendance beat the previous record at RWC’07 despite extortionate ticket prices and a sizeable hole where England should have been.
5 The enduring graciousness, in victory as in defeat, of the very best rugby players.
1 Too many 50/50 calls going the way of the higher-ranked team has become a problem. Actually, it always has been a problem.
2 The list of countries that can win this thing remains vanishingly small.
3 Despite the gap narrowing there are still too many minnows making up numbers. To be a global game, rugby really needs the likes of Spain, Russia, Romania, Canada, the USA Eagles and a few others to imitate Japan/Argentina and make a quantum leap forward.
4 The dying swan act by Stuart Hogg, left.
5 The hysterical reaction to Craig Joubert’s mistake allowed the South African referee to claim victim status.
1 That fat bloke who vaguely resembled Diego Maradona dancing and singing with the Pumas in the post-match dressing room.
2 South African fans in Newcastle sporting kilts.
3 Any press conference with Eddie Jones.
4 That Geordie Haka that popped up on Youtube... you had to laugh.
5 The Gloucester pub that had an open hatch to the next door chippy... very handy.
6 Sergio Parisse’s non-appearance against Romania, just days before he was due to sign a new contract with Stade Francais!
7 During RWC’15 a New Zealand shirt from 1905 was auctioned in Cardiff for £180,000. I might hang on to Josh Kronfeld’s!
8 William and Harry arguing in the stand, or pretending to, when Wales beat England.
9 After helping Japan beat South Africa, Akihito Yamada took a dip in the sea off the South Coast only to get stung by a weever fish and miss the Scotland match.
10 Twickenham Stadium resounding to chants of: “SCOTLAND, SCOTLAND”.
Who said what
“If we can stick with them in the first 30 minutes and are in the game at half-time we will win the game.”
Japan’s coach Eddie Jones proves less than prophetic as Scotland score five second-half tries to run away with the match.
“Not one Australian would get into the England team right now.”
Danny Cipriani offers his carefully considered opinion just before the Wallabies knocked England out of the tournament in the group stage.
“There is nothing technical about it. It’s just the will to win. You look at the other players in the eye, it’s all about heart.”
Sam Warburton on that infamous England five-metre lineout.
“The word ‘embarrassing’ may come. It certainly won’t be going on the mantelpiece, that’s for sure.”
England’s Joe Launchbury on winning the MOM award against Australia.
“It has been a privilege to work for such a caring guy.”
Andy Farrell talks up the boss, well, the official one, Stuart Lancaster.
“I don’t think they could afford me.”
Wales coach Warren Gatland responds to a potential approach from England.
“They (Australia) are more dangerous at the end so we can’t allow a slight slip in concentration.”
Vern Cotter... just before his team lets their concentration slip at the end.
“Come back in two weeks if you want to dive like that.”
Referee Nigel Owens to Stuart Hogg as a nation curled its toes in embarrassment.
“It’s like kissing your sister.”
Bokke coach Heyneke Meyer on the playoff match.
“I don’t know why he said that. I would rather be third than fourth.”
Agustin Creevy on Meyer’s comment.
“Perhaps he needed the bathroom.”
Brett Gosper explains the sprint for the dressing room by Craig Joubert, pictured. Gosper, just so as you know, is the chief executive of World Rugby.
“Someone threw a bottle at him, didn’t they? I’d be racing off too if I saw a bottle coming.”
Michael Cheika on Joubert’s sharp exit.
“Might have been nice.”
Vern Cotter on the prospect of referring that penalty decision.
“Conceding 60 points in a quarter-final is pretty shameful.”
No-one’s arguing with France’s Scott Spedding, except to point out the All Blacks scored 62.