Well done New Zealand: It’s a relatively small country a long way from anywhere else and the weather hasn’t been the best but the atmosphere and organisation, bar some opening night nerves, seem to have been very good. Beating the French will have cheered up the Kiwis and put some ghosts to rest, while seeing the Aussies lose has been very well received. The Ireland v Russia game sounded like it had been organised by the best hostel in the world and the crowd were suitably lubricated.
The Squad’s the Thing: Rugby is a physical game and there’s a high attrition rate. Also, class may be permanent but form is temporary and if it isn’t happening for you during the seven weeks, bad timing. Australia missed Pocock so much, partly because McAlman isn’t a like for like replacement. Argentina have played pretty much the same starting XV in each game. It looks like they’ll face NZ in the quarters in what will essentially be a final for them. NZ and SA in particular have a lot of depth and have coped without some top quality players. England and Ireland have managed their personnel well. Giving game time to a lot of players is important because NZ is a long way from home for most teams and four weeks holding tackle bags gets old quick. Andy Robinson selected very well from his Scottish squad but they couldn’t get it over the line against Argentina.
Class Counts: The World Cup has become a benchmark of greatness. Performing when it matters is easily measurable in a high profile cup competition. Dan Carter and Richie McCaw are both outstanding players, who will gain all-time status with a World Cup win. Without it, they will be acknowledged as top class but there will be an asterisk beside their achievements. In a similar vein, in order to do well, you must have very good players and they must perform. Without them, you are sunk. Scotland v Argentina was, to the Mole’s mind, a case in point. The Scots just don’t have the quality. They performed well in difficult conditions, they were superbly conditioned and tough, taking on Argentina and going toe to toe. However, Paterson’s missed tackle and the decision of Blair and Parks to take a drop goal under pressure were poor and will probably cost them a place in the knockouts. Pocock’s absence against Ireland was commented on earlier and the importance of the aforementioned Carter and McCaw to NZ has been highlighted. Some players can’t be adequately replaced. What happens if Sean O’Brien gets injured for Ireland? Ireland in trouble, that’s what happens. The best players are a long way ahead of their replacements, and there’s not much planning you can do to stop that.
Tough for the Little Guy: The first round of games was notable for the competitiveness of the matches. Subsequent games have seen the minnows hammered, oftentimes not helped by a short turnaround time. Romania played England on Saturday morning and faced Georgia this morning in what was a Caucasus v Carpathian grudge match. Georgia now have to turn around and play a steak fuelled Argentina on Sunday. The old boys’ club have a relatively benign week to six days between most games, ensuring that they have the best chance of staying at the top table.
The outrage about the turnaround times for the minnows has been widespread (and justified). I really hope that next time around the playing conditions are fairer. These tiddlers have played out of their skins in general and it has been a joy to watch them compete. If not for these countries what is the world cup for? If all you want 6N v Tri-N then have the winner of one play the winner of the other six months later. If you want a World cup then make playing field level.