At the end of a terrific tournament here are my bests and worsts.
Best Team: The Awlblex
Worst Team: Fiji
Best Match: The best was kept till last. What a contest: when the stakes were at their highest we got a game of high skill and savage intensity. It will take France a long time to recover from having gone so close – their body language half way through the second period suggested they were sure they would win – against a Kiwi team with a third choice scrumhalf and fourth choice outhalf at the controls.
Worst Match: Samoa vFiji
Best Player: Richie McCaw – to maintain such a high standard when crocked was remarkable. And he was seriously crocked.
Best Thing About NZ’s World Cup: The country’s obsession with the game is exactly the atmosphere you need for something like this. Having everybody tuned in made it unique of all the tournaments.
Worst Thing About Their World Cup: The naked profiteering of hoteliers which caused red faces among the average Kiwi if not the average receptionist. And plenty of them were pretty average.
Best Refereeing Decision: Alain Rolland sending off Sam Warburton. It had been made abundantly clear to all teams pre-tournament that there would be zero tolerance of dangerous tackles. It is unarguable that Warburton was both reckless and dangerous in dumping Vincent Clerc. Whether it enhanced or detracted from the game was not Rolland’s concern. And neither was intent – that’s for the disciplinary to gauge. Simple as that
Worst Refereeing Decision: Alain Rolland allowing Wales seal the ball off roughly a zillion times as they hit the mid 20s in the number of phases they put together in the endgame v France.
Best Coaching Decision: Well, more of a series of them really: Warren Gatland’s preparation of Wales to face Ireland.
Worst Coaching decision: Allowing Morgan Parra back on the field in this morning’s final when he clearly had been concussed. What happened? The Kiwis immediately sought him out for more treatment. Two minutes later he was gone again.
Try of the Tournament: Leigh Halfpenny v Australia. Neither the flashiest nor best-constructed score of the World Cup but for a team who were beyond exhaustion it represented a triumph of mind over body.
Most Salutary Lesson: The only way to level the playing field between the haves and the have-nots is a combination of investment in human and physical resources, backed up by games. Without regular games for the weaker nations against better opposition the gap will remain uncomfortably wide.
Best Show of Support: The Tongans greeting their team at Auckland airport; Ireland (bolstered by Clan Kiwi) against Australia
Worst Show of Support: The Kiwi sheep who bleated endlessly every time Quade Cooper touched the ball.
Best Pass: Adam Ashley Cooper’s amazing pull-back to an inside support runner, against USA, followed closely by Piri Weepu’s beautifully delayed delivery in the pool game against France.
Best Tackle: James O’Connor on Tommy Bowe at the end of the Ireland v Australia pool game. Technically it wasn’t the hardest tackle to make, but from the moment Bowe set off O’Connor tracked him to perfection. You needed to be there to get the full panoramic effect of hunter and hunted.
Best Stroke: A certain gum shield manufacturer who got many miles out of the Tuilagi brothers wearing their product, in contravention of RWC regulations. In retrospect the IRB might consider it wiser to have done nothing at the time, and levied the fines when the tournament was done and dusted.
Best Sideshow: England and their band of merry men
Most Tedious Sideshow: The local media’s obsession with England and their Band of Merry Men
Inescapable Conclusion: IRB Referees manager Paddy O’Brien evidently is incapable of getting his men on the same page. Perhaps he doesn’t know the page himself. One of the last things that separates rugby from league is the fair contest for possession. Rather it was. At every other tackle the player arriving first goes onto his hands, either to protect the ball from being poached, if he is in support of the tackler, or to go beyond the ball and then scoop is up like a combine harvester if he is an opponent trying to poach. Literally it is impossible to effect either manoeuvre without shifting your body weight almost entirely from your feet to your hands, which is illegal.
Ironically, the other great mountain that rugby under POB seems incapable of climbing is refereeing the back foot where time after time the space disappears illegally. The irony is that league – who have a 10 metre rule at every play the ball – seem to have no issue with policing their gap. I’m not suggesting rugby union should follow suit down a 10 metre space but a short spell of ruthless application of the law would pay off in extra space.