So what a World Cup it has been – for me utterly mesmerising, with drama, excitement, epic matches and rugby of the highest quality from all teams – even England on occasion. Unfortunately the northern hemisphere sides fell short again and the trophy will be claimed by a side from the southern half of the world for a seventh time in eight tournaments, with South Africa v New Zealand and Argentina v Australia gracing Twickenham over this coming weekend.
In February the Six Nations starts and the teams from up north will begin the cycle towards Japan 2019. Here are my grades for their 2015 World Cup performance.
Failed and Humiliated Hosts
England – GRADE F
A poor tournament from the hosts. They came into the competition talking a good game, but could not produce on the pitch when under pressure. They lost BOTH of the crucial matches in their group, firstly against Wales because of clueless tactics and leadership, secondly they were taken down by a ruthless Australia. A massive embarrassment for the RFU as they have the most money and players but could not even get out of, an admittedly, tough pool but on home soil there is no excuse – four years to get it right and they failed miserably – history made and they are as we stand the only hosts not to make the knockout phase – OUCH!!!
Same Old Same Old
France – GRADE D
In the end they flattered to deceive. They were excellent in their first three games dismantling Italy in their opening fixture, then routine victories over Romania and Canada followed. But when they took on Ireland in the match that would decide the Pool winners they were found wanting and the Irish did not even need to step it up too much to eventually run away with the game. This meant they faced New Zealand and things unravelled very quickly with a 62-13 drubbing. Head Coach Philippe Saint-Andre’s reign is now over on a very disappointing note. Good Luck to Guy Noves who now has to take over as leader of the most enigmatic team in world rugby.
Ireland GRADE B-
Ireland went into this World Cup as arguably the best side from the northern hemisphere. With back to back Six Nations titles in the bag, a very strong work ethic instilled by coach, Joe Schmidt, a man with a winning mentality with the medals to show for it, this was seen as the Emerald Isle’s best opportunity ever to win the World Cup. Serene progress within the Pool stage including a superb performance, despite the injuries mounting up, against the French saw them avoid the perceived harder section of the draw. However they did not count on the form of an inspired Argentine team and it is now six quarter final appearances for the Irish and six quarter final defeats. They were bested on the day, but many will feel they may never have had a better chance to at least get to a final. Disappointment all round for the Green Army and despite a valiant effort and a decent World Cup, the air of disappointment will not clear quickly.
Italy – GRADE C
Not much to say about the Italians other than they won their matches against Canada and Romania to claim third place in their Pool and ensure automatic qualification for the next World Cup. Their performance against Ireland in a narrow 16-9 defeat was encouraging and they will look to build on this in 2016, especially bearing in mind that they did not finish bottom of the table in the 2015 version of the Six Nations. Maybe there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Brave, but no cigar
Scotland – GRADE B
After a disastrous Six Nations, finishing bottom of the pile, there was pressure on coach Verne Cotter to have a good World Cup and boy did he deliver, but it could have been oh so much better. They navigated their way through the group phase, with an expected defeat to South Africa, then a win over Samoa in a fantastic match to secure a quarter final against an Australian team highly fancied for the title. In an amazing seesaw game Scotland found themselves 2 points ahead with less than three minutes to go and with a lineout (their throw). Unfortunately for them fate was not on their side, though it would not have been helped by a shocker of a lineout call, losing their own throw which resulted in a (dubious) penalty which was converted and Australia won the game by a point to progress. Glorious failure, a familiar tale but strides forward have been made, especially with a marked improvement in their try scoring abilities. I’m sure they are relishing their opening Six Nations battle with England come February.
What If’s – yet again
Wales – GRADE B
Wales may well be the unluckiest team in Rugby World Cup history especially in recent years. A string of injuries had blighted their campaign, pre the tournament and during it too – it seemed like they were making call up after call up after call up. Even retired legend Shane Williams joked about getting his boots out it was getting so ridiculous. Drawn into the Pool of death with England and Australia, they showed brilliant guts and determination to beat clueless England and really should have beaten the Australians which then, on paper anyway, would have given them a potential smoother path to further progression. Unfortunately their issues against southern hemisphere opposition surfaced again in the quarter final when a late South African try meant another gut wrenching exit after the Alain Rolland semi-final heartbreak in 2011. The gutting thing for Wales and coach Gatland is IF they had had key players fit they may well have gone all the way. Wounds will have to be licked again and patched up ready for Japan 2019.
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