Two hundred and thirty tries, two thousand and twenty points, and 23 days later, and we have reached the quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup 2015. So, with 40 games played to date, what have we learned from the RWC pool stages?
1. The RWC organisers did a fine job.
There were concerns over stadia chosen being too large, and ticket prices being too high. It is true that some ticket prices were eye-wateringly expensive (£250 for a category A ticket in Twickenham…), but a large number of category D tickets have been readily available and represented good value for money. When it’s possible to pay as little as £15 for a World Cup game, it’s hard to argue that it’s been unduly expensive.
The best endorsement of the marketing of the tournament can be demonstrated by the attendance for Canada v Romania. This was one of the least attractive fixtures of the tournament, played in Leicester on a work day afternoon. For over 27,000 to have attended is quite remarkable, as too is the fact that Wembley Stadium sold out twice, despite hosting two of the higher priced games.
Throw in the successful fan parks that have allowed thousands more to be part of the match day – notably at Richmond’s Old Deer Park and the Millennium Stadium’s neighbouring Cardiff Arms Park – and you have a tournament that was truly one for rugby fans.
2. The sport is getting cleaner.
There will be some hardened fans of yesteryear’s rugby who might bemoan the fact, but the old on-pitch punch up is becoming a thing of the past. With television match officials watching players’ every move like a hawk, those on the pitch have cottoned on to the fact that there is very little skullduggery that is likely to go unpunished these days. Indeed, only Uruguay scrum-half Agustin Ormaechea has been shown a red card during this tournament, and even then he can feel somewhat unfortunate to have received two yellow cards by JP Doyle.
3. Hawkeye is potentially good, but needs work.
The ability to zoom in to see potential groundings, watch footage in split screen to check whether a grounding happened before a foot in touch, or report back foul play incidents while play continues is useful, and an excellent tool for delivering correct decisions.
However, it defies belief that it was introduced only a matter of weeks before the Rugby World Cup without any trial of particular note. As such, TMOs have not been consistently adept at using the in-play features of their armoury, and far too often we have seen lengthy delays for reviews for potential foul play that really could have been checked as play progressed. Neck rolls have correctly been identified as an area of the game that needs to be stamped out, but as these have almost exclusively been deemed to be worthy of a penalty only, why the need for lengthy delays while each offence is painstakingly dissected in slow motion? Why not just a call from the TMO that a neck roll has been spotted and to award a penalty?
The most controversial TMO moment came in the opening game when referee Jaco Peyper spotted on the Twickenham big screens that Fiji’s Nikola Matawalu had, in fact, not grounded the ball, but only when Ben Volavola was already lining up the conversion. The try was disallowed, but it led to questions as to the point at which is too late to reverse a decision, and whether this should be influenced by the television director. Perhaps a sensible solution would be for contentious decisions and TMO reviews not to be shown on stadium big screens.
4. The gap between tier one and tier two is closer than ever.
Japan have captured the rugby world’s hearts with a stunning victory over the mighty South Africa, and impressive wins over Samoa and USA. Georgia secured a shock win over Tonga, were not embarrassed by New Zealand or Argentina and ended on a high against Namibia.
While Japan and Georgia were the real success stories from tier two, with Canada also earning nods of approval, even the likes of Uruguay and Namibia can take heart from their showings in the tournament. Whilst they have been on the receiving end of some reasonably heavy defeats, they haven’t been blown away anything like they have suffered in previous tournaments, and have shown to be competitive until the greater fitness of their more illustrious opponents started to become important in the closing stages of the game.
However, the gap is unlikely to close further if the world game retains its status quo. These tier two nations will not develop further without access to fixtures against tier one nations. With the Rugby Championship and the Six Nations appearing like closed shops, and the Autumn Internationals seemingly limited to the elite, it is hard to see how the likes of Georgia or Japan can advance further. We don’t have the answer to this, but that’s not our job. World Rugby need to find solutions.
Argentina, of course, exist as evidence of the benefits that can be reaped from being given this support.
5. Scrums needn’t be all about power.
How delightfully refreshing to see the Japanese scrum being able to hold steady while hooker Shota Horle hooked the ball back to win good, quick, clean ball. Hooking has almost become a lost art in favour of pure grunt, but purists will have been pleased to see Japan using the skill to their benefit.