As New Zealand are crowned world champions for a record third time, Rugby World looks at the big questions to come out of RWC 2015
Can New Zealand win a third straight world title?
The All Blacks’ 34-17 win over Australia means they are the first team to win back-to-back World Cups. They have also dispensed with the idea that they can only lift the Webb Ellis Cup on New Zealand soil. The question now is whether they can win a third straight title in Japan in four years’ time.
The likes of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Keven Mealamu, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu will not be seen in a black shirt again, so do New Zealand have the talent to keep their run of success going? Unfortunately for the rest of the world the conveyor belt of talent doesn’t suffer many glitches in the Land of the Long White Cloud. For McCaw read Sam Cane, for Carter read Aaron Cruden, for Mealamu read Codie Taylor – and on it goes. The beauty of New Zealand succession planning also means that these players already have experience in Test rugby.
The answer is clearly ‘yes’ in that they have the talent to win a third straight title – but they aren’t infallible. It is up to the rest of the world to ensure their own production lines keep turning and that they have developed their own games come Japan 2019. This Australia team, for one, has youth on its side, while Argentina, England and Wales also have plenty of faces who will still be around, if not hitting their peak, in four years. If those teams can raise their game and close the gap on the world champions, the black machine might well hit a roadblock.
What do the home nations need to do to compete at RWC 2019?
All in all, it was a disappointing World Cup for the northern hemisphere, not a single team making it to the semi-finals. Argentina have improved vastly in the past decade to keep pace with the big three, so what can the North do to catch up?
Looking at it from the bottom up, getting more kids playing rugby and working on their skills is a start. When parents take their kids to a park, why not practise passing or have a game of touch rather than getting a football out. The handling skills and ability to find space of the southern hemisphere players are vastly ahead of their northern counterparts – and a lot of that is down to culture. Kids in New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands too, will grow up with a rugby ball always close at hand. They’ll play a game in break time at school or in the backyard at a weekend. Get mini players in the UK and Ireland focusing on skills before learning about rucking and scrummaging. Yes, contact is an important part of the game but so is passing and running.
One thing this World Cup highlighted was a need for an ball-winning back-row. Fetcher, snaffler, openside – call them what you will, but the ability of the likes of David Pocock and Richie McCaw to win turnovers is crucial to their team’s success. England need to find one fast.
Finally, perhaps the North could do with a little more positivity. Just look what it’s done for Argentina. They used to be a forward-orientated side but now look to run the ball from anywhere. Maybe the Six Nations sides need to play with a little more adventure in attack.
What’s happened to the southern hemisphere officials?
The southern hemisphere may have dominated from a team perspective but the North came out on top when it came to the men in the middle. Welshman Nigel Owens refereed the final with England’s Wayne Barnes and France’s Jerome Garces on the touchline, while John Lacey was given the whistle for the Bronze final. So what happened to all the southern hemisphere officials?
Craig Joubert was the only southern hemisphere man to referee a kncokout match, and after that quarter-final decision – and sprint – he was obviously not considered for the latter stages.
There’s long been debate over the consistency of refereeing between the North and South, but it now seems the northern officials are the ones dominating the international game. Joubert is now turning his attention to sevens ahead of the Olympics, so perhaps SANZAR need to look at their own refereeing structures to ensure that come 2019 they have officials in contention for the knockout games.
Should there be a Plate competition?
Watching South Africa play Argentina in the third-place play-off on Friday night, in a stadium devoid of atmosphere (as much the fault of the stadium design as the game), debate in the press box centred on whether there should be a Plate competition for those teams finishing third in the pool.
Maybe there’s even a case to copy the whole sevens model and introduce a Bowl and Shield competition so all 20 teams have something to play for throughout the tournament. It means everyone would get more meaningful and competitive fixtures, which can only help their games develop.
Play the matches in midweek and you’d also maintain public interest in the tournament rather than have long weeks of press conference soundbites between knockout games as it stands. RWC 2015 has shown that there is an appetite for rugby at all levels – there just needs to be smart planning in terms of which grounds host which matches.
The obvious answer against such a plan is cost. Housing 20 teams for nigh-on two months is a lot more expensive than housing just eight in the final couple of weeks. Perhaps a compromise is to introduce a Plate competition in 2019 for the teams finishing third in the pool – and if that proves successful, and not too cost prohibitive, a Bowl and Shield could be brought in come 2023.
Are the southern hemisphere better at introducing league converts than the North?
Sonny Bill Williams produced two sublime offloads in around a minute in the lead-up to Ma’a Nonu’s try in the World Cup final. Israel Folau also produced his best performance of the tournament. So why have these league converts delivered in a World Cup when many in the northern hemisphere can’t make the same impact?
Perhaps it’s because they’re given time to adapt Down Under. Sonny Bill learnt the game in the French second division with Toulon before becoming part of New Zealand’s 2011 World Cup-winning team. And he’s generally been used as an impact substitute by the All Blacks.
Folau got to grips with things on the wing with the Waratahs before before making his Test bow and latterly being moved to full-back with great effect.
Poor Sam Burgess was thrust into England’s midfield for a decisive World Cup pool game having stood out more as a back-row than a centre for his club Bath. Ironically, if he hadn’t played in RWC 2015 all this talk of a swift return to league would probably not be happening and by 2019 he could have developed into an outstanding back-row for England.
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League converts need time – you can’t expect them to understand all the nuances of the game after just a few matches. So bravo New Zealand and Australia for getting the best out of their cross-coders. Not so England.