Fitting final to memorable RWC
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
I was fearful it would be a one-sided final, but typical of the French they turned up. Their response to the haka showed they were up for the game. France did very well, and to be honest if one looks at the statistics, particularly in the second half, they perhaps deserved to win.
However, former French prop Pieter de Villiers summed it up best when he said he felt it was the All Blacks’ destiny to win this World Cup. New Zealand have been the top side over the last four years, certainly played the most consistent rugby in the tournament and in the end was fitting that the world class Richie McCaw hoisted the Cup.
The pressure of the occasion, however, got to the All Blacks. Their attack looked largely sterile, but this was partly down to their conservative approach and France’s strong defence.
New Zealand looked a shadow of the team they were during the tournament, and where somewhat fortuitous, but ultimately won it on resilient defence and discipline. They were under pressure in the second stanza, but never conceded the key penalty.
I felt the enforced changes at flyhalf worked well for both teams, and I was chuffed for the often out of favour Stephen Donald who slotted what proved to be the decisive penalty.
The All Black lineout struggled, and has become something of their Achilles heel. France made their mark in the game, partly because the set-piece wasn’t an effective launch pad from which the All Blacks could attack. Brad Thorn is an excellent player, but not the greatest lineout exponent. When the All Blacks won their own ball, it was at times scrappy. The scrum contest was a more even affair.
Thierry Dusautoir, man of the match in the final and IRB Player of the Year, was a tower of strength for the French at the tournament. He is a terrific player and did well in leading the side through challenging circumstances.
For me the standout feature of the tournament was the involvement of the entire New Zealand public. They got behind all the teams and hosted a highly successful event. The next two World Cups are in G7 countries, but I certainly hope a country like New Zealand gets the World Cup again. The IRB didn’t make the money they will in 2015, but the event was well supported and good for the game.
Another positive, was the fact the so-called minnows gave a good account of themselves. I think the gap has closed significantly between the tier-one and tier-two nations. The IRB should be commended for maintaining a 20-team World Cup so that the game remains global. With a proper test programme, which the IRB is currently working on, all the tier-two nations are going to see the gap close even further come 2015.
The bronze medal match was a difficult game for both Australia and Wales to get up for, but they made a decent effort. I didn’t think it was the greatest game and as Kobus Wiese says, that match is like kissing your cousin.
Wales will continue to develop and will do well in 2015. The Wallabies have a host of good young players and with Robbie Deans having committed his immediate future, they maintain continuity. They will however need to shore up their pack and with Quade Cooper injured for up to six months, Berrick Barnes should cover flyhalf. Deans will also need to revaluate his centre combination.
For me Quade Cooper had the most disappointing tournament of all the top-flight players. The jury is still out whether he can manage a game at top-flight international level as a ten. At times, the pressure really got to him.
As far as teams go, the Springboks will be disappointed having exited at the quarterfinal stage. However, it’s now a completely new era for South African rugby.
There are some exciting youngsters; and I think Patrick Lambie could well stake his claim at flyhalf.
I feel there will be a slight change in the way the Boks play, but much will be dependent upon which coach is appointed.
The Springboks are capable of playing a variety of styles and I believe we have enough talent to tailor make our strategy to fit any game. It’s now just a question of getting the balance right. My team of the tournament:
15. Israel Dagg (NZ)
Lethal strike power, exceptional evasive skills and a massive boot. 14. Vincent Clerc (FRA)
Scored some memorable tries in a team that at times underperformed.13. Jaque Fourie (SA)
Wasn’t an outside centre who stood out significantly not to pick Fourie. 12. Jamie Roberts (WAL)
A colossus on attack and defence.11. Richard Kahui (NZ)
Big, strong, tall. Stellar all-round game.10. Dan Carter (NZ)
Best flyhalf by a country mile. A tragedy he was injured.9. Mike Phillips (WAL)
Dangerous on attack, solid on defence.8. Imanol Harinordoquy (FRA)
Hard man, high workrate and excellent lineout exponent.7. Richie McCaw (captain - NZ)
Great decision maker, leader, and technically superb. My man of the tournament.6. Jerome Kaino (NZ)
Offers lineout presence and has become the complete blindside flank. 5. Victor Matfield (SA)
Now retired, but in his last game, still the master of the lineout.4. Brad Thorn (NZ)
Fantastic workrate and would complement Matfield as the enforcer.3. Owen Franks (NZ)
Superb scrummager and effective around the park.2. Bismarck du Plessis (SA)
Best hooker in the world. Great scrummager and unbelievable physicality.1. Gethin Jenkins (WAL)
A mobile, yet solid frontranker.Coach: Graham Henry (NZ)
An outstanding coach, with great experience and knowledge of the game.
Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.
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