It’s the big festival of Rugby. Called the Rugby World Cup and ostensibly held to decide who is the best team in the world.
If the AB’s happen to drop a game in the play offs and don’t win the final, then they will not retain the world cup, but it would be hard to still claim that they are not the world’s best team. They are. They have lost just three games in the four years since the last world cup. Dropping one more game in this tournament will not change our position as best team in the world
Certainly a tournament such as this seems, at the playoffs end of it, seems to be a battle between two responses: temporary deflation at losing, or sheer relief at winning. And should that be what a world cup tournament is all about? Being crowned world champions is just relief? Where is the joy? And as for the temporary nature of both winning and losing, the All Blacks were crowned 2011 world champions on 23 October and the following year they lost to England who had had a shocker of a world cup tournament. England’s media made much of the beating the World Champions. The former English coach, Sir Clive Woodward, rubbed salt into the wound claiming the French were robbed by the referee in the RWC Final. It took a little shine off the Webb Ellis.
Still he may have a point, the RWC11 Final certainly had a fortuitous last ten minutes as regards All Black discipline in the most tense and stressful environment of their careers. However it was nowhere near as blatant as the refereeing bias in the RWC07 quarter-final when co-hosts France came back from the dead at half time with an error free (or at least penalty free) second half, including a metre forward last pass for the winning try awarded by a ‘deer in the headlights’ Wayne Barnes. That coach Graeme Henry survived the traditional sacking, was also unusual. One cannot help but speculate that France not being in the semi final in Paris was politically or commercially unacceptable to the IRB and so NZ were promised similar refereeing leniency in NZ 2011 for just taking the 2007 quarter-final loss on the chin and keeping Henry quiet. Henry survived and everyone failed to challenge Barnes’ refereeing (or at least until after 2011 when Henry finally published his book).
Is politics alive and well in the Rugby World Cup? One would have to think so. Do the IRB through control of the referees have the opportunity to fix games? Well, establishing and maintaining such complex rules does give them a lot of flexibility. No one but the referee (or the IRB puppet-master for the day) knows what way a penalty would go when someone is tackled, (did one fail to roll away or the other prevent him rolling away?) or a scrum collapses (did he jump or was he pushed?).
So where is the joy in Rugby World Cup tournaments?
The joy, my friends, is in the gods of rugby delivering not only the unexpected, but also the unimaginable. The puppet masters see this only as a knockout tournament between eight teams. Another dozen teams are patronisingly included in the tournament to help fund it and to provide a bit of a training run for the final 8 who play for the Cup.
And one of the lightest training runs scheduled was for the Springboks’ opening game. The chance to run up a cricket score against a team of lightweight Japanese players, padded out with a few ‘no names’ from the South Pacific nations who were never in the running for their home-country teams. The team associated with the delicate and fragile image of a blossom was about to be trampled under the thundering hooves of a horde of rampant Springboks. The referee would never been given any instructions from the puppet master; why would he bother? So the referee just refereed what he saw and it was honest refereeing, just as it would be for any ‘friendly match’. The players played and it was honest playing.
But the Japanese did the unthinkable, the unimaginable; they turned down a kick at goal to get a well deserved draw and they played for the try against the bigger team with a desperation to defend their line. And the Blossoms got it! they scored the try against all odds. They won. And at last a game delivered pure, unadulterated joy. The joy was not only amongst the Japanese supporters, the joy was from the entire rugby world, excluding South Africa. Unless he now wins the trophy, the risk for poor Heyneke Meyer is not just sacking, it may well be imprisonment for high treason.
The tournament will probably go back to normal after this. South Africa will probably still top the Pool; Japan may win another game against the USA, but that will probably not be enough to get them into the quarter finals. The puppet-masters may have already decided that England will have this tournament, (best result all round for global sponsorship, what?), but who cares anymore?
Whoever gets the Webb Ellis trophy this year, the All Blacks will still be the best rugby team in the world and Japan will still be the little engine that could (and did). The South African jersey, no matter what hi-tech fabric it is made from, will still feel like sack cloth for decades to come.
Bless you little Blossoms, you brought the joy back into the tournament and delivered the karma to South Africa for the food poisoning of the All Blacks in RWC95.