Before we get to thinking about the quarter-finals, let’s farewell the 12 other teams who are going home.
The Blooming Good
Japan – the Brave Blossoms – were the team of the pool stage. Not only did they upset South Africa, they proved it wasn’t a fluke by taking care of Samoa and USA into the bargain. You can argue that their tournament strategy should have been to target Scotland rather than Samoa if they were going to make the quarters. But fuhgeddaboutit. They were great.
Fiji had the hardest row to hoe in Pool A, and they managed it brilliantly. Just one win doesn’t tell the story of their Cup: they pushed Australia, Wales and England hard, and Nakarawa was one of the players of the tournament. A travesty that they’ll have to qualify for 2019 while England get automatic entry.
Georgia played like they want a place at the table, rather than the crumbs. Three courses, please, and plenty of meat. Better than Italy, bigger than Japan, they deserve to get a suite of matches to match their appetite. All Blacks in Tblisi, anyone?
The Muddled Middle
Tonga, Samoa, Italy, Romania did not go forward, which meant they went backwards in relative terms. At times each of them played well, but never with enough consistency, and never enough to polish their rugby legacy.
Time for honest self-appraisal. Look hard at the governance and administration rather than the players.
The Happy Amateurs
Uruguay and Namibia bottomed their pools. Of course they did. Most of their players have day jobs.
But they played like they were happy to be there, and celebrated whatever tries they could steal, and stood up as they could. They didn’t get hammered on the scoreboard as in previous Cups because they competed into the second halfs. Genuine contributors to a global event.
Good on ya.
The Yankee Doodle Awful
Rich countries have an advantage in global sports. The egalitarian in me says they shouldn’t, but they do.
Which is why I’m bloody running out of patience with USA and Canada. Yes, yes, I know rugby is a minority sport, which means they don’t get first pick of the college athletes.
But enough with the excuses already. You’re rich. It’s bloody simple: get a cashed-up sponsor and spend it all on the best bloody coach who’ll believe that you’re serious about getting serious. A kiwi would be a good start, and not Keiran Crowley because although he’s a good bloke and ex-All Black and coached Taranaki for awhile, he’s not top drawer in the coaching furniture department.
The Wheels Fell Off the Chariot
A special case all by themselves, England could have and arguably should have edged Wales in Pool A.
Forget about that late decision to go for a lineout drive rather than kick the penalty for a draw. The really bad decision was to throw to the front of the lineout. I mean, you what? Of course the Welshmen ganged up on you and pushed you over the sideline. That’s why you throw to the middle or back, you fools.
And that epitomizes how rugby really is a game of inches. The top two inches, as they say. It’s about nous in tight situations.
Yes, they’re a young side, and yes, they’ll be better for it in 2019. Shame they were playing the 2015 version.
And that probably is the last word on why coach Stuart Lancaster needs to take the blame. He’s had 4 years to develop a team with nous, but he spent all of it experimenting with this and that combination, hoping that there would be a miraculous clicking noise.
There wasn’t. There very rarely is. It’s hard yakka getting to the top. Just ask Sir Ed.