As Richie McCaw triumphantly lifted the Webb Ellis Cup on Saturday afternoon, confirming New Zealand as back-to-back world champions and the first team to win the trophy three times, the 2015 edition of the Rugby World Cup officially came to a close. After 48 games of rugby, 271 tries, and 2,439 points scored, it is time to look back and reflect on the past six weeks of rugby action and decide on the best and worst of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The 2015 Rugby World Cup was much more competitive than any other, with the tier 2 rugby nations really stepping up their game in the pool stages. The days of New Zealand’s 145-17 demolition of Japan in 1995 now seem a distant memory. This added competitiveness made for a phenomenal viewing spectacle for rugby fans throughout the world. The final, or at least the second half of it, was one of the best rugby games in recent memory, with Australia battling hard to resurrect their chances that had seemed to go up in smoke after Ma’a Nonu’s try. A special mention must surely also go to Scotland’s epic 36-33 win over Samoa to clinch their quarter final space. However, when fans reflect on this tournament in years to come, the match that will forever be ingrained in their memory will be Japan’s 34-32 win over South Africa on the tournament’s opening weekend. It wasn’t just the seismic nature of the win that was impressive, but the way in which Japan doggedly hung on before scoring a wonderful last minute try that will make this game an all-time rugby classic.
With so many tries being scored at this tournament, even narrowing it down to the following three was difficult. Julian Savea’s first try of his hat-trick against France was one that Jonah Lomu would have been proud of, smashing his way through three French defenders before touching the ball down. A special mention must also go to Bernard Foley’s second try against England. A combination of slick passing and a moment of genius from Will Genia carved open the English defence for Foley to get the ball across the line – a well-executed move that ultimately dumped England out of the competition. The top try of the tournament however was definitely scored by Fiji’s Vereniki Goneva in their Pool A match against Wales. Fiji’s determination to play sevens style rugby under any circumstances is admirable if not slightly reckless, but if it produces tries like the one in question then no one will have any complaints. Beginning in their own 22, the Fijians produced a moment of running rugby magic to score just next to the posts at the other end of the pitch. Definitely the most impressive try of the competition, and definitely the best team effort on show. Had Fiji not been thrown into a pool with Wales, England and Australia, a quarter-final berth could surely have been attainable.
Whilst all the talk has been centered around the teams and players on the pitch, it is also important to acknowledge the enormous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes at the training ground. While it may be tempting to simply give this award to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, the coaching talent of other teams must surely also be recognized. This is not to diminish Hansen’s accomplishment, but he was blessed with an exceptionally talented team that has consistently dominated world rugby for the past 8 years. Other coaches have had to do a lot more, with fewer resources at their disposal. Two coaches in particular seem to have completely revolutionized their respective teams. The first is Eddie Jones, who has done absolute wonders for Japanese rugby since his appointment, and has left them in a great position looking forward. The win against South Africa will forever be remembered by rugby fans throughout the world, and had it not been for the quick turnaround they had before they played Scotland, making the quarter finals would not have seemed as ridiculous as it may have a couple of months ago. However, the true coach of the tournament is most definitely Michael Cheika. When he was appointed coach in November 2014, the Wallabies were in disarray, and many pundits weren’t convinced they were even going to make it out of their group, let alone make it to the final. Such a massive turnaround has been down to Cheika alone, and he most definitely deserves all of the praise and credit that is coming his way.
In truth, it is obvious where this award will be going, but there were several other teams that failed to step up to the high standards they hold themselves to. Specifically, the Pacific Island teams (with the exception of Fiji, who were cruelly deposited in the toughest World Cup pool ever) never really hit top gear. Samoa were an outside bet to make the quarter finals but were outclassed by Japan. Tonga, after their thrilling victory against France in the 2011 tournament, got dragged into a physical encounter against Georgia that stifled their game and allowed Georgia to claim an historic 17-10 victory, and automatic qualification to the next tournament. The real winners of this award however, must surely be England. To not make it out of the group stage in a home world cup is criminal at best.
England as host nation
While the so-called ‘home advantage’ hardly did England any favours, their hosting of the tournament was absolutely sensational. Rugby was brought to all corners of the host nation; from Exeter in the South West, to Newcastle in the North East. The fan-zones in all the host cities were fantastic, providing an incredible atmosphere and environment to take advantage of a tournament full of drama. England can hold its head high at hosting arguably the best world cup to date.
Photograph: jeanfrancois beausejour via Flickr