The 9th edition of the Rugby World Cup is over.

Legends retired, heroes, villains were made, and bosses had to deal with employees taking long lunches. And the Springboks are the world champions. I’ll say it again, the Springboks are the world champions! It seems emerging victorious over the All Blacks in a World Cup has become something of a poisoned chalice. The last team to beat New Zealand en route to claiming the Web Ellis trophy is South Africa in 1995.

Since then every team to knock out the All Blacks has lost in the following round. England are the latest team to fall victim to that curse. And it’s on to France (again) in 2023. Now would be a good time to start saving up, and learn French, if you harbour ambitions of attending the 10th Rugby World Cup. But let’s talk about the good the bad and the ugly of Japan 2019.

The Ugly

Mbuyiseni Ndlozi

The EFF pride themselves on being the warriors of the working class. Fighting on behalf of those who cannot fight for themselves. The voice of the voiceless. The ultimate disrupters of the status quo. Their antics polarise opinion and are content to be viewed as nothing more than mindless thugs whose behaviour doesn’t belong in parliament. But these are well-educated individuals, who make calculated decisions and are fully aware of the chaos that erupts as a consequence. But EFF National Spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi clearly and rather foolishly misread the mood of the country with his attacks on the Springboks in the wake of the Rugby World Cup victory.

Even in the face of heavy pushback to his tweet, Ndlozi dug his heels in. Eventually saying in a tv interview that he has been “misunderstood”. But it is Ndlozi who has misunderstood South Africans, as evidenced by the rapturous reception the World Champions have received on their parades. The Springboks unforgettable achievement will not solve the problems currently facing the rainbow nation, but for a moment, just a moment, we dared to dream, to hope of what can be.

Australia

The last 4 years have not been good for Australian rugby, and that’s putting it mildly. In a country in which Australian Rules Football is king, and Rugby League is incredibly popular, the Wallabies need to be successful to remain relevant (for lack of a better word). Since reaching the final of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Australian rugby has undergone a significant downturn under coach Michael Cheika. In 2016 the Wallabies lost 4 times to arch-rivals England, with 3 of those defeats on home soil. They lost another 3 match series in Australia in 2018, this time against Ireland.

Mixed into this volatile Wallaby bowl is the Israel Folau legal dispute. There’s no telling how that saga will end. But hope sprung eternal when the Wallabies stunned the All Blacks in Perth during the 2019 Rugby Championship. But that was a false dawn. Australia lost a Pool D match to Wales before a comprehensive quarterfinal defeat to nemesis England closed the chapter on a sorry period of Australian rugby.

SuperSport/SABC

SuperSport 1 (Channel 201) is a part of the Dstv Premium Package. To view rugby on local screens, SuperSport 1 is the designated channel. But as a part of the Premium Package, it isn’t accessible to many South Africans. The rugby authorities and the politicians talk a big game when it comes to transformation and growing the sport. Multichoice won the tv rights to broadcast the World Rugby showpiece on South African screens. Hardly a surprise. Unlike FIFA, World Rugby doesn’t insist on the World Cup being televised on free-to-air tv.

Therefore the SABC had to buy rights from Multichoice to broadcast any rugby matches. The SABC’s financial woes have been well documented, and there has been previous conflict between the national broadcaster and Multichoice with the ongoing issues surrounding the PSL tv rights. Many poor South Africans did not watch any action from the tournament until a deal was tentatively struck to televise the Rugby World Cup Final. But if SA Rugby and the Ministry of Sport are serious about the growth of the sport of Rugby Union, then the conversation cannot begin and end with the bottom line.

Typhoon Hagibis

Never in the history of the Rugby World Cup has a match been cancelled for any reason. The closest to such a drastic measure was the 1995 semifinal between South Africa and France when the Durban skyline opened up to produce unseasonable rain. The repercussions of a cancellation for that match would result in the elimination of the Springboks on account of a poor disciplinary record. But this wasn’t a rainstorm, this was the most powerful Typhoon in the Kanto region in 40 years, causing an unprecedented situation for World Rugby, the cancellation of Rugby World Cup matches. Namibia/Canada was cancelled and the England/France match was also written off. The cancellation of these two matches was inconsequential in regards to teams progressing to the next round.

But the Pool A showdown between hosts Japan and Scotland had potential ramifications with Scotland being eliminated due to the cancellation of the match. Fortunately, that match survived the chopping block. Italy were not so fortunate, however. The Azzuri’s time in Japan was over as they were denied an opportunity to play the All Blacks for a place in the quarterfinals. You can only wonder if the authorities would’ve made a plan if the roles were reversed. But we need to remind ourselves that rugby is only a sport and that there are real-life consequences to extreme weather events. At the time of writing, 89 people were killed and 7 are missing. And that is the real story and tragedy of Typhoon Hagibis.

Sebastien Vahaamahina

49 minutes into the quarterfinal in Oita, France led Wales 19-10 and had setup a promising maul just inside Welsh territory. Match referee Jaco Peyper was alerted by Television Match Official(TMO) Marius Jonker of a possible infraction by French Lock Sebastien Vahaamahina. TV replays clearly showed the New Caledonian giant swing an elbow into the face of Welsh Flanker Aaron Wainwright. Some science fiction fans believe in an alternate universe, make a major decision in your life, and an alternate reality is created in which you made a different choice. Whether you go out and drink and drive or take an Uber. In one life you end safe and sound in your bed and go on with your life. In another life, you get into a car accident and live the rest of your life in a wheelchair.

Apologies for the morbid example. Alternate universes are based around choices.  In another reality, France win the match and play the Springboks in the semifinal. Like I said, science fiction. What we do know, is that Les Bleus did not score another point, and went on to lose 20-19. I can only imagine the reaction if Vahaamahina was an English footballer. It is mind-blowing that players at this level think they can get away with foul play with so many cameras in the stadium. Sebastien Vahaamahina has since announced his retirement from international rugby and will have to live with his moment of madness for the rest of his life.

The Bad

Argentina

Argentina are at a crossroads. Prior to joining SANZAR structures, the bulk of Argentinean talent plied their trade in Europe, with France being a popular destination. But since the northern hemisphere and the southern operate under different calendars, the Argentine Rugby Union gives preference to players who remain in Argentina. But there is only one Super Rugby team that represents Argentina, Jaguares. In essence, Jaguares is the Argentinean national team. On one hand, this is good for the chemistry and understanding between the players, evidenced by the Jaguares impressive showing in Super Rugby. On the other hand, fatigue is a big issue, particularly for Los Pumas.

The same group of players are used from Super Rugby to the Rugby Championship up until the European end of year tour. A compromise will have to be reached between the Jaguares and the national team on the best way forward for the management of the players workload. The addition of a Jaguares developmental XV into the Currie Cup 1st Division will hopefully be a beneficial venture. A 2nd Argentinean team playing in a competitive league, similar to the days of the Pampas XV in the Vodacom Cup. But what Pumas rugby really needs is a fully professional league in Argentina. The future of Argentina rugby is at stake.

USA

The United States men’s rugby team continues to struggle in the 15 men version. Played 4, lost 4. That is the American record at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. But you can copy and paste the results at the 2015 event in England. The last time The Eagles won a match at the World Cup was in New Zealand 2011. The solitary victory on that occasion came at the expense of the Russians. There have been memorable moments, Takudza Ngwenya famously outpacing Bryan Habana in 2007. But whilst the 15 man game is struggling, the USA 7s team is beginning to flourish. The success of the 7s unit has not been accidental. The inclusion of Rugby 7s in the Summer Olympic Games has seen an increase in investment into the American 7s programme. The pathway from the 7s team into the US national team is not a natural one anymore.  Meaning it is unlikely we will see 7s sensation Perry Baker playing in the 15 man game. Which is a shame.

The Eagles could be the new version of Fiji, but they have vastly superior resources to the Pacific Islanders to build a strong 15 man game in the United States. I often hear suggestions on why athletes who fail to make the grade in the NFL don’t make the switch to rugby. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea, but these are vastly different sports. You can’t just take an offensive lineman and turn him into a Prop Forward. He has to learn to navigate the murky world of the scrum, and the dynamics of lineout formations. These are skills that take a lifetime to learn. You can get away without a solid tight five in 7s, but not in the 15s. Americans are a proud country, they surely will not be happy about being the whipping boys of any sport, their answer is usually to throw money at the problem. Time will tell on where American rugby is headed.

Ireland

The Irish were the favourites for many pundits before the World Cup. An impressive 2018 for the Shamrocks convinced many this could the year Ireland won their first Rugby World Cup. Ireland triumphed in the 6 Nations, including the Grand Slam along the way. Ireland were then able to beat the Wallabies in a 3 match series in Australia. And then the icing on the cake, a second win against the All Blacks in as many years.

But a disappointing 2019 6 Nations campaign set the alarm bells ringing. In Japan, the Irish flattered to deceive, despite a good start against Scotland. Ireland were upset by the host nation, relegating them to second place in the Pool, setting them on a collision course with the revenge-seeking World Champions. The contest was barely that, as New Zealand made light work of Ireland. Ireland’s plight was one many Kiwis recognised. They had peaked between World Cups.

Matt Dawson

It’s common practice for retired professional rugby players and coaches to write articles for various publications. This avenue provides fans with insight on the inner workings and preparations of the athletes you view on your tv screens or the local stadium. And it’s an opportunity for the former pro to make some money. Former England Scrumhalf and 2003 Rugby World Cup winner Matt Dawson writes a weekly column for bbc.co.uk.

Now, it’s hardly a surprise that Dawson would predict an England win, particularly in the wake of a famous victory over the All Blacks, but to say no South Africans would make it into a combined XV, come on. On a personal note, I don’t understand the point of these combined teams that “experts “ create. Do they have nothing else to talk about or write about? Anyway, thank goodness Dawson and his smug attitude was wrong.

https://www.google.co.za/amp/s/www.bbc.co.uk/sport/amp/rugby-union/50246735

The Good

Japan

This was the first Rugby World Cup to be hosted by a non-tier 1 country. And what a tournament it has been. From the Japanese national team to the local residents, and the Organising Committee, the hosts should be very proud of themselves. But should we be surprised? The 2002 FIFA World Cup was an exceptionally hosted event, refereeing aside. And who’ll forget Japanese fans cleaning stadiums after football matches in Russia last year? There was even a group that learned the 19 national anthems of the participating countries in Japan 2019.

The Organising Committee and the local authorities did an excellent job in dealing with various Typhoons. Yes, there was more than 1 typhoon. Stadium attendance was 99.3%. The World Cup final was as much a sellout as Georgia versus Uruguay. Incredible. And let us not forget the Brave Blossoms, who played some of the most frenetic and breathtaking rugby in the tournament. Following on from Eddie Jones, Jamie Joseph did a phenomenal job. From everyone here at Sleb, and I would think the rest of the rugby world, arigato.

Kieran Read

It was always going to be a tall order to follow Richie McCaw as New Zealand captain. But Kieran Read has handled the pressure really well and been a great ambassador for his country and the sport. Every test match the All Blacks play, every series or competition they are participants in, the men in black are expected to win. And when these exceedingly high expectations are not met, the 2 men who receive the most criticism are the coach and the captain. For a lot of  Kiwis, head coach Steve Hansen can do no wrong, so Kieran Read has copped a fair bit of flack in the last 4 years.

But losing to England in the semifinals was a bitter pill to swallow, for Read, the All Blacks, and the New Zealand public. But the New Zealand captain was gracious in defeat, praised England for their performance, and offered no excuses. After defeating Wales in the 3rd/4th playoff Read, and the rest of his teammates wore their Bronze medals with smiles. Kieran Read has announced his retirement from international rugby after 128 test caps in the black jumper.

Fans

It always amazes me the difference in behaviour at international tournaments between football fans and rugby fans. In particular, the English fans. I could be wrong, but I did not hear or read about any degenerate behaviour from the fans. No riot police, no water cannons. Even with the chaos caused by Typhoon Hagibis, I didn’t hear anything about law enforcement officials having to deal with unhappy supporters. Perhaps there is a Sociology professor who can enlighten us why there is such a vastly different atmosphere between rugby and football events.

TMO (Television Match Official)

The TMO system in rugby isn’t perfect. But the mistakes by the officials are minimal. Unlike the absolute shambles that is VAR (Video Assistant Referee). To be fair to VAR, it’s only been in use for a couple of years, while TMO has been around so long, you can scarcely remember a time without it. But football can learn some lessons from its oval-shaped cousin. Both the referee and the TMO are mic’d up. The conversation between the officials is fully audible.

The replays can be seen on the stadium’s big screen, which keeps match-going fans in the loop. However, what I would like to see from both sports is a public announcement of sorts. In the NFL, after an official has reviewed replays on a touchline screen, he activates his mic, announces his decision which can be heard all around the stadium, and by the viewers at home. This will limit the confusion. Bottom line TMO > VAR.

And finally….

The Springboks

What a turn around it has been for the Boks. 2 years ago the Green and Gold lost 57-0 to the All Blacks, 38-3 to Ireland, and there was the first-ever defeat to Italy. That spelt the end of the Alistair Coetzee era.

If you missed our previous article on the analysis of the Springboks Click here

Sizwe Luthayi

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_Rugby_World_Cup#Qualifying?wprov=sfsi1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia_national_rugby_union_team#2010s?wprov=sfsi1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typhoon_Hagibis_(2019)?wprov=sfsi1

https://www.rugbyworldcup.com/news/521323

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_national_rugby_sevens_team?wprov=sfsi1