It seems every team in the Rugby World Cup have brought something interesting to the tournament except England. Yet again the English national team were major disappointments following similar debacles for the cricket and soccer teams. England are the first hosts not to progress to the knockout stages in the history of the World Cup and the team’s premature elimination will have a negative effect on the economy.
The footballers underachieved in Brazil and the national cricket team were beaten by Bangladesh in their World Cup. These tournaments were played in different continents and alien conditions which is just about a valid excuse for underperforming. The rugby championships are being played across England in autumn but teams from the Southern Hemisphere have adapted and are playing well.
Losing to Australia was no disgrace but the manner of the defeat was an appalling conclusion to a tournament that England had been preparing for since 2009. Stuart Lancaster was given a six year contract but surely that now must be terminated. The boss of English rugby said this was not the time for knee jerk reactions. In fact being an embaressment at a home World Cup is exactly the scenario for decisive action. Rugby fans in the north have paid fortunes to see England’s dead rubber against Uruguay at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. They should get a refund.
The decision to go for a try rather than accept a kickable penalty to tie the match against Wales was a 50/50 call but the problem was the execution. Having chosen a line out near the try line England were outfought by the Welsh pack who appeared more determined when the ball was being contested. Once the England pack were forced into touch the game was over and the Australia match was an inevitable denouement. Lancaster should be sacked or resign as he must take responsibility for poor application in the biggest play in English rugby for 12 years.
England are the only previous European winners of the World Cup and no European side has won the tournament in the Northern Hemisphere but France could do just that. They have been workmanlike rather than outstanding in the group stages, winning their first three matches in Pool D, scoring 111 points and conceding 39. The group winners will be decided in France’s match with Ireland which had not been played at the time of writing. The winners of that match will be Europe’s best chance of winning this year’s World Cup.
France are fancied to win which means they will avoid New Zealand in the quarter-finals. To an untrained eye in Freddie Michalak and Louis Picamoles they have two of the best players in the tournament. Michalak made his international debut in 2001 and is now France’s leading Test scorer. Even aged 32 he continues to show great poise when faced with difficult penalty kicks and conversions. If a key match in the latter stages has few tries and kicking is crucial Michalak will not fold and let his country down.
Picamoles has been one of the most effective forwards in the World Cup to date. From the back row he has run and carried the ball impressively more akin to a slighter back. He had scored six tries in 49 matches for France before the start of the World Cup which is a decent return from a pack member. In his two appearances at the start of the tournament he carried the ball over the gain line six times for a total of 81 metres. His contribution and Michalak’s kicking could see France win the World Cup for the first time.
Wales have suffered most with injuries, both before the tournament began and during matches. Passion and adrenaline got them over the line against England but beating Australia looks beyond them. They are projected to finish second in Pool A and set up a quarter final against South Africa. It seems strange that they can only qualify for a last eight match at Twickenham when it would make more sense to have the opportunity to play their first elimination fixture at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
New Zealand are still the team to beat but an Australian side in disarray a year ago were outstanding against England. The Aussies beat the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship recently and could upset the favourites in the projected final though France can have their say and peak at the end of October at Twickenham.