It was the Kiwi’s 4th choice fly half Stephen Donald who stroked the winning kick in the Rugby World Cup Final. So in his honour here are 4 winners from this year’s tournament.
The Welsh will forever remember the decision in the semi final to send off Sam Warberton, but the standard of refereeing has been excellent. The officials were consistent throughout and decisions about the scrum were made quickly which kept the game from descending into a melee of reset set pieces. Joubert in the semi final between Australia and New Zealand was particularly good.
2. Smaller Teams
For the second World cup in a row there was genuine uncertainty in all the pools about who would progress from the group stages, which did marvels for the momentum of the tournament.
Millions of dollars have been ploughed into the smaller nations to broaden the reach of the game and it has paid off. Even the fourth seeded teams such as Georgia were much improved.
There’s doubt about whether the money will keep flowing, but in the next four years the bigger teams need to commit to playing the smaller nations regularly to give them experience– even if they just send a second string XV. They should also introduce a buddying system where each major nation aids the development of a smaller one.
As in previous tournaments defence came to the fore in the knock out stages. Exponents such as Shaun Edwards ensured that teams were well prepared and strategically aware. The tackling was ferociously intense and the ability to defend the 10 metre line as if it was a try line kept teams from getting even a hint of drop goal in the latter stages. The way France held their line against Wales for the last 10 minutes was superb and New Zealand returned the favour in the final.
4. The New Zealand Nation
Two massive earthquakes have devastated Christchurch (the 3rd city) and come close to bankrupting the country for rebuilding and insurance. The recent horrific oil spill adds insult to injury. Another World Cup defeat and in their own back yard would be too much to bear.
Who could begrudge this rugby mad country the victory they so longed for? You cut it fine at the end, but were undoubtedly the team of the tournament.
Congratulations New Zealand.