Rugby World Cup Post Mortem

So the rugby world cup is over, well for England anyway, for the teams which have embraced the future it continues and good luck to them all. For England the glory days are well and truly behind them 2000-2003. It was always going to be hard to live up to the world class team of 2003, but we’ve been in the doldrums for a while now, and its simply because the game has moved on.

England have nearly always played knock out rugby well, 2007 being the prime example. Grind out results, hey it might not be pretty but it works. Unfortunately it no longer works over 7 games and things need to change drastically or England face many years of toil, disappointment, the occasional high followed by many lows.

Could the quarter final knockout actual be good for England. The answer is yes if they learn from it. I’m no coach, just a long time fan of the game, but I’d like to analyse 5 things which I think needs to be looked at. Take them with a pinch of salt of course, and feel free to disagree, this is my list and I’m not even qualified to comment, its more of a rant than anything else.

Another point to make is that I’m not going to touch on the media circus surrounding the team. Off pitch calamities have been overblown and help no one but the media outlets sell more papers. Yes the team could be more professional and make sacrifices for a 6 week tournament but that isn’t the heart of the issue.

Basic Skills

Much like a footballer who’s paid to kick a leather ball around a field the basics of the game are not that hard. In my eyes every single professional footballer should be able to dribble, shoot with both feet and head the ball, the degree of proficiency with each skill depends on your position but you should be able to do them, after all thats what you are paid handsomely to do.

In rugby the basics are throw the ball, catch the ball and tackle. Much like football your position demands different levels of proficiency in each skill but you should be able to do each of them from 1-15.

So why does the England team knock on so much, and miss so many tackles? Maybe its cause I am so focussed on the England team but it seems to me that we make far too many passes above the receivers head, drop a high percentage of pop passes and miss a lot of tackles, especially when chasing a high ball.

Come on these are the basics, if we can’t get these right how on earth are we supposed to move on to the intermediate skills? The reason the southern hemisphere teams are so much better than us is because they get the basics right. They know that if they pop a pass out of a tackle there will a) be a man on the shoulder to receive the pass, and b) that player will catch the pass.

Its all well and good having a great forward pack, but if every time a chance is created or a break is made, you know the good stuff a player does, if it breaks down because a player can’t catch a ball well thats just pathetic really.

Discipline

The game of rugby has a lot of rules, some of them are strict and are easy to enforce, like no punching or gouging etc. If you do it on the pitch either the ref will see it and punish you or you’ll get cited after the game. That’s the way of it and its the same for every game.

Other rules are a little looser and can go either way, and some of the best players in the world know how to bend the rules to their advantage. And sometimes you have to break the rules to prevent points being scored. Its always been the way and I’ve got no issue with that. You are never going to have a game where no penalties are awarded.

The ref is there to enforce the rules and some refs enforce them better than others (more on that later) but more often than not a ref is going to tell you as a player if you need to leave a ball on the ground alone or if you are in danger of giving a penalty away. If it isn’t one of those times when its give the penalty away or its points, and high points at that, desist in what you are doing. Simple as that. If you are near the half way line and isolated, and risk being turned over, let it happen. Rely on your team mates to win it back, thats what they are there for. Conceding possession, followed be territory and/or points is senseless, and infuriating to watch.

Instinct may stop a player from doing this. Well that isn’t good enough coaches need to coach this instinct out of the players, and players need to work to do it. What there needs to be is a punishment system for persistent offenders. Its no good being the best scrummager in the world if you cost a team 9-12 points a game, and label your team as persistent offenders.

New Talent

You can’t buy experience apparently well that doesn’t seem to ring true very much anymore. Experience at the expense of talent is wrong. Just because a player has played 50-80 times for your country it shouldn’t automatically guarantee you a place. The reason is that a player may have got that experience by simply being the best of a bad bunch, or a mediocre bunch at best.

I’m looking at players like Nick Easter, Louis Deacon, Mark Cueto and Mike Tindall. All good players and experienced ones at that but they have never been world class players and the experience they bring does not make up for this fact.

Our best player by far this tournament was Manu Tuilagi, young, inexperienced and therefore doesn’t know how to grind out a result. Well bollocks to that, he was cleaning up after Tindall all tournament and the only player to consistently break the line. Look at the welsh team, the team isn’t made up of experienced players for the sake of it. Hell Stephen Jones wasn’t even on the bench in the Quarters, and they didn’t even take Martyn Williams!

Its time to ditch this experience, take a plunge and build a new team. If that means we have a couple of years of being in the bottom 3 in the nations, so be it. Its better than persisting with players who are never going to be good enough. And I never thought I’d say this but that may mean ditching Jonny Wilkinson, however for me, and this is quite a personal preference I don’t think Flood is a replacement.

Injuries

Some players never have any luck, if we look back to football there are always some players who always seem to be injured. Kieron Dyer a prime example. So is the case with rugby. Some players seem to be perpetually injured.

Two players spring to mind here, Andrew Sheridan and captain Lewis Moody. On his day Andrew Sheridan is a fearsome player, strong as an Ox and a powerful scrummager. Unfortunately his days are few and far between as he’s always getting injured.

Injuries are part of the game and its gotten a lot worse in the last few years as players have gotten bigger and more mobile due to the changing game and its professionalism. Problem is players who are prone to injury are a liability.

Should a place in a squad go to a player who might last a game just cause he’s quite good. Or is his likely injury going to end up being more disruptive to the squad as a whole?

And your captain’s name is first on the team sheet, a guaranteed spot. Is certainly shouldn’t be the likely case of if he’s not injured, and he shouldn’t be coming off every game after 60 minutes. If you’re prone to injury you probably are not worth the gamble, sad as that may be.

Referees/Laws

My final point is probably going to be a bit contentious as I have always considered the refs in rugby to be sacred and not to be argued with. But for a while now refs have been ruining the experience of watching the game.

The best refs for me have two qualities, they let games flow and deal with incidents as and when they need to, and they treat both teams the same. Sometimes these can be at odds with one another as if the ref is going to be strict and punish both teams then the game doesn’t flow but I’d rather have that than a ref who calls one team up on everything and lets the odd thing slip for the other team.

I would never go as far as to say refs are intentionally biased as I really don’t believe they are but I would say refs can be influenced by the state of a game and give decisions based on what has gone before.

The people running the game need to take a look at some of the rules and see where it is ruining the experience of watching. Things like the scrum where it seems either side is as likely to give a penalty away no matter what is happening.

Captains/players are talking to the ref more and more, which doesn’t seem right. But when the ref is having to explain his decision as the players don’t know what they’ve done wrong, well that isn’t right either and I’ve seen quite a few instances of that.

It may just be sour grapes but I shouldn’t be talking about the refs performance at the end of a game. I’d much rather talk about how good/poor a side have been in the game itself. Unfortunately this isn’t the case very much, and that just feels wrong.

For what its worth I thought the ref had a good game in the one which England lost, he was fair and consistent and thats how it should be.

So there we go the end of my rant. Thats what is wrong in my eyes, fixing things will be down to the England Team and Management whoever that may be post world cup. For now I’d like to wish Wales all the best for the World Cup. You were my dark horses at the start of the tournament and are playing the game which deserves to win. Whether you have enough to beat NZ is still to be seen, but I’ll be cheering you on hopefully all the way!