With the dust now having settled on the tournament it is time for my thoughts on the event and what should happen to improve the next tournament. I have produced a team of the tournament which I have compiled by combining the choices of twelve expert pundits.
As we have come to expect from major sporting events in Britain over recent years the support for the event was tremendous. The combination of British people wanting to attend an “event” whether they are particularly interested in the sport or not and the numbers of people from the competing nations who live in Britain made for great interest.
There has been a lot of rubbish written about England’s efforts and especially about Sam Burgess. The team was fairly uninspiring for much of the time but that is often true of England teams. In fact they played better than the 2007 team which went on to make the final did in their group matches. That 2007 stumbled through the group but found a way to win in the knockout stages.
If England’s decision making had been better against Wales they would have made it through the group. Burgess was substituted when England were leading the match against Wales and so any criticism of his selection’s effect on the team has to be seen in that light. It wasn’t him who cost England a place in the quarter-finals. That blame lies with the England captain or more likely the England management for the the decision to go for a try rather than a penalty which would have tied the game against Wales. The management had to know that because England had secured a bonus point against Fiji a draw was an acceptable result against the Welsh. This should have been made clear to the team before the match. It was always likely that the Welsh would struggle for a bonus point when they played Fiji, and they didn’t in fact get that bonus.
England were very unlucky in that they faced the most difficult group in the history of the world cup. The fault here lies with the decision to draw the groups three years before the tournament. It is ridiculous that it was made such a long time before the world cup when all sorts of changes in the strengths of teams can occur. If football can make the draw for its world cup six months before the event so can rugby.
The other change that I would make to the structure of the world cup is to the number of teams in each group. Five is unsatisfactory because it means each round of matches has one team sitting out. This unbalances the schedule as some teams have longer gaps or recovery periods between matches than others. Five-team groups have five rounds of games, but then so do six-team groups. My suggestion would be that in future the world cup should have four groups of six teams. The problems with this would be that the tournament may take a little longer and that the weakest teams would struggle more than in a twenty team world cup. However, their standard would improve by meeting better teams, something we have seen with the lower ranked teams in this world cup.
Finally I give the team of the tournament chosen by journalists and players.
15. B.Smith (NZ)
14. N.Milner-Skudder (NZ) or S.Cordero (Arg)
13. C.Smith (NZ)
12. M.Nonu (NZ) or M.Giteau (Aus)
11. J.Savea (NZ)
10. D.Carter (NZ)
9. A. Smith (NZ)
8. D.Pocock (Aus)
7. S.Warburton (Wales) or M.Leitch (Jap)
6. R.McCaw (NZ)
5. B.Retallick (NZ)
4. L.Nakarawa (Fiji)
3. R.Herrera (Arg)
2. A.Creevy (Arg) or D.Coles (NZ)
1. S.Sio (Aus)
Where two alternatives are given there was a tie in the number of times they were picked. There is a little flexibility in positions, for instance with the flankers McCaw was picked at 6 and 7 by different experts. The only unanimous choices were Dan Carter and David Pocock who was the choice as player of the tournament by the majority of experts.