Rugby is the most significant sport that New Zealanders follow so it follows that the Men’s Rugby World Championship (RWC) is the most significant sporting event that we will follow. This statement has been backed up by the huge numbers of people around the country that gathered at various community spots to watch the latter rounds as a community. A great time for all, and I thought a great time to consider the tournament, could it be better, is it all we ask for.
This year the RWC consisted of 20 teams in 4 groups. The next tournament is to consist of 24 teams, the extra 4 presumably being weaker than teams such as Namibia who were 90 points worse than our team. The last 5 events have been won by two teams, us and South Africa. What this means is that the RWC in its current form is only relevant to two teams plus a couple of triers. It needs to evolve to give the rest of the field something to play for, and to give international rugby more relevance and interest.
I suggest the RWC takes an idea from the Rugby Sevens circuit and introduces a plate round. If such a round was in place at this year’s tournament, we would have seen the Championship quarter finals as we saw, but would also seen a plate round, starting with quarterfinals that would have featured teams such as Italy, Uruguay, Scotland, Tonga, Australia, Portugal, Japan and Samoa. The benefits of this second level competition are numerous, more games for spectators, income potential for the hosts and something for lessor nations such as Australia to play for. Quite frankly I cannot see any negative to this idea which could be extended so that with a field of 24 teams a bowl round could also be introduced.
The other major problem with the game is the rules. There are too many of them, often contradictory and difficult to understand by the fans, the officials and the players. The rules allow for “legal” offside plays in mauls, and situations where you are not allowed to tackle the ball carrier (also mauls). The game is focussed on points of conflict for the ball, rucks, line outs and scrums; but has created conflicting rules for those points. For example, if a team wins the ball at a scrum they can then muck around and try and win a penalty. This is often successful, but is pointless, boring for the fans and leads to negative tactics as a preference for many teams.
These problems meant that we ended up with a tournament that dragged on and was only of interest to a few nations. Australians for example stopped watching games about four weeks ago. New Zealanders continued to watch as first the Irish, and then the Argentines fell before us. Which left us facing the old foe of South Africa in the final.
The final was not a great game, and congratulations to South Africa on their win. But it was not a great game due to poor officiating, a consistent feature of modern Rugby, and the resulting boring tactics of some teams, South Africa included. Officials do not appear to understand the game anymore than we do so they appear to make an early mental decision on what team they think has dominance at collision points and rule accordingly. This leads to situations where the officials refuse to rule on what is in front of them because of the presumptions they have made, and in this case the presumptions were not in favour of New Zealand. Early in the game the South African team received the official’s approval, and this did not seriously waver. In the second half when we were clearly dominant, we received no benefit from the officials. There were several significant plays in this half where New Zealand as the dominant team was disadvantaged by this poor officiating. One was a maul at the South African line that was pulled down which resulted in our team receiving a penalty. In any other game it would have been a penalty try. Not in the final. Another prime situation was the final scrum of the match where New Zealand smashed the South African scrum, but the referee was not prepared to give us the penalty we would normally have received in this situation.
These were significant failings by the referee who seemed to have picked his winner early on and wasn’t going to change his mind. The result was that he could be accused of picking the winner.
But not entirely. New Zealand, basically with 14 men for most of the game played well and had opportunities to win the game which they did not take. The is the nature of sport, so we congratulate the victors. We should also congratulate our team and their coaches who did a great job in getting to be one kick away from winning the world cup. But the tournament could be better, and we hope it is in Australia in 2027.
NZ Vs South Africa – Rugby World cup Final 2023.