Like a David Byrne-inspired verse, I’ve been asking myself: how did we get here?
A team that has lost twice in a World Cup is facing up to another that has yet to be challenged in any form on the rugby field, contesting for the principal honour in the sport of rugby. It shouldn’t have happened. And, if rugby is to achieve its goal of a becoming a truly global sport, it must never be allowed to happen again.
I’ve spent the better part of ten days commiserating with fellow Bok fans who share my feelings of being violated by the quarterfinal loss, and arguing with others who keep moaning some nonsense about “playing the ref”. To those who feel South Africa lost that match in spite of ourselves, I would suggest they consider a Formula One scenario where driver A is given wet tyres to race on rain-soaked track and driver B is given slicks to attempt the race. Because that is exactly what Bryce Lawrence did by failing to engage his lone brain-cell on “Black Sunday” in Wellington, and thereby managed single-handedly to ruin the World Cup for every spectator bar those living on North or South Island.
This piece should have been about a the culmination of a tournament that brought the rugby family together, waxing lyrical about how well the New Zealand people hosted the tournament after the catastrophic events in Christchurch. But because of one idiot and a spineless IRB Referees Board, the only team that could have challenged New Zealand for the title was callously discarded from the tournament. Fact, no other team stands a chance against New Zealand at home, and even if we’d lost the hypothetical semi-final, at least we would have been able to tip our hats and congratulate the All Blacks as deserving winners and wait our next turn in four years time. The only good thing to have come out of the quarterfinal was that dodgy sporting outcomes will no longer be referred to as “Hansies”, but rather as “Bryce-less”.
While we could not have influenced what transpired in the other side of the draw, the Boks could have at least entertained the world in a tough semi-final against New Zealand that my bones still tell me we could have won. A rudimentary comparison of the All Blacks performance against Australia, and against the Boks shows me that we would have been at the very least competitive and at best, seven points better than the Kiwis.
Instead, I will probably need to endure a farcical match of rugby come Sunday, and months of intensive psychotherapy just to get over this double injustice. There is no silver lining for the match on Sunday. On the one hand if New Zealand obliterate France (which they should) the final will be emptier than a bag of Doritos after two minutes in Kobus Wiese’s hands. If, on the other hand New Zealand offer up a choke of Proteas-like proportions, the newly crowned champions will be the worst in the history of the tournament, and rugby as a sport would have regressed years.
All this because the IRB languishes in the dark ages of amateurism and can count the number of suitably able referees in their stable on one hand, which is a rather generous statement after witnessing the standard of refereeing during this World Cup. But there is still a final happening on Sunday, and my editor requires at least a paragraph or two of non-Bryce-bashing monologues, which I shall now attempt after another dose of Prozac.
Regardless of France’s abysmal displays, they are in the final of a World Cup. Although the draw and Sam Warburton conspired to open the backdoor for them, they have at times shown fleeting glimpses of good rugby. Their forwards have scrummed well with Julien Bonnaire and Imanol Harinordoquy having played superbly well in their play-off matches. But unlike France of old, they have not engineered any signs of the flair or magic to which we’ve become accustomed. In the playoff matches, their tries have been scored on the back of rotten defending by England and against a 14-man Welsh team, showed no signs of coming close to breaching their defence. France’s only hope on the day is for the entire New Zealand team to suffer a “brain-fart” of grand proportions.
New Zealand have everything in their favour that should see Richie McCaw raise the Webb Ellis trophy above his head on Sunday, and spark public holidays and ticker-tape parades across a deserving nation. Their forwards have been solid in set pieces with the loose trio combining well to secure the ruck and turnover possession for the threatening backline. Even as third choice flyhalf Aaron Cruden revels in the biggest stage of his career as a rookie, the experience of Piri Weepu in servicing him and Ma’a Nonu in playing off him, will cut-down any potential ideas France may have of targeting that channel. Not to mention the dangerous back three of Richard Kahui, Corey Jane and Israel Dagg who will slice France apart if given just a hint of space.
New Zealand just have too many skills in too many big guns for them to lose this final. While I admittedly never go near a bookie when France play, I just can’t see this match going any other way than a 15-20 point hiding for the French, that will no doubt see Marc Lievremont finally burst that vein in his head that has been threatening to explode since this team arrived in New Zealand. Now bring me beer and my therapist’s couch. DM
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