From Sonny Bill Williams’ big heart to separating “pushing him with his fist” from a punch, it has been a superb Rugby World Cup. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks some of the most memorable moments.
New Zealand were crowned Rugby World Cup champions with a 34-17 victory over Australia on Saturday night. Few can argue that the All Blacks were the best team throughout, even if they got off to a slow start, by their own high standards anyway.
You would not have been able to tell by Steve Hansen’s stoic expressions, but it was an immense moment for him and his squad as they became the first ever team to retain the Rugby World Cup. Do not tell tell the Poms, but it was one heck of a tournament, some might even say “the best one yet”. It will be remembered for many reasons, good and bad, and we’ve picked out some of the stand-out moments.
The aww moment
Not only is he talented, but Sonny Bill Williams seems to be an immensely nice guy, too. After the All Blacks were doing their victory lap on Sunday, a young fan took to the pitch and got KO’d by security guard. Instead of freaking out, Williams embraced the lad, walked him back to his mom, and gave him his medal. Why? Because as Williams puts it: “If that was a younger brother or cousin I would have given the security guard a hiding. But I just picked the kid up and took him back to his old lady and tried to make the night more memorable for him. Better [for the medal] to be hanging around his neck than mine.”
It was the tournament of the minnows coming into their own
While Japan became the darlings of the tournament, rugby taught cricket a few very valuable lessons. Gone are the days of the “smaller” teams losing by massive 100-plus margins. The game continues to grow steadily, and while much still needs to be done to get the Tier 2 teams playing more competitive matches against Tier 1 sides, the Rugby World Cup showed what happened if you gave time and resources to smaller countries. Uruguay were the only team made up entirely of amateurs. Rugby is the fastest growing sport in the world, and it will only keep on growing, especially now that it is part of the Olympics (albeit in its reduced team format). In contrast, cricket seems to keep on shrinking, even it at its so-called “global” tournaments. The ICC could learn a thing or two from rugby’s bosses.
South Africa’s Rudy Paige spent a staggering 180 seconds on the pitch in the Springboks’ bronze medal play off against a second-string Argentina team. The disappointment on his face was clearly visible, and it became the focal point of the Boks’ final match of the tournament. No matter which side of the transformation fence you sit on, everyone can agree that the decision for Paige to play just those few seconds was an insult to him.
The Springboks campaign
Some will remember this World Cup as the campaign where the eventual champions knocked the Springboks out of the tournament by just two points. Others will remember it as the campaign where they lost to Japan, and got through by the skin of their teeth against Wales. Others might remember it as the tournament where players like Paige, Siya Kolisi and even Pat Lambie were left wondering over the point of their inclusion of Springbok’s tournament squad in the first place. Carrying tackle bags and sight-seeing is clearly an important part of rugby education. Sure, some players are there to serve as back-up, should an injury occur – think Aaron Phangiso during the Cricket World Cup earlier this year – and these are professional sportsmen, they know the drill, but some of Meyer’s squad decisions were infinitely confusing.
Much ado about technology
The ref cam was an oddity that sort of grew on you as the tournament progressed, but it was the role of the Television Match Official, fondly referred to by its acronym, as “the TMO”, that was questioned most often. Should the man in his box be allowed to interfere when there has been a close call? Should on-field referees be allowed to refer decisions “upstairs” to the TMO, the incident was not in the lead-up to a try? We are willing to wager some money that the review system might see a few tweaks in the coming few months.
At their first camp, the All Blacks put up a 4 metre fence to make sure that their training routines stayed private. The Berlin Wall was 3.6 metres high, in places, so clearly the World Champions were serious about keeping things for their eyes only.
Keeping in the spirit of things
Namibia’s Johnny Redelinghuys (actually born in Namibia), earned his 50th cap in his final Test. Namibia were playing Uruguay, and his teammates decided to honour (or embarrass) him by allowing him to kick for poles on their last try for points. He clenched his fists, took a valiant stride and then hit the post… just a few centimetres off the ground.
Quote of the tournament
Almost everything referee Nigel Owens said could go down as the quote of the tournament. One of the most memorable moments came when France’s Louis Picamoles was sin-binned in their semi-final loss against New Zealand. Owens asked for guidance from English television match official Graham Hughes, and their conversation went like this. Hughes: “I’ve got a red eight who has got his fist in the face of black seven after you have blown the whistle… he put his fist in the face of black seven.” The incident was replayed on the big screen and Owens replied: “I don’t see the fist or fingers near the eyes. I don’t see a punch. I just see a fist in the face.”
Ah, rugby and the fine lines of its laws. DM
Photo: New Zealand’s captain Richie McCaw lifts the Webb Ellis Trophy after beating Australia in the Rugby World Cup 2015 final at Twickenham in London, Britain, 31 October 2015. EPA/ANDY RAIN.