For the Home Nations as a whole, the Rugby World Cup has not been the success that many hoped for. But for one of the quartet of teams, the tournament is shaping up nicely.
The Welsh have shown that they are not the floundering team who would struggle to escape a particularly tough group that many critics predicted them to be. Despite having a very young and inexperienced captain at the helm, Cardiff Blues flanker Sam Warburton looks just as comfortable with the role of captain as the likes of John Smit or Richie McCaw, both of whom have been in the job for years.
But just what happened to the rest of our home favourites?
Scottish fans will leave the World Cup disappointed after the Tartan Army crashed out in the group stages. While they may not have been favourites to qualify from a strong group including 6 Nations winners England and 2007 Rugby World Cup over-achievers Argentina, Scotland had every chance to do just that. However, a simple drop-goal was missed by fly half Dan Parks in the final minutes against Argentina, condemning the Scots to a 13-12 loss, where a win would have seen them qualify to the quarter finals.
Irish fans too will be left feeling that their team could have gone further in the tournament, especially after their incredible victory over a strong Australian side to win their group. However, they met their match in the form of Warburton and his rampant Welsh side, and never looked like they had a chance in their quarter-final showdown on Saturday. Sadly for the Irish, this loss could well be the last time that the likes of captain and talisman Brian O’Driscoll, and key players Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara feature in a Rugby World Cup, and in the coming years Ireland will have to show that the team can adapt to such losses, and deal with such a squad overhaul.
But it is England fans that will be feeling the worst about their Rugby World Cup experience. After winning the 6 Nations title for the first time since 2003, a World Cup win was set on the minds of many of England’s supporters. However, both the performances on the pitch, and the conduct of the players off it, showed that all was not well in the England camp. Manager, and World Cup winning captain Martin Johnson was forced to spend as much time at press conferences defending the conduct of his players off the field, notably Mike Tindall who was caught on CCTV with the now infamous ‘blonde girl’, rather than being able to focus media attention on the positives. After all, while the performances were far from convincing, England still managed to top their group with four wins out of four. But yet again, poor discipline and errors during their quarter-final match against France, saw the 2003 champions fail to recapture their 6 Nations form, and sent them home from the tournament.
So it is Wales that now carry the hopes of all four home nations on their back. Whether English, Irish or Scottish, the whole of the UK should be backing Warren Gatland’s men to go all the way, and hope that they see the youngest ever World Cup captain Warburton lift the Webb Ellis trophy come the final on the 23rd October. First France, and then either Australia or hosts New Zealand stand in their way and Wales are far from favourites. But with France reliably unreliable, Australia faltering in the group stage against Ireland and then in the quarter-final against South Africa, and New Zealand losing fly half Dan Carter and several other key players to injury, Wales go into the semi finals as the most consistent performers.
One thing is for sure though. Should the Welsh go on and win the tournament, there’s going to be one hell of a party up and down the rugby mad country, and the squad will return to a heroes welcome after their endeavours in New Zealand.
What are your thoughts on the Rugby World Cup so far? Do you think Wales can go on and win the tournament? Please leave your comments below…