THE BOOKMAKERS were the only people to lose out in the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup as the favourites won almost every game, while the developing nations made more friends than they ever knew they had.
Shocks were as scarce as a Martin Johnson try, as the eight sides most people thought would make the quarter-finals (England, New Zealand, South Africa, Wales, Ireland, Australia, Scotland and France) duly took their places in the knockout stages.
The nearest thing we had to an upset (unless you count Wales beating Italy) was when Samoa led England until the 68th minute of their match and Ireland and Wales frightened Australia and New Zealand, respectively, on a magnificent last weekend of the pool stage.
Every day in this Rugby World Cup seemed to bring a new record. Most notably Elton Flatley became the fastest try-scorer (18 seconds) but it was an unwanted record for Tongan flanker Ipolito Fenukitau, who equalled the record for the quickest yellow card in World Cup history, in just two minutes, against Italy.
England and New Zealand finished in try-scoring form and by the end of the pool stage 17 different New Zealanders and 17 different Englishmen had crossed the line.
And although they were knocked out it was Samoa who captivated the hearts more than any other nation. Their dignified approach to the game, led by their inspirational coach team of John Boe and Michael Jones won friends wherever they went. The thought that they might not be able to play in future tournaments, due to their financial plight has been greeted with universal horror.
Countries like Samoa, Georgia, Romania and Fiji are in desperate need of help from the top eight nations. They are, like the rest of us, tired of the rhetoric that comes from the IRB, and the big eight were handed a simple solution by Boe.
He said: “We need help quickly. If we could get a team in the Super 12 that would be fantastic. We could pay our players and extend our player pool … and play like we did against England every week … we need funds whether it be gate fees or whatever.
“And if we could get a game against England at Twickenham that would be fantastic.” All we need to do now is wait for the answer!
On and off the field the Rugby World Cup has been a roaring success and is heading towards the profit target of 40 million pounds, as they expect around two million people to watch the 48 games in the tournament. Crowds have been astonishingly high and even in the Aussie Rules and rugby league heartlands they have embraced union.
Even John O’Neill, the managing director of the Australian Rugby Union, has been surprised by how well Australians have taken Rugby World Cup to their hearts.
“It’s all part of an overall strategy for Australian rugby to become more of a national sport,” said O’Neill, and if the pool stages are anything to go by his objective is in the bag!
Paul Morgan’s team of the pool stages:15 Josh Lewsey (England); 14 Doug Howlett (New Zealand), 13 Will Greenwood (England), 12 Brian Lima (Samoa), 11 Joe Rokocoko (New Zealand); 10 Frederick Michalak (France), 9 Fabien Galthie (France), 8 Simon Taylor (Scotland), 7 Joe Van Nierkerk (South Africa), 6 Corne Krige (South Africa), 4 Martin Johnson (England – captain), 5 Victor Matfield (South Africa), 3 Sylvain Marconnet (France), 2 Keith Wood (Ireland), 1 Christo Bezuidenhout (South Africa),
Biggest tackle: Brian Lima on Derick Hougaard (Samoa v South Africa)Best Celebration: The Uruguayan team and management after beating GeorgiaBest sidestep to refereeing the World Cup Final: Steve WalshBest Fans: The Blarney Army (Ireland)Best Stadium: Suncorp, BrisbaneBest try: Semo Sititi for Samoa v EnglandWorst Decision: To allow New Zealand’s last try v Wales, by Doug Howlett (forward pass!)
Paul Morgan is the editor of Rugby World Magazine