The next World Cup will be in a different hemisphere, in a different time zone – get ready for Jonny Wilkinson with your cornflakes – and possibly shown on UK television by a different broadcaster. Until the first drop of the ball in New Zealand four years hence, we will carry fond memories of France 2007. The Kiwis have a lot to live up to.
Take the weather for starters. The sun which predominated in this World Cup – unless you were among the unfortunates peed on relentlessly in Lens for Georgia v Namibia – was a mighty factor in the public acclaim. The late-summer sunshine allowed 40,000 England fans to frolic in Provence, while the Portuguese partied in Lyon and the Welsh went alfresco in Nantes.
New Zealand chose the same September-October slot for 2011 – during their spring – and the forecast for Auckland today was 15 degrees. It may not evoke the whiff of a quayside barbecue in Marseilles, but it will be better than spending June in the Land of the Long Black Cloud.
Poor New Zealand. By the time the little gold pot, which is the reason for all this fuss, makes its way Down Under they may have worked out how to win the damned thing. Word has it that fewer teams (16 not 20) might play more matches (50-odd not 48), with more of a round-robin element to reduce the one-off factor. It does seem daft that 48 months' hard work can hinge on one missed kick, but no one ever said rugby was sensible.
In TV-land we will all be digital by 2011, with ITV's World Cup contract at an end. So as we bid a tearful farewell to Jim Rosenthal and his team – motto: never a cliché knowingly unspoken – what will warm our wintrythoughts as we take the dog for its first walk in a month?
Random faces swim into view like a Dali dreamscape. There was Rui Cordeiro, the vet who took a sabbatical from the abbatoir so he could pummel a prop's try for Portugal against the All Blacks. Big Rui was cheered by a dozen young ladies in cut-down Portuguese red jerseys. One of them with the captain's name, G Uva, printed on her shirt rushed pitchside when her hero ran headlong into an All Black and staggered off. I rushed over to Uva later, keen on a shaggy WAG story. "I haven't got a wife or a girlfriend," he said, with a broad if slightly dazed smile.
Georgia, Fiji and Tonga were foremost in the argument for not reducing the number of teams. Fiji knocked out Wales, and the Welsh fans were not quite having such a blast that they failed to notice. Tonga traded tries with South Africa and another sun-kissed crowd went potty in Lens. At its best this World Cup was not only kaleidoscopic, it was almost hallucinogenic.
Now, though, a nod to those grumpy old Francophobes for whom the land of the Gaul will never be a ball. We give you Ireland, who harrumphed around Bordeaux as if they were allergic to grapes, almost losing to Georgia and, when they grumbled their way up to Paris, did lose to France and Argentina's magnificent over-achievers.
We rarely saw the best of Brian O'Driscoll and the same can be said of Richie McCaw and Co. New Zealand had an attacking genius in Joe Rokocoko who hardly had a sniff in the quarter-final against France, and he had only himself and his team to blame. To their credit, Graham Henry and McCaw did just that.
Australia were everyone's dark horses until their forwards were lassoed by England. Their prop Matt Dunning probably feels the same way about Andrew Sheridan as Joe Roff used to about Jonah Lomu. "Every night before I played against Jonah I'd sleep like a baby," Roff recalled. "I'd wake up every hour, screaming."
Perhaps defensive rugby did prevail too often in this World Cup: there are new laws on the horizon to speed the game up. Yet there is one law which even Jim Rosenthal understands and it is that a match is won by the team who score most points.
England knew it, and so did the hosts. The morning after the semi-final the night before, Raphaël Ibanez and Bernard Lapasset, respectively the French captain and federation chairman, said they wanted Les Rosbifs to win the final. Pardon? It was a great World Cup, and we thank you France.Reuse content