James Corrigan: No mismatches and knockouts to come. Rugby World Cup is too short if anything
Same old story. Plucky little Wales. How brave the boys were in defeat. They did everything but win. Yes, in the land of my blathers last night the soliloquies of consolation were long and winded.
Francois Pienaar called it perfectly in the studio. He had just heard his fellow analyst Gareth "Alfie" Thomas taking all the positives out of his country's one-point loss to South Africa and he was aghast. "They didn't have the belief they could win," said the World Cup-winning captain. "And until they do believe, they won't win."
Pienaar said it as if believing was the easiest thing in the world, and to a mighty Springbok it probably is as straightforward as emptying bowels. But this inferiority complex has been forged in Wales over many thousands of years and to tell a Welsh person, and particularly a Welsh rugby fan, "you only have to believe" is akin to informing an ape "you only have to stop eating bananas". Sorry, Frans, it's in our nature – it's even in our hymns.
Now for Samoa on Saturday and the problem is that, while we didn't truly believe we could beat the world champions, we truly do believe we can lose to the tiny Pacific Island country.
Infuriating? Undoubtedly. Enthralling? That does not begin to describe it. But then Wales' continuing battle to wipe their DNA of all its insecurity is destined to be just one more gripping chapter in a tournament already promising to be an epic. Believe it, the Rugby World Cup is set to come of age before our eyes.
Of course, you won't hear that from the depressingly ever-present, one-eyed contingent in Rugby League, who, for some reason, still fail to acknowledge it is possible to admire both codes. Fair enough, there is a section of union supporters who are similarly prejudiced. I say, let them bicker. It's rather like when you run into a husband and wife having a barney late at night – they're best left well alone. Otherwise they'll both turn on you.
But that doesn't mean all the naysayers should escape confrontation. Indeed, those out there declaring the Rugby World Cup to be too long must be challenged, Courtney Lawes-style. There is wrong, plain wrong and pig-ignorant. And this particular argument gains priority membership in all three.
The comparison with the Cricket World Cup is as flimsy as Phil Vickery's analysis (at last rugby has found its very own Denis Law). The Cricket World Cup took 43 days to complete 49 matches, while the rugby equivalent will take 45 days to complete 48 games. The content-to-time ratio is very similar. But there were only 14 teams in India and Sri Lanka; there are 20 in New Zealand. That tells its own story.
But so does the fact there were only two groups in the CWC. Those group stages were round robin but actually felt more like Round Penguin Colony. It took 32 days out of 43 days to reach the knockout stages. The extravaganza did feature a "group of death", but the cause of death was old age.
Yet all that is immaterial because what distinguishes rugby union and cricket is so obviously the natures of the sports. The point is the Cricket World Cup didn't need to take that long. Teams can play every other day; little recovery time is required. The rugby union players, of course, need a stretch of days to recover, ideally a week. And if you don't agree then a) you don't understand rugby union and b) you did not see the two Argentines carried off after colliding with Lawes.
Medical necessity means the RWC is largely confined to the weekends. Of the seven weekends, three will be the knockout stages. That is the perfect mix. But then it always has been. What ensures this RWC will not drag is that all of a sudden the group matches are competitive. The walkovers, while still in evidence, will blessedly be the rarity and not the normality.
That's because all those World Cups which definitely did feel too long gave the "smaller" nations the experience they needed to improve – and most importantly the impetus and motivation. As we see Japan frighten France, Romania scare the Scots and the Americans give Ireland a nudge it is apparent that the RWC is now benefiting from those tournaments when the action was chiefly limited to the quarter-finals onwards. This sense of competition will only heighten in future events. Exactly the same happened in football and, although rugby union does not possess either the widespread appeal or the ease of access of football, the comparison between those two World Cups is already more justified than between the RWC and the CWC.
Just think, four years ago the International Rugby Board came within one meeting of bowing to the critics and reducing the number of teams in the World Cup and hence the length of the event. That would have been shortsighted, self-detrimental, stupid. The sport has absolutely no chance of expanding around the world if it does not dangle carrots of success, hopes of glory, the incentive of the contest to the unconvinced.
So the Rugby World Cup is not too long. Indeed, for most of yesterday morning we Welsh were of the opinion that it could not last long enough. Bring on the Samoans. We were unlucky not to have toppled the world champions, you know.
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