The next World Cup will be in a different hemisphere, in a different time zone – get ready for Jonny Wilkinson with your cornflakes again – and possibly shown on UK television by a different broadcaster. Until the first drop of the oval ball in New Zealand four years hence, we will carry with us fond memories of France 2007. The Kiwis have a lot to live up to.
Just take the weather for starters. Prosaic and very British though it may seem even to make reference to it, the sun which predominated in this World Cup – were you among the unfortunates peed on relentlessly in Lens for Georgia v Namibia? No, thought not – was a mighty factor in the public acclaim. It is easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than have fun with 40,000 drenched England fans crammed under a single umbrella. Instead the late summer sun allowed them 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 cloudy, 15 degrees. It may not evoke the whiff of a quayside barbecue in Marseilles, sipping endless sundowners in shirtsleeves, but it will be better than spending a chilly 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, and with ITV's World Cup contract at an end it will be fascinating to see what riches the International Rugby Board can glean. More than the £45 million ITV paid to renew in 2001, surely.So as we bid a tearful farewell to Jim Rosenthal and his team – motto: never a cliché knowinglyunspoken – who and what will warm our wintry thoughts as we ravel up the flags and take the dog for its first walk in a month?
Random faces swim into view like a Dali dreamscape (sorry, but the French gave us contemporary dance and conceptual art in every World Cup town). 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. Phew, what a scorcher. One of them with the captain's name, G Uva, printed on her shirt, rushed pitchside in a tizz 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.
Portugal made everyone smile and they, Georgia, Fiji and Tonga were foremost in the argument for not reducing the number of competing teams. The Tongans and Fijians – though less so the Samoans – showed they had added physical conditioning and set-piece planning to their traditionally free-flowing approach, and it worked. Fiji knocked out Wales, and the Welsh followers were not quite having such a blast that they failed to notice. Tonga traded try for try with South Africa and another capacity, 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. Not the handiest entry on the CV for Eddie O'Sullivan, Ireland's coach, tipped to take charge of the 2009 British and Irish Lions.
We rarely saw the best of Brian O'Driscoll and the same can be said of Richie McCaw and Co, albeit the Kiwis scored dozens of tries in the pool matches. Should we glean from this that the game they play in heaven (well, Wellington and Dunedin) is the wrong one to win a World Cup? Of course not. New Zealand had an attacking genius in Joe Rokocoko, who hardly had a sniff in the quarter-final against France (staged, ridiculously but deliciously, in Wales), 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's. Their prop Matt Dunning probably feels the same way about Andrew Sheridan as Joe Roff, that eminent former Wallaby, 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." As for South Africa, well, you know what happened to them.
A lady described as a columnist on the TV news channel France 24 lamented the disappearance of French flair. Where were those galloping musketeers of old: a Sella, a Blanco or a Saint-André? Schmoozing, administrating and coaching, in that order, but that's not the point. France's backs played some beautiful rugby against England but it was in short bursts and almost all in their own half. As the French had shut down and shut out the All Blacks, so they had it done to them. C'est la vie.
Fiji's Vilimoni Delasau and the flying Springbok Bryan Habana showed there were still open spaces to be found on the Test rugby field. Infinitely more frustrating were the scrum-halves dithering behind a static ruck, calling up yet another forward for a fight in preference to flight.
And 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, Raphael Ibanez and Bernard Lapasset, respectively the French captain and Federation chairman, said they wanted Les Rosbifs to win the final. Pardon? The entente had never been so cordiale. It was a great World Cup, and we thank you France, but we never asked for Utopia.Reuse content