Things We Have Learned From The World Cup (some of which we knew already)

Australia are beatable

Well, the Final proved this, didn’t it? Australia are still the gold standard, and they have by far and away the best collection of Rugby (either players) in the world, yet this was their fifth defeat in five years. Okay, so one defeat a year is a very healthy average, but since the ‘Invincibles’ tour defeat has not been an acceptable outcome for the Kangaroos. They still carry this aura of greatness about them, but because New Zealand chose to ignore this aura they were able to defeat them fair and square.

Wayne Bennett is one of the greatest coaches of all time

Stephen Kearney was lucky enough to have an all-time great as his assistant.

Stephen Kearney was lucky enough to have an all-time great as his assistant.

I know that Stephen Kearney was the head coach, and I don’t wish to undermine his contribution to the New Zealand victory, but it’s hard to ignore the overwhelming presence of Bennett. As well as a record number of Grand Final victories and a production line of modern greats that he achieved with Brisbane, he was also a driving force behind the Tri-Nations and led The Kangaroos to that first title. When he lost the Final to the Kiwis a year later he was cast away from the job, which makes it somewhat ironic that his revenge has been achieved with the Kiwis. As a passionate supporter of the international game, he will be pleased that this victory reinvigorates the international scene.

Ricky Stuart is too astute for his own good

Before the Final, Stuart was quoted in the press as saying that he felt that his side hadn’t been pushed hard enough in their run up. Admittedly this had a lot to do with the Kiwis and England sucking in the group games, but they also followed those games up with two games against well meaning but ultimately understrength second tier nations. I wondered if Stuart was just trying to make sure his players were on their toes, but ultimately he was right; Australia were caught out by the intensity of a team who had been in two tough scraps with England.

England flatter to deceive far too often

This was a real disappointment. England came into the World Cup with high hopes, particularly on the back of their sweep of the Kiwis a year before, but ultimately they were off the pace. Their undoing appeared twofod; firstly, they didn’t look like a team that thought they could win the tournament, and secondly they lacked the facility to engineer offensive openings against a set defence (it says a lot that their try against the Kangaroos was a barge over on the line). They weren’t completely terrible, and they could have beaten the Kiwis twice (they should have in the first game) but they failed to deliver.

The ‘Super Group’ was a necessary evil

Not so much for the benefit of the teams in it, but for those not in it. I didn’t like the idea of the Super Group when it was announced, but I saw why it had been implented. In the end, keeping the lesser nations away from the big boys proved to be a smart move, as no team left the tournament without a win and nearly all of the Group B and C games were competitive (France’s performance against Fiji notwithstanding). In fact some of the games in these groups were amongst the best in the tournament, and deserved bigger crowds. Oddly enough, the most imbalanced group was the Super Group itself, but even in there Papua New Guinea did themselves proud, and there were a variety of fascinating games to watch.

Three team pools lead to unfortunate imbalances

Although I’ve just espoused the virtues of the competitive groups, I think that competitiveness was helped by the scheduling. I don’t think Scotland would have beaten Fiji if the Bati had enjoyed a longer rest than four days, and I definitely think that having an extra four days rest was a factor in Ireland’s victory over Samoa. When the RLIF said it expected to hold a 12 team competition in 2013, but initial expectation was four groups of three, but I really don’t see how they could pull off such a thing now because it’s quite obvious that rest advantages are a massive boost (and I’d expect that the big sides would be seeded to get the maximum rest period).

We need more internationals

The Kumuls didnt win any matches, but they did win many admirers

The Kumuls didn't win any matches, but they did win many admirers

Considering that we saw proportionally massive media interest for the event, and that the quality of the games was of a very high standard, I think that it’s apparent that Rugby League has the tools to pull off a credible international scene if it wants to. The Pacific island sides in particular need to be given games in between World Cups to allow continuity, and I really would like to see a European tournament of some sort but with a full England side, instead of the European Shield with England A that we have seen over the last few seasons. Internationals lead to exposure, which leads to money, which leads to investment, which leads to a better game.

Aikila Uate should become a star

Why write when a youtube video paints a thousand words?

I really hope he gets a run at the Newcastle Knights next year, because he could be just the sort of thing they need (and Cooper Vuna is also a Knight, and he didn’t look too bad either)

Greg Inglis borders on all-time greatness

If Australia had won the Final, and Inglis had a stormer, then I wouldn’t be dallying around with this ‘borders’ nonsense. As it was, a major factor in the Kiwis win was their shutting down of service to Inglis. You suspect that the opposition fear having to defend against him, not because of injury (like Vainikolo would cause) but because of humiliation. He makes the game look so easy that within the context of Inglis, merely very good play doesn’t seem good enough any more. He has the fearsome combination of being both a physical specimen and also a natural ballplayer. He’s also young enough that losing here should be a decent motivation for a long time. Physically blessed, naturally talented and motivated? That’s a combination to watch out for.

World Cups are awesome

It takes something pretty special to get me out of bed at 6am of my own accord (hell, before 10am for that matter) so I think the biggest compliment I can pay the World Cup was that there were very few occasions I thought of going back to bed and catching up on sleep. As a festival of Rugby League it did its job perfectly, and it has reinvigorated interest in the international game. Whether that interest is taken advantage of remains to be seen, but at the very least this World Cup has offered a platform to be built upon. It has offered hope as well, to those who feared the death of international rugby league and the suffocating effect of the Kangaroo’s dominance, and that is a good enough legacy to leave behind.

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