Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Game of Two Hemispheres

England Rugby
Still down,
but still not out
OK, it was a bit of an improvement, but at the same time England's performance against Samoa was hardly sparkling. The forwards, who I didn't think performed too appallingly against the Boks last week again stood up to the task, the backline fired a little bit better but probably would not have frightened any of the better teams, and the tactical kicking remained truly abysmal. Still, a win is a win, and it sets up a winner takes all (or at least the second qualifying place) group finale against Tonga.

Overall though it remains a poor tournament for the northern hemisphere, with only France looking vaguely competitive, though not all that threatening, and of the home nations only Scotland over-delivering albeit from a relatively weak base. The gulf of a decade ago to southern hemisphere standards seems to have reopened. The only really praiseworthy effort by a European side would probably be Georgia's effort against an Ireland side who sadly look to be in danger of a premature exit from the tournament.

Nobody could actually say it was undeserved were the the semi-finals to consist of the southern hemisphere big three plus Argentina.

It's probably not a time to panic or make rash decisions though. At the top levels of the domestic game the academy systems at least in the English clubs have improved immeasurably in recent years, so despite some of the ridiculous politicking between club and country there is at least some cause for hope, though it may take some time before some of their already promising output to reach the highest levels.

One contribution of English rugby to the Rugby World Cup is worthy of some praise though. The refereeing performances of both Wayne Barnes and Chris White have been of the highest order, especially Barnes at his first World Cup.

Irish Coach Eddie O'Sullivan may not have been to happy with White's performance:
"Also we got blown off the park by the referee discipline-wise.

"I do not know what the penalty count was but it really killed us off and we lost field position in critical parts of the game."

Source: BBC News

It is noticeable though that he found it hard to point to any particular examples where he was actually in error. Despite the Irish invective thrown at him during the game, most more neutral commentators seemed to feel he had a good game. The key is the phrase "discipline-wise". White was calm and disciplined, the Irish, sad loss though they may be to any competion were not.

Compared to the inept performances of the likes of Honiss and today's effort the ever inconsistent Lewis, where the kindest thing you can say is that his errors balance themselves out over 80 minutes, they really got the balance right. In the likely event that very few northern hemisphere teams progress to the semifinal stage they should really be in the frame for the big games.

Yes, it's a small straw, but I shall clutch at it.

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