Never a dull moment
November 2, 2011
Former NZRU chairman Jock Hobbs drinks from the World Cup following the All Blacks' triumph over France © Getty Images
In hindsight it was the World Cup that had almost everything.
There were more top end thrillers than ever before - Wales/South Africa, Argentina/Scotland, Argentina/England, Ireland/Australia, Wales/Ireland, Australia/South Africa, Wales/France and finally, unforgettably, New Zealand/France - plus a host of great pool games between the lesser lights with that 23-23 draw between Canada and Japan probably the stand-out.
The final was every bit as dramatic as 2003 or 1995. Who, apart from Richard Kahui, would have forecast that Stephen Donald would come in from the cold to kick the winning penalty? Who could have believed the French would produce such commitment after looking to be in such disarray?
Wales's exit was cruel, England's ignominious but they were always in the news even if always for the wrong reasons - never a dull moment.
Apart from England, Scotland, who were just dull, and Fiji who were a disorganised shambles (a reflection of what is happening in the country at the moment), all the teams will have fond memories and can claim they performed up to or beyond expectations. The New Zealanders were wonderful hosts. I was one who felt the tournament should have gone elsewhere if rugby is serious about becoming a truly global sport but there was never any doubt they would do a good job when it came to hosting the rest of the rugby world. From the opening ceremony to the grand finale the tone was perfect right down to Richie McCaw's first quote after leading his team to glory - 'I'm completely shagged' - vintage New Zealand!
The welcome everywhere was special and the atmosphere at Eden Park for the final as emotional as at Ellis Park in 1995. To see Jock Hobbs, the former chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Union, there to see his dream come to fruition despite an ongoing battle with leukaemia was particularly moving.
The current NZRU executive struck a few sour notes - CEO, Steve Tew's threat to boycott the next World Cup was ill-timed, bullying and boorish. Hobbs pulled out every stop and a few more - unashamedly exploiting the IRB founder nations old boys network - when they unexpectedly won the right to stage the tournament. They were desperate to get it then and nobody changed the terms so what was his beef.
It was also ingenuous to accuse the International Rugby Board of greed in sharing the spoils. At least their money goes to nurture the game world-wide. Everybody knows the pot will be smaller than it should be simply because New Zealand is a small country with a small population and small stadia situated in the worst possible time zone for maximising television revenues - the single biggest contributor to profits.
Not that the IRB deserve to escape without criticism. For me and many others one of the great memories of the tournament will be the French players forming themselves in to a 'V' behind their captain, Thierry Dusautoir, and advancing to take up the challenge as the All Blacks performed their traditional Haka.
I love the Haka and would fight any move to ban it but I do believe it helps New Zealand and teams should be allowed to confront it as they choose - as long as they do not take it to Richard Cockerill levels. From the ESPNscrum.com poll it seems that at least four out of five rugby fans think likewise.
To slap a fine on the French team was an unnecessary and meaningless over-reaction. Even the most precious New Zealanders (and there are a few who are over-protective of everything Maori) cheered rather than jeered.
The IRB did not acquit themselves very well on any front in the final week because they also made fools of themselves when it came to trying to elect a new chairman. It was supposed to be a done deal - Bill Beaumont (England) had agreed to support Bernard Lapasset (France) in 2007 on the understanding that he would do only one four year term and then give way for Beaumont to take over.
Lapasset, however, enjoyed the taste of power (surprise, surprise) and did a great job when it came to persuading the International Olympic Commission that Rugby Sevens should be included in the 2016 Games. He, therefore, reneged on the agreement and is standing for a second term.
A furious Beaumont spent the final days crying 'foul' and such was the chaos the vote was suspended until December. There was such acrimony at the meeting that the highly respected Welsh representative, Gerald Davies, was quoted as saying, 'Gentlemen, take a look at yourselves. This is not the way to behave,' whilst another delegate called the behaviour 'disgusting' and asked, 'Have we learned nothing from FIFA?'
Hopefully, they will learn from FIFA and move towards a voting system that does not give the founder nations an inbuilt majority. Then we really will be able to take the governance of rugby forward.
This was great World Cup on the field - time now to sort things out in the board room.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh