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Rugby World Cup – the highlights of 2011
The 2011 Rugby World Cup has drawn to a close. New Zealand are the deserved Champions for the next four years. The wonderful sporting spectacle was hosted superbly by the people of New Zealand and fans have returned home singing the praises of a country that has had a tough year.
Congratulations to everyone involved in making the Rugby World Cup 2011 a resounding success.
Here is my team by team review of the Rugby World Cup 2011.
Rugby World Cup: Argentina
Another strong world cup performance from the Pumas who will benefit from their inclusion in the Tri-Nations tournament from 2012 onwards.
Rugby World Cup Players
Felipe Contepomi leads his team with pride and passion. Quality player who Leinster Rugby fans hold dear. A top professional and a leader.
Mario Ledesma It was hard to watch this rugby legend leave the field for the final time against England. Ledesma has made more Rugby World Cup appearances than any other Argentine player. Will go down as one of the greatest hookers of the game.
Rugby World Cup: Australia
A mixed Rugby World Cup for Australia who lost to Ireland in the group stages and eventually got knocked out in the semi final by New Zealand. Hindsight suggests that it may have been wise for Coach Robbie Deans to include Matt Giteau in the World Cup squad. Youngest squad in the World Cup so the future is bright for the Wallabies.
Rugby World Cup Players
Quade Cooper was given a torrid time by the New Zealand crowds. Cooper was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia at the age of 15. He is a classy player who probably didn’t show his best in the Rugby World Cup. Sad way to end with a torn ACL. Out for about 6 months.
David Pocock is a true openside flanker. One of the stars of the tournament and nominated for I.R.B. Player of the Year. Badly missed against Ireland. Possible future captain.
Rugby World Cup: Canada
There is a genuine sense of excitement that rugby is beginning to prosper in North America. The Canucks performed valiantly again at this year’s tournament.
The squad appear to be a very close knit group and Canada Rugby is heading in the right direction. Would have qualified automatically for Rugby World Cup 2015 if France had beaten Tonga.
Rugby World Cup Players
Adam Kleeburger has almost become a household name. Famed for his substantial facial hair and the charitable donation from his eventual shave, Kleeburger is also a very promising player. A rugged blindside flanker in the same vein as Dan Baugh.
England will be disappointed by their World Cup performances. Chaos has dominated the heirarchy of the R.F.U. in recent months and it may have affected the squad. England should stick with Martin Johnson and build towards Rugby World Cup 2015 which they will be hosting. England will target 2015 and on home soil, it’s tough to bet against them.
Rugby World Cup Players
Dan Cole’s performances since his introduction to the England jersey deserve special mention. The tight head prop has cemented his place in the England team with standout technique and strength. England scrum coach and former Leicester Tigers teammate, Graham Rowntree took Cole under his wing during my time at Leicester. Great to see Dan Cole’s hard work pay off.
Jonny Wilkinson has surely played his final Rugby World Cup. Wilkinson has been the face of English rugby for over a decade. He is a great ambassador for the sport and fully deserves a mention. Wilkinson will always be remembered for his Rugby World Cup winning drop goal against Australia in 2003.
Lewis Moody The England captain recently announced his retirement from international rugby and will be a big loss.
Although England have a very impressive player pool to chose from, I doubt they will ever be able to find anyone who will give as much to the cause as Lewis Moody did.
His commitment and passion can never be called into question. Moody battled back from countless severe injuries and seemed to play with little regard for his own welfare. Changing of the Guard for England.
Famed for their 7’s rugby, Fiji rugby seems to be at a crossroads. If investment is needed, then the I.R.B. need to invest in Fijian rugby. The rugby world would be a worse place without the exciting Islanders competing at every global rugby tournament. I had the great fortune of playing a 7’s rugby tournament in Fiji and it was one of the toughest rugby experiences I have encountered. Genetically it seems like Fijians are designed to play rugby.
What can be said about the French? For better or worse their mystique continues. How a team can perform as badly, and seem as disjointed as France were, yet still make the Rugby World Cup final remains a mystery. The French rugby team have always been known as a classy side with plenty of flair. There has been a considerable amount of discord among the French public towards their team’s “ugly” World Cup performances. New coach, Phillipe Saint-Andre will provide the needed change and France will have an eye on Rugby World Cup 2015 immediately.
Rugby World Cup Coach
Marc Lievremont’s unorthodox coaching methods, which included calling his players “spoilt brats”, seems to have worked! France were not expected to get to the final, particularly after their loss to Tonga. However, perhaps Lievremont knew exactly what he was doing and was provoking his players in order to get the best out of them? One way or another, his approach should be respected as he almost managed to pull off a huge upset by winning the Rugby World Cup. Lievremont has resigned as Head coach and it remains to be seen where he may coach next.
Rugby World Cup Players
Thierry Dusautoir The French captain was an inspiration to his teammates. Dusautoir finished the tournament on a personal high by scoring in the final and then by winning the much coveted, I.R.B. Player of the Year Award. The Ivory Coast born player allegedly did not pick up a rugby ball until the age of 16. He is proof of where hard work and determination can take you in rugby.
Reports coming from Georgia, suggests that the much needed funding for the development of rugby will be forthcoming. As a nation, Georgia produces powerful athletes and investment in rugby would serve the country well. The Georgians will be happy with the Rugby World Cup results as part of the team’s development. Narrow loss to Scotland shows they are heading in right direction. As with all Tier II and Tier III rugby Nations, funding is desperately needed to drive the growth of the game.
Ireland came through the pool stages undefeated with the highlight being the 15 – 6 victory over Australia. However, the Irish came up short against Wales in the quarter finals, losing 10 – 22. If Ireland start building now for the 2015 World Cup, this will surely signal the end to many of Ireland’s rugby heroes. It is hard to see the likes of Brian O’ Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, Gordon D’arcy, Ronan O’Gara and Geordan Murphy making it to 2015.
Irish rugby has enjoyed tremendous success over recent years and that can be attributed to a sound domestic rugby structure, implemented by the Irish Rugby Football Union. These players will be sadly missed but with the likes of Sean O’Brien, Keith Earls, Cian Healy, Conor Murray, Fergus McFadden et al, a new dawn is breaking for Irish rugby and there is plenty of reason to remain optimistic.
Rugby World Cup Players
Sean O’Brien The debate about Sean O’Brien playing at openside flanker (7) will continue to rage on for some time. O’Brien is a devastating ball carrying attacker as well as an aggressive defender. The position that allows him to be most effective is at blindside flanker (6). An openside flanker has to play a restricted game plan and does not have as much freedom around the pitch as a blindside. O’Brien playing at openside, does not give him the freedom he needs to get himself into positions to effectively take the ball on. His incredible ability needs to be utilized and that is at blindside flanker.
Brian O’Driscoll Will be forever known as one of the greatest centres to have ever played the game. O’Driscoll was capped for his country before his provincial side, Leinster, and went on to Captain the British & Irish Lions. The Irish Captain will always be remembered for bursting onto the scene with an incredible hat-trick of tries against France in 2000. It is a personal privilige to have played with O’Driscoll and one suspects he will continue to have strong links to the game for many years to come.
As a football loving nation, Italy have taken big strides in the world of rugby over the past decade. In the Six Nations Tournament earlier this year, the Italians beat France 22 – 21. However, Italy failed to advance from the pool stages following defeats by Australia and Ireland. Head coach Nick Mallett has left the Italians and their next appointment of Head coach will play a crucial role in the development of rugby in Italy.
Rugby World Cup Players
Sergio Parisse The Italian Captain would more than likely be the starting No. 8 on any international rugby team in the world. Parisse empitomizes Italian passion, pride and never-say-die attitude.
Martin Castrogiovanni The Argentine born tighthead prop is a fan favourite at Leicester Tigers. The lovable “Castro” is one of the first names on the Italian team sheet for his technical ability in scrummaging and his mobility around the pitch. A top class tight head prop who turned 30 last week. We should see him again in Rugby World Cup 2015.
Japan Rugby are the hosts of the Rugby World Cup in 2019. The season in Japan sees’s each team play only a handful of games, yet Japan is attracting some big names to their domestic league. U.S.A. Eagles Captain, Todd Clever plays for Suntory and last week it was announced that former Wallaby, George Smith will also be appearing for Suntory this season. Reports claim that Smith will be paid a salary of around £720,000 for the season. If Japanese rugby has this kind of money, one hopes that the game will be developed into a longer season and the infrastructure can be put in place to grow the sport. Hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup could have a major impact on the fortunes of Japanese rugby and enable them to become a future competitor in World Rugby.
The African nation were comprehensively beaten in the pool stages. The Welwitschias are ranked 19th in the I.R.B. rankings and 2nd only to South Africa within the African continent. A major problem hampering Namibia’s progress as a rugby nation is the lack of opponents. The Welwitschias have appealed to the I.R.B. for more competitive games. Hopefully this will happen. Perhaps the Namibians will look to develop their 7’s rugby programme but will face very stiff competition from the Springboks as well as Kenya.
Rugby World Cup Players
Jacques Burger The captain of Namibia must get credit for putting his body on the line game after game. Burger plays his club rugby for Saracens in London.
The All Blacks have claimed their prize for being the dominant team in world rugby. Led by flanker Richie McCaw, New Zealand must still be celebrating their world cup victory.
It is incredible to examine the depth of talent New Zealand rugby boasts considering they were down to their fourth choice fly half by the final whistle against France. Graham Henry has left his position as Head Coach and it remains to be seen who will replace him. Perhaps Wales’ Head Coach Warren Gatland has an eye on returning home?
Rugby World Cup Players
Richie McCaw is a household name in all the rugby playing countries and for good reason. The All Blacks flanker made his senior debut for New Zealand in 2001 against Ireland and has gone on to represent his country on more than 100 occasions. Now a Rugby World Cup winning captain, McCaw has guaranteed his place as one of New Zealand’s best rugby players ever. Also a pilot, McCaw was recently asked what was next for on his agenda, he replied “I think I’ll go flying and see where it takes me!” Could a move to Europe be on the cards for the All Blacks captain?
Dan Carter Much was expected from fly half Carter, one of the world’s most recognizable players but injury curtailed his involvement. Carter will be bitterly disappointed by his unfortunate injury and his inability to help his teammates win the Rugby World Cup. He is a major player for the All Blacks and will be for quite some time yet.
Where do the Romanians go from here? Romania finished the tournament without a victory but look capable of producing fine rugby athletes if the interest is there to develop the sport. There is a healthy selection of Tier II international sides within Europe that need to play frequent matches against each other in order to improve as rugby playing nations. Romania needs as much exposure to rugby as possible as well as the obvious funding requirements.
Rugby World Cup Players
Marius Tincu The veteran hooker has more than likely featured in his last Rugby World Cup. Tincu has been a stalwart for Romania for many years and collected his 50th cap during the tournament. Romania’s Captain is widely regarded as one of the best hookers in Europe.
Russia are another nation who appear to be embracing the growth of rugby. The attraction of winning an Olympic medal for 7-a-side rugby seems to have gathered the interest of a number of Nations.
Moscow will play host to the 7’s Rugby World Cup in 2013 before the shortened version of the game makes it’s appearance at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Rugby World Cup Players
Vasily Artemyev played his schoolboy rugby at Blackrock College in Dublin, Ireland. He is a product of the Irish rugby infrastructure and a notable talent.
Artemyev has a long future as a mainstay on the Russian National team and recently scored a hat trick of tries for his new team Northampton Saints against Saracens in the LV=Cup.
Samoa produced another impressive showing at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
A narrow loss to Wales came just four days after beating Namibia. Victory over Fiji was followed by defeat to South Africa and this signaled the end of the tournament for the Pacific Islanders. Samoa, along with Fiji consistently produce phenomenal rugby athletes.
The Pacific Island Nations surely warrant serious investment?
Rugby World Cup Players
Alesana Tuilagi kicked off his tournament with a hat trick of tries against Namibia. The Leicester Tigers winger is a colossal man with devastating speed and power. He will hopefully have one more Rugby World Cup in him.
Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu made his feelings about Samoa’s congested fixture list be known on twitter. Sapolu condemned the International Rugby Board as being biased towards rugby’s Tier I nations. Although his comparison’s of Samoa’s suffering to crimes against humanity were way off the mark, Sapolu’s actions have forced the I.R.B. to rethink the World Cup schedule.
Further tweets claiming Welsh referee, Nigel Owens was biased against Samoa during their encounter with South Africa, earned the Samoan centre a six month suspended sentence. Sapolu tweeted, “I do not want to play rugby anymore. One thing is for sure, my children definitely won’t be”
Scotland will be disappointed that they did not advance from their pool. It was always going to be very tight between themselves and Argentina, assuming England would advance. Scotland’s 12 – 13 loss to Argentina knocked the wind out of them and they had a mountain to climb against England. Scottish rugby appears to be on the up. Is this Andy Robinson’s hard work starting to pay off? Scotland could be a serious force by World Cup 2015. It would be fantastic to see them mount a serious challenge for the 6 Nations Trophy over the coming years.
Rugby World Cup Players
Ruaridh Jackson The skillful, English born fly half is set to feature heavily for Scotland over the coming years and into the 2015 World Cup. Jackson has just signed a new deal with Glasgow Warriors that will see him contracted to the club until 2014.
James Hamilton The giant Scotland second row had a fine game against Argentina and was a surprise omission against England. Size, strength and mobility, Hamilton should be a regular starter for Scotland.
Injuries to Francois Steyn and Bakkies Botha were somewhat overshadowed by the injury to New Zealand’s Dan Carter. These injuries were downplayed yet it is extremely difficult for any squad to lose players of the calibre of Steyn and Botha. Steyn’s ability to kick long range penalties gives South Africa another potent weapon in attack. Switching Steyn from full back to centre proved an interesting move and one that warrants further inspection.
The injury to Bakkies Botha in the second row was another big loss for the Springboks. Along with Matfield, Botha is the heartbeat of the South African pack. Take these two players out of any team and their absence will be felt. Coach Peter De Villiers has resigned from his position and the Springboks will appoint a new Head Coach in the future. Could Nick Mallett be the next Head Coach?
Rugby World Cup Players
John Smit The Springbok Captain has been the centre of attention for quite some time now. South African people suggest that, although he is recognized as a fantastic leader, his performances do not warrant the captain’s armband or a starting role for that matter. It is a very tough situation for the 2007 World Cup winning captain to find himself in. Smit is a quality player and has proved himself as one of the best captain’s in World rugby. He holds the South African record for Rugby World Cup appearances at 17. Smit joins fellow South African hooker, Schalk Brits at Saracens.
Bismarck Du Plessis will undoubtedley take over the No. 2 jersey from John Smit. Du Plessis is the real deal and everything you could want from a hooker. Abrasive, aggressive and technically sound. Along with Chiliboy Ralepelle, South Africa’s hooker position appears in good hands,
WIthout a doubt the highlight for Tonga was the famous victory over France.
One of the abiding memories of the 2011 World Cup is the Tongan front row hyped up and full of energy at the last scrum of the game against France. An incredible achievement by the Pacific Islanders.
Rugby World Cup Players
Aleki Lutui Tonga and Worcester’s hooker led the charge from the the front. A quality player who played a major role in his team’s historic victory over France. Fantastic to see the Tongan front row players delight when France called for a scrum with two minutes on the clock.
Rugby World Cup: U.S.A.
After immersing myself in all things rugby, here in the United States, I can report that there is a healthy apetite and rapidly growing interest in the sport. USA Eagles CEO, Nigel Melville has done a fantastic job re-introducing rugby to the Americans as well as ensuring that the long term rugby infrastructure is developed. U.S.A. Rugby was recently awarded the I.R.B. Development Award in recognition of the Rookie Rugby programme. Evidence of the effectiveness of Rookie Rugby can be felt nationwide and there is a genuine buzz around rugby here. There is a long way to go but this country produces fantastic athletes and the potential for rugby to continue it’s rapid growth is apparent. Funding is desperately required but the fact that NBC aired the 2011 Rugby World Cup is a milestone in the establishment of rugby as major sport here. A new look domestic college league structure that replicates the NCCA American Football programme comes into affect this year.
Another major driving force in the explosive growth of rugby in the United States is Rugby Sevens. This shortened version of the game has taken the Nation by storm. 7’s rugby is a less technical, and therefore easier to understand version of the game. 7’s is proving to be the key in driving the growth of rugby. U.S.A. 7’s are currently competing in the Pan-American games in Mexico and will be hoping to return home with gold medals in their pockets. The Las Vegas 7’s is part of the I.R.B. 7’s circuit and this event attracted in excess of 60,000 spectators last year. A collegiate 7’s structure has been formed and to date has proved very successful.
USA Rugby possesses huge potential. There is a conscious move to introduce younger children to rugby and to show them the benefits of participating in a fast, action packed team sport. It would be fantastic to see them bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Rugby World Cup Players
Todd Clever The Eagles Captain plays his rugby in Suntory, Japan but was also the first ever American player to feature in the Super XIV, representing South Africa’s Golden Lions. Clever is the face of U.S. Rugby and is expected to lead the side into the 2015 World Cup.
Mike MacDonald Deserves a special mention for becoming the most capped U.S. rugby player. MacDonald earned his record breaking 63rd cap against Ireland on September 11th. At 30 years of age MacDonald may just have another World Cup left in him.
Rugby World Cup: Wales
Wales can be extremely proud of their fourth place finish. The sending off of captain Sam Warburton in the semi final against France, by referee Alain Roland, effectively ended Wales’ chances of qualifying for the World Cup Final. Roland’s decision to show Warburton the red card was one of the most controversial moments of the tournament. Coach Warren Gatland’s tactical awareness reigned supreme in Wales’ victory over Ireland. Along with defense coach Shaun Edwards, the Welsh Rugby Football Union look very keen to hold onto the services of these coaches and so they should. Despite the heart breaking anti climax to their World Cup campaign, Welsh rugby has reason to be in bouyant mood. With players like George North, Rhys Priestland and Sam Warburton, Wales have a solid base from which to build for Rugby World Cup 2015.
Rugby World Cup Players
Shane Williams Dubbed as “one of the most exciting players of his generation”, Williams has enthralled rugby fans around the world with his quick feet and lightning pace. The Welsh winger scored three tries in his final World Cup campaign and looks set to hang up his international boots during the upcoming clash against the touring Wallabies in December.
Sam Warburton was the youngest captain at the World Cup. Although his tournament ended in bitter disappointment, the young Welsh captain should continue to develop into one of the world’s best openside flankers. His stand out performances in the World Cup will not have gone unnoticed by the British & Irish Lions selectors as they prepare for the 2013 Lions tour to Australia.
Rugby World Cup & the future
England host the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and Japan in 2019. The destination of World Cup 2023 onwards has yet to be decided by the I.R.B.
For the the overall growth and good of the game, I believe that the I.R.B. should look at staging the World Cup in North America. The facilities are in place and the apettite for rugby is certainly there.
The affects of staging the FIFA World Cup in the United States in 1994 can still be felt. Soccer is a major sport in the United States and the success of the National teams have reflected this.
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby U20s Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland, Leinster and Leciester rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for Rugby Mag and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging onlineoutcoach.com
England are celebrating the discovery of a new centre partnership, a first win on Irish soil in 8 years and a big boost in confidence. In stark contrast, Ireland, will be without David Wallace for the world cup, have lost all 4 warm up games and, most worryingly, are not currently playing to their potential. The Irish players and management argue that the world cup has not started yet and that the recent results are somewhat irrelevant. As true as that is, momentum is vital. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately so is losing. England will start the world cup looking to build on their 2 game winning streak. Ireland will be desperate to get back to winning when they kick off their campaign against the United States Eagles on September 11th.
England boast a formidable world cup track record. Out of the six world cup tournaments ever held, the all whites have featured in three finals including 2003 which saw them win the famous Webb Ellis trophy. In Pool B, along with Georgia, Argentina, Scotland and Romania, England are favorites to top their pool and advance to the quarter finals. Yesterday’s performance against Ireland has given the former world champions a number of reasons to feel optimistic as they board the plane to New Zealand.
It is a little early to over hype the centre partnership of Tindall and Tuilagi. Both men played well yesterday and looked like they could potentially form a dangerous partnership, but it was their first game together. On one of Jonny Wilkinson’s quieter days, Tindall became the maestro of the England backline. He pulled Irish defenders this way and that, created space for his teammates, provided a deft chip kick for Armitage’s try and defended gallantly throughout. This will be Mike Tindall’s last world cup. As one of the elder statesmen in the English squad and with plenty of international test experience, Tindall will play a huge role in England’s fortunes at the tournament. He may yet prove to be a perfect mentor for his young centre partner, and that could have devastating effects.
Most of the talk has been about the rising star, Manu Tuilagi. Manu is one of six Tuilagi brothers all to have represented Leicester Tigers but the first to represent England. While at Leicester Tigers I played alongside Henry and Alex Tuilagi. These men are forces of nature. They boast incredible physical attributes including strength, power and speed. So much so that Henry would have to take it “easy” on his teammates at training for fear of causing serious injury. That was three years ago but I remember the word around Leicester’s training ground at Oadby was, “wait until you see their younger brother”. Manu Tuilagi has arrived and will make a big impact at the world cup. Like his brothers, Manu is the real deal.
Somewhat overlooked is the fact that England beat Ireland on Irish soil for the first time in 8 years. This gives the whole English squad a massive psychological boost. The players will take a lot of confidence from the victory and Martin Johnson could not ask for better timing. Last year England looked set for a Grand Slam 6 Nations only to be thwarted by an impressive Irish display. The defeat left them crushed and soul searching. Mike Tindall, in his post match comments made reference to the “hurt” of last year’s defeat against Ireland but also to their collective willingness to put that right. England were a lot more hungry for a victory than Ireland yesterday and that was down to the team’s desire to work very hard for each other. This bodes well for their campaign. England kick off their world cup tournament against Argentina.
In the month of August, Ireland have slipped from fourth to eight place (a record low) in the I.R.B. rankings. In the same month Ireland have suffered four straight defeats. Included is the fact that Ireland have surrendered a proud a home record against the English. These are not good world cup preparations and Ireland’s fortunes need to drastically change soon.
Ireland coach, Declan Kidney will draw on whatever positives he can from the yesterday’s defeat. The Irish set pieces performed well for the most part. Flannery’s lineout throwing was accurate and repeatedly reached his target. The Irish scrum help up for the most part too. These are very important facets to get right as scrums and lineouts provide the backs with the ball. On top of this, there were a couple of notable Irish performances. Geordan Murphy stood out in both attack and defence. The Leicester Tigers man showed tremendous composure as he went it to tackle Tigers teammate, Manu Tuilagi and stop a certain try. Murphy has surely been in the exact same situation on numerous instances at training for his club. He waited until Tuilagi extended his powerful hand off, Murphy then pushed Tuilagi’s arm out of the way, allowing him to make a clean tackle. This action was done in a split second but saved a try. Moments later, Geordan Murphy won Ireland a penalty and subsequent 3 points when he got shoulder charged by England’s Courtney Lawes.
Paul O’Connell also had a very big game. This does not tell us much going into a world cup though. The rugby community knows what a phenomenal rugby player O’Connell is. He is the heartbeat of the Irish team and has been for many years. He leads the Irish pack and calls the lineouts. His presence on the team instill confidence in his teammates. O’Connell’s toughest challenge is to ensure his teammates live up to his high standards.
On the negative side, Ireland may be very fortunate that they face the United States in their opening game of the world cup. No disrespect intended whatsoever as the United States, coached by former Irish coach, Eddie O’Sullivan, will take great heart in the recent Irish performances. However, Ireland will still be expected to beat the Eagles, who are themselves on a losing streak of two losses to Canada. If the first game for Ireland was against Australia or even Italy, there may be more room for concern. Teams should get better by each game and momentum matters in the world cup. Having said that, Ireland face newly crowned Tri Nations Champions, Australia in their second game.
Against England, Ireland were physically dominated at the rucks and breakdowns. The ball was slow to come out and facing England’s rushing defence yesterday, Ireland seemed bereft of ideas in attack and only once in the whole game did the Irish manage to pass the ball along their entire backline. Like the previous week, the backs’ passing was too lateral and nothing came of the attempted attack.
The biggest negative for Ireland yesterday was the loss of flanker David Wallace. Wallace has played a key role in Ireland’s and Munster’s successes over the years. He is a complete No.7 who offers just as much in attack as he does in defence. Wallace has suffered countless injuries and setbacks but somehow always managed to come back from injury a better player. This would have been the 35 year old’s last world cup and he was destined to make a big impact. Very sadly it is not to be. Wallace is not a man for histrionics and looked in considerable pain when his studs got caught in the grass and his knee gave way. He is a huge loss for Ireland and I wish him well for a very speedy recovery. Injuries are without doubt the worst enemy of any sports person.
Every single sports person in the world needs luck. Wallace’s heartbreaking injury provides another player not included in Kidney’s original plans to get into the Irish squad. One assumes that selection has to be Shane Jennings. Ireland need a proper openside flanker on the team. Wallace was the only out and out 7 in the squad. It would be too risky to have Sean O’Brien at openside. O’Brien needs to be in the team but his bullocking runs are nullified when he plays at 7 as he has to work a lot harder in defence then he would do at blindside flanker. Openside flankers have a lot of work to do in defence. From lineouts they must stay on the inside of the outhalf and stop any attacks down that channel. From scrums, they should be the first man making the tackle or competing for the ball at the ensuing ruck. Shane Jennings fits this role to a tee. He can be seen constantly conferring with outhalf, Sexton on attack and defence for Leinster and Ireland. He communicates well and rarely does he miss a tackle. His introduction at half time in the Heineken Cup saw Leinster overturn a 16 point deficit and become eventual winners. Jennings is a very intelligent rugby player and along with Leo Cullen has strengthened the mettle of Leinster rugby since their arrival home from Leicester Tigers.
Ireland depart for New Zealand on Tuesday.
Leicester Tigers roar into another final!
Sports fans around the Europe are in for a treat tomorrow. In soccer, Manchester United take on Barcelona at Wembley in the Champions League. This is the second year in a row that the showpiece of European soccer will be staged on a Saturday. The organisers wanted to catch a larger audience, so they moved the game from Wednesday to Saturday. The move seems to have worked well.
The Champions League Final of 2010 saw Inter Milan beat Bayern Munich. More significantly, the game was apparently watched by over 170 million people. Tomorrow we see two of the biggest names in world soccer take to the pitch so one guesses that those numbers will increase significantly. The Champions League Final now commands more of an audience than the Super Bowl.
Although rugby cannot compete with soccer in terms of viewing figures, last year’s Six Nations Championship saw a record average of 4.4 million viewers per game. Leading up to this year’s World Cup in New Zealand, rugby appears to be in a healthy state in Europe. The time difference between New Zealand and Europe will hopefully not affect viewing figures.
Before we concern ourselves about the upcoming World Cup, there is the little matter of this Saturday’s Aviva Premiership Final between Saracens and my old club, Leicester Tigers.
There have been significant changes in the playing staff at Leicester Tigers since my time at the club. Friends like Luke Abraham, Brett Deacon, Jim Hamilton, Ian Humphreys, Frank Murphy, Johne Murphy, Harry Ellis, Andy Goode, Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings have all moved from the midlands outfit.
Leo and Shane have another final this Saturday for Leinster who take on Munster in the Magners League Final at Thomond Park. An unprecedented double is on the cards for the Dublin team who last week won the Heineken Cup.
Leicester Tigers ethos
Leicester Tigers is a phenomenal rugby club. There is an ethos at the club that has to be experienced to be believed. The Leicester Tigers training facilities in Oadby are second to none. The club argue that if they provide everything for the player, then the player has no excuses to under perform. This theory sees Leicester Tigers provide breakfast and lunch for their players. Of course, the food is regulated by the club’s dietitian and each player has his own dietary guidelines of what he can and cannot eat. The club also provides every player with clean kit each day. After training, players leave their dirty kit in bins provided in the dressing rooms to be washed for the next day. Brenda Hargrave has been washing the players kits for 8 years now. Leicester Tigers leave nothing to chance.
Leicester Tigers and the Welford Road Faithful
The people of Leicester passionately support their beloved Tigers. Rugby seems to overshadow everything, even soccer in the midlands county. Leicester City is a very well supported soccer club and boasts legends like Peter Shilton and Gary Lineker, whose family still run their fruit and vegetable stall in the City’s outstanding food market. The people of Leicester’s love affair with all things rugby is understandable when you consider that tomorrow marks the seventh year in a row Leicester Tigers are in the Premiership Final.
Sadly, Tigers Captain and fellow Irishman, Geordan Murphy will not take any part of tomorrow’s final. Geordy has had a tough run of injuries this season but hopefully he will be back in time to represent Ireland at the World Cup.
He has been a big loss to Leicester Tigers this season but no doubt he will deliver an inspirational speech to his fellow teammates before tomorrow’s big game. Geordy is Tigers through and through. He is loved at Leicester Tigers and rightfully so. Loyalty and honesty goes a long way at the club, qualities Murphy possesses with abundance.
Leicester Tigers young stars set to shine
It has been very satisfying to watch the progress of a few of my former colleagues. When I was at the club, Ben Youngs, Tom Croft and Dan Cole were young guys trying to break into the Leicester Tigers 1st XV. These guys had to earn their spurs playing plenty of Monday night second team games before they got a chance with the senior squad. Now they are seasoned international players and the three of them will play a massive part in England’s Rugby World Cup bid this year.
From a personal point of view, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching their progress. Each one of them have worked incredibly hard to get where they are now and fully deserve all the rewards that come their way. Hopefully that includes another Aviva Premiership Crown as Leicester Tigers players tomorrow.
Go Leicester Tigers!
No matter who you support, tomorrow is a feast of sport. Leicester Tigers take on Saracens at 3:00pm. Leinster face Munster at 5:05pm and finally Manchester United square off against the mighty Barcelona at 7:45pm.
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby U20s Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland, Leinster and Leicester Tigers rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging on lineoutcoach.com #busy