Geordan Murphy, Leicester Tigers legend shares his memories of his club and international career and what the future holds.
Rugby World Cup is it a level playing field?
This is a segment of an article I wrote for JL Pagano’s Sunday Rant about the Rugby World Cup on Facebook. Well worth a read….
Once every four years the global rugby community is treated to a fantastic sporting occasion. We get to see the world’s greatest rugby teams battle it out for the Webb-Ellis Trophy.
I believe it is safe to say that since the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, the tournament has improved considerably as has the standard of rugby played. The main reason for this must be put down to the professionalism of the sport. During the Rugby World Cup, we get to enjoy all the established professional rugby teams go from strength to strength. Every rugby fan gets a thrill from watching New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and the home nations, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy. According to the I.R.B. Rankings, these teams, along with Argentina make up the top 10 rugby nations in the world. These countries with the possible exception of Argentina are all professional rugby teams. This is my rugby world cup rant….
Rugby World Cup goes truly global
Rugby is becoming more of a global sport. For the first time ever, Russia is competing at this year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. The Russian Rugby Union have invested heavily in their domestic rugby infrastructure. Georgia too is a country taking massive strides in establishing itself as serious rugby nation. Another milestone is that this is the first Rugby World Cup to be broadcast on free to air television in the United States. This marks a significant turning point for the sport in this country. Without a doubt, the so-called “developing nations” are making conscious efforts to grow the game within their respective countries. These countries need as much help and assistance as possible from the I.R.B.
Rugby World Cup is it a level playing field?
The rugby world cup fixture list is testament to my rant. In each of the quadrennial tournaments, the fixture list consistently appears to favour the top rugby nations. Teams such as New Zealand, England and Australia have plenty of rugby resources at their disposal. They have considerable sized player pools to choose from and the national sides are professional outfits. The top ten rugby nations in the world are expected to get through the pool stages. This means that these teams are expected to play more games than the “minnows” during the course of the tournament. So, perhaps the reasoning behind the inconsistent world cup fixtures is that the top rugby nations are expected to go further in the competition than the less developed nations so their squads deserve more rest between games? This is a shallow argument.
Rest between games plays a vital role in any team’s success during competitions. There is a reason why club rugby sides usually only play once a week. Countless studies into player fatigue have been conducted. I took part in a major study into player welfare while I was playing in the Aviva Premiership in England. The results indicated that injuries are more commonplace in squads with the least amount of rest between games. Rugby is a very physical sport and the body needs to be allowed to recover between matches. The Rugby World Cup fixture list has provided little rest period for some of the nations that need it the most.
Rugby World Cup Twitter Revolution
Samoa’s Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu brought a lot of attention to the imbalanced fixture list on Twitter. The Samoan centre got carried away by making comparisons to the holocaust, but the point he was trying to make was that his team’s condensed fixtures were unjust and impeded the progression of Manu Samoa. He had a point. Samoa played against Wales just four days after playing Namibia. That meant that the Samoan squad had only three full days between games. Cleary that is unjust compared to Wales’ rest period of six full days between rugby world cup games. Make no mistake about how important this rest period is. Wales beat Samoa 17-10 and this sparked Sapolu’s outcry. The I.R.B. threatened to suspend the outspoken player but wisely chose not to. Sapolu dared the I.R.B. to carry out their threat, stating it was another unjust act by rugby’s governing body.
Samoa ‘s Rugby World Cup campaign is over. Always an exciting team to watch, one wonders how those narrow defeats to Wales and South Africa could have been different with more rest between games.
Namibia are another nation who can feel aggrieved with the fixture list. With very limited resources and player pool, Namibia were always going to struggle. Their cause was not helped by the fact that they only had three full recovery days on two separate occasions. The African side were in the Rugby World Cup Pool D, along with Samoa, South Africa, Wales and Fiji. Namibia played against Samoa four days after their opening game against Fiji. Namibia did have a full week’s rest before facing South Africa but were again in action against Wales four days later. Considered a tier three team by the I.R.B., Namibia reached the Rugby World Cup finals on each occasion since their debut in 1999. They are now ranked 19th in the I.R.B. rankings.
Rugby World Cup & USA Rugby
The Rugby World Cup fixture list has been equally cruel on the United States. The Eagles also only three full rest days between games on two separate occasions. Rugby here in the U.S. has huge potential. The national team’s compact Rugby World Cup fixtures hinder that potential. U.S.A. played against Russia, four days after their defeat to Ireland. They also played against Italy four days after losing heavily to Australia. The fixture list makes no sense and is extremely unfair on teams with limited resources. With more rest between games, I believe the U.S. Eagles could have pulled off a major upset.
Success breeds success and successful teams by their very nature generate support. With more victories comes more publicity. This plays a crucial role in the awareness of the sport in the developing rugby nations. It is very difficult for these teams to string consecutive victories together with such concentrated match schedules. This in turn, hinders the awareness of the sport in the psyche of the general public of these nations.
Rugby World Cup Investing for the Future
We have reached the Quarter Finals stage of the Rugby World Cup. The supposed rugby “minnows” have performed valiantly. The rugby public has witnessed this during the competition. There is so much potential in the second and third tier teams. The I.R.B. need to recognize this and invest appropriately in these regions. I do not envy the task of the I.R.B. who have worked very hard already to expand the development of the game globally, but more needs to be done. Rugby here in the U.S. has seen participation numbers grow by 51% over the past 18 months. It is the fastest growing team sport in this country. There is massive potential in North America.
Tonga’s surprise win over France means that unless Canada beat the All Blacks, Tonga finish Rugby World Cup Pool A in third place. This means Canada will not qualify automatically for the Rugby World Cup in 2015. Regardless of this, investment is warranted for both U.S.A. and Canada rugby.
The logistics of organizing the fixture list of a Rugby World Cup is undoubtedly a tough task. However, the fixtures need to be fair on all teams. Let’s hope that we see this in 2015…
Rugby World Cup article featured on Harpin on Rugby’s Sunday Sidebar on Facebook
More Rugby World Cup on LineoutCoach.com
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby U20s Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland, Leinster and Leicester 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 about the Rugby World Cup #busy
9/11/2011 – Ten years to the day that the world changed forever. A very poignant and sombre day which saw nations around the globe pause for reflection. The U.S. Eagles rugby team Continue reading
The Rugby World Cup 2011 kicks off in New Zealand in just over 3 weeks. Ireland played against Scotland last weekend and France yesterday. So, what have we learned? More importantly, what have the Irish coaching staff learned?
After losing against Scotland, Kidney made 8 changes to his starting side. Keep in mind that every player in the squad is desperate to get some game time and to prove they deserve to be on the plane to New Zealand. These games are always tricky for individual players. You are so desperate to play well that you can put too much pressure on yourself. Minor problems can manifest themselves until they become huge issues. This happened yesterday to Ireland’s lineouts. If ever there was proof needed that lineouts are of vital importance to winning or losing a game, yesterday was it. For a number of reasons Rory Best’s throws were not finding their intended targets consistently and this played a huge part in the outcome of the game.
For the second week in a row, Leo Cullen captained the Irish rugby team. Having played on the same team as Leo for Leinster and Leicester Tigers, I believe there are few better pack leaders and lineout callers than him. Cullen is second to none at spotting the hole in opposition’s lineout defence and calling appropriate lineouts to expose those holes. He has intelligence and communicates the calls very clearly. As a hooker, I was always full of confidence knowing that Leo was in charge of the lineouts and making the calls. I have no doubt that Cullen himself will be very disappointed with how Ireland’s lineout plays went yesterday.
There are many facets to lineout play. The pack leader must spot where the defence is weak and call accordingly. The lifters must ensure that they lock their arms out at full extension, lifting the jumpers to their maximum height. Hookers must throw the ball accurately while under pressure from the opposition jumpers. Unless all of these components are working in harmony, the chances are, the lineout will be lost. The importance of securing lineout ball cannot be overstated. It is from lineouts that backs can launch attacks and commence building the phases. Starving teams of their lineout ball is a very effective way to nulify their attack. This is precisely what happened in yesterday’s game.
Best and Cullen are both seasoned professional rugby players. They have played rugby at the top level for years and performed consistently throughout their careers. Their ability cannot be called into question. Over the past few years’ Ireland’s lineouts have been very accurate and consistent. As a team, they have worked hard to ensure that they can rely on their lineout possession. They have recognized the importance of obtaining quality ball from their set piece. So, with this in mind, what was the problem yesterday?
Hookers hate throwing crooked lineouts. It is a horrible feeling knowing all eyes are you because you made a mistake. It can play over and over on your mind and distract you from the rest of your game. The frustration of throwing one crooked throw can lead to a hookers’ throws falling to pieces. Along with place kicking, it is a specialist skill performed by an individual within the team. Kickers are judged on how many points they kick and hookers are judged on how many lineout throws reach their intended target. Pressure applied by opposition lineout jumpers competing for the ball often causes hookers to throw crooked balls. Best was penalized for a crooked throw yesterday but that wasn’t the extent of Ireland’s woes.
France have obviously worked hard on their defensive lineouts. Consistently they ensured they had two defensive pods competing for Ireland’s lineout throws. Every time Best (and later Flannery) threw into Ireland’s lineout, they had to navigate the ball between two outstretched French jumpers. The more accurate the throw must be, the more pressure the hooker comes under. I am a big advocate of competing for the opposition’s lineouts. Cutting the opposing team’s possession off at the source saves a lot of energy and obviously maintaing possession of the ball, wins games. I was dismayed by the lack of competition by Ireland during France’s lineouts. Very little meaningful pressure was applied to the French lineout. This guaranteed France easy possession of the ball. In turn, this allowed them to create a lot more attack phases then Ireland. Olivier Magne was appointed as the French lineout coach recently. This is an area they have been working on and it showed yesterday. They could have a very effective defensive lineout come World Cup time.
Many players on both sides yesterday were playing their first game of the season yesterday, added to this was the heat. It was reportedly 30 degrees celsius at 7pm in Bordeaux yesterday. Playing your first game of the season is tough but playing your first game of the season in those conditions is extremely energy draining. Hopefully these factors are to blame for the sub par lineout lifting by Ireland. On more then one occassian, Ireland’s lifters were slow to react to their jumper. If a lineout jumper is not lifted properly by his lifters he will not be able to get to the ball. Hookers throw the ball to an imaginary target “zone” and rely on the jumper to get to the ball. In order to get to where the ball is thrown, the jumper must ensure his two lifters give him their maximum lift every time. This was not the case yesterday.
It should be noted that Paul O’Connell’s appearance early in the second half made a big difference to Ireland’s lineouts. O’Connell’s presence undoubtedly has a big impact on his team mates. He is a true warrior and will play an integural part in Ireland’s World Cup campaign. I would like to see Cullen and O’Connell play in the second row together. Rarely have the two players been on the same team and I believe they could be our best second row partnership.
Next week, Ireland are at home to France in another World Cup warm up game. Ireland will spend a lot of time on their lineouts during training the week. They are aware that their lineouts need to improve and they will address this. Coach Declan Kidney has stressed that the results of these warm up games are not important. He is right. However, Ireland have played two games and lost two games. Winning is a habit and Ireland need to get into that habit next weekend.