Sunday, October 30, 2011

John Eales: McCaw at heart of World Cup victory 24/10/2011

OPINION: The 2011 World Cup will be judged as exceptionally successful- not just by jingoistic New Zealand supporters, but by almost everyone who participated.
The crowds were fantastic, the rugby immeasurably better than four years ago and the atmosphere at the games and in the fan zones carnival-like.

It also had a hometown winner in the All Blacks, a seemingly obvious result but one which was not always inevitable. A victory that first brought gasps of relief before it sent waves of joy through a nation, a rugby proud nation that had been starved of world cup joy for more than a score of years.

And they were deserved winners at the last, overcoming the dramatic loss of Dan Carter with minimum fuss. It is a shame one of the two most influential rugby players of the last decade wasn't able to enjoy his team's ultimate ascent. Such are the vagaries of sport; it's not fair, it's just life.

The fact they progressed seemingly unhindered is a credit to the other most influential player in world rugby, his captain, Richie McCaw. McCaw was the captain who looked most likely to hold the Webb Ellis trophy. Importantly, his team was built on the honesty and modesty he and his coach Graham Henry live. Never getting ahead of themselves as they finally extinguished their world cup jinx.

The Wallabies also signed off in reasonable style on Friday. The bronze medal play-off isn't as much about where you finish as about how you finish. That being the case, the Wallabies' campaign ended with mixed feelings in their 21-18 victory. There was the satisfaction in victory but the frustration from many injuries. Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Nathan Sharpe, James Horwill, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Salesi Ma'afu all left the field. The celluloid moment at the end looked more like a scene from the 4077th MASH.

The celebration of Sharpe's 100th test and Berrick Barnes's form were tempered by Sharpe's injury and the question of whether Barnes's inclusion came one game too late. It's a question Australians have four more years to ponder.

We were in no doubt of this fact after the semifinal defeat to the All Blacks - some Kiwis really are as bad at winning as Australians! After Australia's exit, George Gregan was continually reminded of his "four more years" taunt of then All Black half-back Byron Kellaher in 2003.
Words can come back to haunt you and I told you sos are never as much fun when someone is telling you. The throng was deaf to Gregan's good-natured, "that's my line" response. It, like memories of World Cups past, was drowned in the tide of emotion.

While the final accolades go with the victors, therewere other moments which reflected well on human nature. The reconciliation moment of the tournament was not the continual apologies from the English for their behaviour but the cheer Cooper received as he was assisted from the arena with a serious knee injury. The recognition that his frustrating tournament had ended so appallingly seemed to prick the collective conscience and foster the all-is-forgiven attitude of the crowd. No schadenfreude in this moment, scorn and smug pleasure transformed by something akin to pathos.

A World Cup will always draw such mixed emotion. That's why we watch it. That's why we love it. And that's why we'll be back in four more years to do it all again.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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