Make no mistake, thanks to the choice of host nation and the party atmosphere generated by the fans, this is already a great Rugby World Cup despite the on-pitch controversies over new high tackle rules and the ‘slippery ball’ handling errors caused by the temperatures, humidity and dew.
At the end of the day, from a playing point of view, it’s a proverbial level playing field and everyone should just get on with it.
Never mind those coaches – least of all arch-moaner Michael Cheika – stepping up to complain that random clinical TMO-dominated red card decisions threaten to ruin games by leaving 14 players facing 15.
The laws are the laws and nobody should be knocking developments designed to protect players.
Thankfully in rugby the referee remains sole arbiter on the field of play: in my experience RWC officials are acutely conscious of their responsibilities and prepare for the tournament with as much diligence as anyone else.
With the knockout stage nearly upon us, so is the ‘silly season’ of hyped stories and – dare I mention it – ‘fake news’.
There’s a growing about of chit-chat around speculating as to whether, looking at the possible outcomes, some teams will be taking deliberate decisions to lose their final Pool games in order to – depending upon which way you look at it – either gain an easier quarter-final draw or alternatively avoid certain opponents.
The subject is complicated by other more pressing factors which in any event will be influencing the 31-man squads, e.g. perhaps some players needing a rest, others (coming back from injury?) needing to play, how things are going in training behind closed doors and indeed the desirability of maintaining commitment to the cause by allowing everyone to feel they have a chance of making the match-day 23 next time out.
In an attritional tournament like this arguably the ‘long game’ is the one to play.
Whilst acknowledging there could be something in focusing on ‘must win’ contests and sometimes fielding a mix-and-match XV against lesser opponents, I don’t buy the strategy myself for two reasons.
Firstly, in the cause of eventual glory the importance of those delicate commodities form and momentum cannot be denied – whatever the sport.
And secondly, there’s the hackneyed but undeniable principle of ‘taking one game at a time’ which is not to be under-estimated.
Right now, for example, it seems to me the permutations of whether either or both France and England might actually be better off losing their clash next weekend – in order to avoid coming top of Pool C and thereby potentially having to play Australia and then New Zealand in the Semi-Final and then Final respectively, are not only fraught with danger but pointless.
You won’t find such issues troubling the All Blacks. Not because they’re arrogant or confidently expecting to roll everybody over, as some might think. That’s not the All Blacks’ way, not in our culture.
The way we approach a tournament – be it the Rugby Championship, the Rugby World Cup or any other – is that at some point we’re going to have to beat every other team in the comp and frankly it doesn’t matter in which order we do it.
That’s why it was no skin off our noses that our first Pool game was versus South Africa, who’d had their successes against us – in both results and performances – in recent times.
It’s not so much a case of ‘one game at a time’ as the fact that every result matters. If you want to file that concept under the heading ‘momentum’ feel free to do so. I prefer to call it responsibility to the shirt.