Titanic clashes, lopsided groups and future changes – 5 World Cup talking points

By Sports Desk October 27, 2023

The 10th edition of the World Cup was also its longest, producing highs and lows across its eight weeks.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points arising from the tournament hosted by France.

Box office rugby

At its best, France 2023 has produced some of the greatest rugby ever played. The quarter-finals were the most captivating in the competition’s history with Ireland’s match against New Zealand and France’s clash with South Africa thunderous collisions that lifted the game to a new level. At the other end of the spectrum, Portugal flew the flag for emerging nations after producing a breakthrough World Cup the like of which has not been seen before, culminating in a seismic upset of Fiji.

The injustice of the draw

For all the fireworks seen on the pitch, the draw divided the World Cup into two distinct halves – the heavyweights and outsiders. When the hosts and Ireland made quarter-final exits in nailbiters, much of the magic was drained from the event and the sight of New Zealand routing Argentina in the semi-finals was an eyesore for the game. World Rugby hopes that by making the next draw closer to the tournament in January 2026, the lopsided groups present in France will be avoided. And crucially, one week is to be taken off a World Cup that was too long for all concerned.

Break the World Cup cycle

England’s success in reaching the semi-finals despite their abysmal build-up and world ranking of eighth, as well as missing out on a place in the final purely because of a last-gasp Handre Pollard penalty, underlines the folly of the ‘World Cup cycle’. While the Webb Ellis Trophy remains rugby’s ultimate prize, it should not be pursued at the cost of success in Six Nations, summer tours and autumn campaigns. Eddie Jones’ over-riding focus was the World Cup at the cost of the here and now and England suffered as a result. As the unexpected progress made by Steve Borthwick’s side illustrates, take care of the present and let the World Cup look after itself.

Level the playing field

Samoa do not have a match scheduled for 2024 – an unacceptable situation for a side whose sluggish start to the World Cup was a reflection of their lack of time together. By the end of their group campaign they had gone within a whisker of beating England, hinting at the potential if only given the resources and exposure to regular Tests. For Samoa, read a host of emerging nations who need more meaningful fixtures if the Webb Ellis Trophy is to be a prize available to those outside the heavyweights. World Rugby is hoping that through the creation of the bi-annual, two-tier Nations Cup, as well as more crossover fixtures, that the playing field can be levelled.

Fan bonanza

The World Cup has unfolded in front of large crowds and raucous atmospheres, with the noise and colour brought by supporters following Argentina, Chile and Portugal warranting a special mention. And it is to the credit of France fans that they have stayed with the tournament despite the hosts’ quarter-final exit. Early teething problems included slow entry into grounds, resulting in a crush outside Marseille’s Stade Velodrome on the opening weekend, beer running out and transport issues, but they were eventually ironed out.

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