This World Cup is All Down to Discipline
The first two weeks of the World Cup have well and truly delivered. We’ve seen underdogs fighting back in the form of Chile and Uruguay, we’ve had contentious calls, giant killers in the form of Fiji, and we’ve had big points games. There is no doubt that this World Cup will continue to throw up controversies that anger and frustrate us all, it causes arguments, and tension but somehow it also makes it the most exciting two months in the calendar. But how will the world cup be decided amongst these controversial calls; discipline may be the answer.
Throughout the tournament so far, we’ve seen the general rule emerge, unsurprisingly, give away less penalties, win the game. This is not new. We know that in order to keep control and score points, discipline is of paramount importance. But, when it comes the latter stages of this tournament, we may see this become the difference between a final and heartbreak. We’ve also seen a card of some form in the majority of games so far, including three red cards – one for England (again…), uncharacteristically, one for New Zealand, and a rather confusing one for Portugal. Though some may argue that there should have been more.
There are of course exceptions, which in Round 1 came in the form of Wales. In their fierce match up against Fiji, Wales gave away a mammoth 17 penalties, to Fiji’s 9. This game was phenomenal, it had it all – but it’s fair to say, that a lot of us walked away feeling deflated. It just didn’t feel like a level playing field; it seems futile to dwell on this point too much because ultimately the Welsh turned up and manged to walk away victors on the day thanks to their scrappy attitude. But it does show that teams can do everything right in terms of discipline but still have victory snatched from them.
The second exception was New Zealand v Namibia in round 2. However, this one may be easier to explain away. When you have 64% of possession throughout a game, 72% in the first half, you are bound to see a higher tally. And ultimately when you win by 68 points, who other than sad writers like me are looking at your penalty count! In contrast to this however, South Africa held 60% of the possession against Romania and manged to keep their penalty count to just 7. Sending a stark and fearsome warning to just about everyone in the tournament that this team can be clinical, disciplined, and ruthless.
The highest card tally of the tournament came in the form of Samoa v Chile, which in the first half seemed to be an exciting grudge match with the South Americans proving yet again, they are a force to be reckoned with. Samoa did however bring the hammer down in the second half to extend their lead and prove they are still leaders in physicality.
Moving deeper into Round 2 saw Wales once again throw exception to rule by conceding the same number of penalties as Portugal, 11. There’s a definite argument to be had regarding Portugal’s red card however, and as to whether a red card was warranted for a player falling from the sky. But this further shows that if Wales are to fight in the knockouts then they need to tighten up that penalty count.
One of, if not the, most exciting match ups in Round 2 was Australia v Fiji. And oh my Botia, what a game it was. Fiji once again proving what we all knew deep down, they can perform as well as and as clinically as any other top ten nation in the world, conceding just 7 penalties to Australia’s monster 18 – showing the level of pressure they were under all game. It is difficult to know how deep into the tournament Fiji will make it, but the further the better for rugby.
The final game of the weekend was surprising for two reasons; firstly, England made it through 80 minutes of rugby without seeing red for a shoulder to the head. Secondly, this game saw the lowest penalty count of the tournament, with just 6 a piece, so credit where it is due in the world of discipline for England and Japan.
The Kriel, Curry, Carreras complex
One of the biggest controversies we saw in Round 1, came from head contact tackles. This saw three incredibly similar situations all result in different outcomes. Curry was sent off with his yellow being upgraded in the bunker system review, Carreras had his yellow card upheld in the same match, under the same process, and Kriel not was not even reviewed by the TMO or cited post-match. It makes it incredibly difficult to justify a law within the game when we are seemingly penalising these incidents in some kind of randomised traffic light system. Now this is not an opportunity to start bashing the refereeing at the tournament, a practice that has become all too common. But rather raises the question of the processes surrounding reviewing incidents after the match. We live in a world of endless technologies, so why on earth are we not using them to make sure we keep consistency within the game.
These first two rounds have shown us discipline is as important as it ever was but, has also warned us that questionable calls can allow teams to capitalise even when they’re not firing on all cylinders. Round 3 is bound to throw up plenty of more exceptions and excitement, with South Africa playing a 7/1 split on the bench against Ireland, will this bully the Irish pack into ill-discipline? Or will the all-important Australia v Wales match prove too much for either team, who have both shown they can post huge tallies of penalties already. Lets wait and see…