WRWC2017: A Tournament in Review

Hi guys, sorry for the delay in getting this one out, I’ve been planning this since the start of the tournament but the last week has been pretty busy with work and my personal life! Hopefully the wait will have been worth it.

 

Last Saturday saw the end of the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup. The first tournament since the 4-year cycle was brought forward by a year to line up with the Olympics and Sevens World Cup, this was a great advert for women’s rugby that finished with the top 2 teams in the world playing each other in a thrilling final. New Zealand ran out eventual winners – their fifth time as World Champions – to continue the record of England having never beat the kiwis in a senior Rugby World Cup in either the men’s or the women’s game. The final standings in the tournament were:

  1. New Zealand
  2. England
  3. France
  4. USA
  5. Canada
  6. Australia
  7. Wales
  8. Ireland
  9. Italy
  10. Spain
  11. Japan
  12. Hong Kong

Due to the coverage moving from Sky to ITV, I was able to see much more of the tournament this time around (though not as much as I’d have liked) and as such, these are my overall thoughts on the tournament:

 

As good a game as the men’s

Oddly in this day and age, the idea of women playing rugby still seems amusing to some people. Hopefully they watched a couple of matches while the World Cup was on and took note of how wrong they are.

Though the strength of some of the lesser teams in the tournament may have been lacking, the top teams were throwing themselves into tackles every bit as hard as the men would, with Australia’s opening match against Ireland full of big hits. During the tournament I heard the play described as being similar to Colts rugby. While this may initially sound like an insult, the reasoning behind it made sense to me, as the women’s game still relies heavily on talent and passing skills rather than a team’s ability to hit someone hard, kick for territory or land every penalty kick within 45 metres of the posts.

The important thing now is that the women’s game continues to push on. England were the only team all on professional contracts, yet even they are now reducing down to professional contracts for the 7s team only, which is what we currently see for many of the top teams like New Zealand and Australia. Imagine how much better these teams could be if they were able to focus on rugby as a profession, the game would just get better and better! England’s strength in depth was making them look almost unbeatable until the second half of the final. Australia won the gold medal for 7s at the Rio Olympics, just imagine the quality that they could bring to 15s if given the funding by the ARU. Hopefully by the next tournament, we will have at least a couple of fully professional teams.

Disappointing Irish

Everything that I have seen or heard suggests that the host nation got everything right in the way the tournament went, from the organisation to the behaviour of the local supporters. The only thing the hosts didn’t get right was the performance of their own team. Having made the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup courtesy of a group stage win over the Black Ferns and, more recently, facing the Red Roses in a Grand Slam showdown at the end of this years 6 Nations, the Irish only managed narrow wins over Australia and Japan before a loss to France denied them a place in the semis. In the knockouts, they lost to the Wallaroos and then Wales to finish outside the top 7, meaning they will not automatically qualify for the next World Cup.

The hosts could consider themselves unlucky, as they did lose captain Niamh Briggs to injury not long before the tournament and they were also in arguably the Group of Death as with both France and Australia in their pool, Pool C was the only team with 3 real possibilities for the semis. Regardless, much more was expected from the women in green and they will be understandably disappointed by the way things went.

The also-rans

I felt so sorry for Hong Kong in this tournament. This was the first time they had qualified for the World Cup and they end up in Pool A alongside possible semi-finalists New Zealand and Canada and an improving Wales team. I watched their match against New Zealand and if truth be told the one-sidedness was at times painful to watch. This is not a criticism of Hong Kong, but more a comment at the difference in quality across the tournament.

A look back through the results shows that Japan were the only team to manage competitive results whilst finishing bottom of their pool, yet even they did not manage a bonus point. Neutrals are more likely to watch competitive games, so I have 2 possible ways in which we could increase the number of competitive games as the tournament moves on:

  1. Change the pool format: One option would be to spread the 12 nations over 2 pools of 6 rather than 3 pools of 4. Not only will the lower-ranked teams have more competitive games, but so will the higher ranked teams, meaning that there will be more importance to strength of the entire squad as there will be more competition throughout the tournament. This format also leads itself nicely into the current format for the playoffs, where the top 4 teams go into the semi-finals, the rest of the top 8 go into another playoff and the bottom 4 go into a final playoff.
  2. Expand the tournament: Another option would be to expand the tournament to 16 teams, allowing 4 pools of 4. While there is such a gap in quality, this may make it easier for the top teams to cruise through the pools, it would allow the lower ranked teams more competitive matches. By doing this, World Rugby would then have option as to how they want to do the playoffs. The playoffs could have 4 tiers, with the pool winners competing in the semis, second place from each pool in the next tier and so on. Alternatively they could expand the playoffs to include a quarter-final stage, with the top 2 from each pool qualifying for this (they could increase the automatic qualifiers to be the 8 teams who make it into the quarters) while the other 8 teams go into a playoff of their own.

I think of the 2 options, the first would be better in current circumstances due to the money available to women’s rugby, however I would love to see the tournament expand to include more teams. Scotland, Fiji, Samoa and Brazil come straight to mind as other possible competitors, and I’m sure there are other nations out there who feel they would be able to compete at this level.

Give us more!

While I was happy that the tournament was being shown on free-to-air TV, I was disappointed that we did not see more of the matches on live TV. With all games within a round being played on the same day, I can understand why not all the games were shown, however I was surprised that on Saturdays we often only had England’s match being broadcast, I would have thought we could at least get coverage of all the home nations’ games!

Yes these games may have been available online, but that will not grow the fan base as much as having the games on live TV. Would people really have missed their re-runs of Storage Wars that much for just a couple of weeks?

I was also very disappointed that there was no highlights show for the tournament. During the U20s World Championship in the summer, the only game shown live was the final, however there was a highlights show for each round of the tournament. With the quality of punditry ITV had – David Flatman is probably one of my favourite pundits and Maggie Alphonsi has transitioned well from pitch to studio – a highlights show would have been the perfect way to draw in new fans to the sport.

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