5 Things We Learned #40

The system needs to change

I, like many, think it’s a disgrace that Ireland won’t be involved in the finals. They’ve won two of their three group games, yet Samoa are yet to get a win under their belts and have still qualified. The flaw in the system is the IRLF’s decision to prioritise typically ‘stronger’ nations, thus giving underdogs like Ireland less of a chance.

Essentially, the World Cup needs a reboot – not a big one, but one that makes it fairer. Four groups of four, with two teams from each group qualifying would easily enhance the format, while also giving more nations the chance to compete. The current system simply robs nations of the chance to punch above their weight and potentially cause an upset, which are often the most memorable parts of a World Cup.

 

England face tough test…

So we’re in the finals, but it’s going to be a big struggle to reach the big one on December 2nd. With Papua New Guinea and potentially Tonga on the horizon, our boys are set to come up against two of the competition’s most exciting sides and for once, it’s really hard to call.

Our first test is against the Kumuls who, for the first time this tournament, won’t be playing in Port Moresby. This could work in our favour, as opposition teams have seemed intimidated by the loud and passionate locals, who have sold out the PNG National Stadium in every pool game. While they won’t have their usual support, Michael Marum’s side will still play their dynamic and aggressive game – something England haven’t been tested against yet.

 

…but Bennett has a selection dilemma

The Kumuls have a relatively settled squad, but Wayne Bennett will certainly have some tough decisions to make when choosing his squad. Widdop fired from fullback, Ratchford was settled on the wing, while McMeeken, Brown and Percival all staked claims for quarter-final selections.

The big names like Hall, Watkins, Whitehead and Hodgson should all return but it’s the team’s spine that’s difficult to choose. For me, Widdop should be fullback. He’s solid in attack and defence and doesn’t have the naivety of Lomax and Ratchford. Having him, Brown and Gale as our creative three is a risk, though, as they all have similar styles, which could hinder our attacking flair. With that in mind, I’d have Williams in the halves, as his ability to play what is in front of him could prove key.

 

Tonga live up to the hype

Could Tonga reach the World Cup final? Too right they could. A win over New Zealand is no mean feat and with the squad they’ve got, they’ll certainly fancy a final berth. They started the tournament rather slowly but have really come into their own in the past two weeks, playing the kind of rugby everyone hoped they would.

Their big stars are firing, while some undiscovered gems are making names for themselves, with halfback Ata Hingano heading that list. Lebanon and either England or PNG are all that prevent Tonga from reaching the final, but they’re definitely capable of making it.

 

Scotland fire too late

Surprisingly, Samoa vs Scotland was the game of the round. The Bravehearts stunned the Polynesian giants, earning a 14-14 draw, which was actually rather unlucky as they led for most of the game. It’s good to finally see a positive performance from Steve McCormack’s men, but equally disappointing that it came too late.

I think the potential disruption of losing Danny Brough, Sam Brooks and Jonathan Walker for disciplinary reasons actually had a positive effect. For once, there was a togetherness and chemistry about the Scots, something they missed in the first two games. It’s sadly a case of looking forward to 2021, despite how much promise they carried into this year’s tournament.

 

Credit: NRL Photos