With only days to go before the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the entire nation of Australia is rallying to support the Wallabies. The streets are being painted Green and Gold, the media coverage is saturation-level, and fans around the nation are obsessively following Twitter for any possible lineup changes or news from the Wallabies camp.
HAHAHAHA Just kidding of course… Hardly anyone cares!
Which is a shame, because the Rugby World Cup is awesome.
I would go so far as to say it’s the BEST WORLD CUP IN SPORT!!!
Let’s break it down.
The FIFA World Cup is the most popular World Cup by a mile. I love the FIFA World Cup, I follow it religiously.
I love the group stage upsets, the Cinderella story or two, and the YouTube-friendly goals.
And I love Tim Cahill.
All done? Goosebumps slowly dissipating? Good.
So the FIFA World Cup has a lot going for it… but eventually most of the the powerhouses advance, and two teams who’ve already won the damn thing play in the Final, which is an inevitably boring match as 95% of the players are terrified of making “the mistake that cost them the World Cup.”
The FIFA World Cup is also undone by an inevitable and indefensible controversy. A missed handball, or a shocking red card, or a penalty that isn’t, or a suspicious result, or a host nation who didn’t deserve it.
The FIBA World Cup, which I also love, is a good tournament that’s getting better and more competitive… but until it truly matures and the playing field is more level then let’s cut the crap and have the USA wait for someone in the Final and let everyone else battle for Bronze. And if the USA send their absolute best team you might as well cancel the tournament. While it’s not quite a mature competition just yet, it’s starting to turn out some seriously good basketball.
The Cricket World Cups are played in the short forms of the game so I refuse to acknowledge either tournament as genuine or worth my time. Get back to us with a Test Match World Cup and maybe I’ll pay attention.
The Netball World Cup is hamstrung by the sheer overwhelming dominance of Australia and New Zealand who refuse to play nice and let someone else win for once.
It’s probably all Laura Geitz’s fault… she’s so ridiculously good at the damn sport and so bloody competitive it keeps the Aussies in line and she annoys the Kiwis to the point that they stay focused too.
The Hockey World Cup is hamstrung by the fact that… well… it’s hockey… a game so boring even their bloopers suck.
Women’s World Cups in Football, Basketball, Hockey, Cricket? They’re all getting better, and especially the football version is generating a lot more public interest than in years gone past… but they still trail the play a little bit because of the gulf between the top teams and the next tier.
But the Rugby World Cup?
The RWC has lopsided wins in Group Stages, just like all the other World Cups… but come knockout stages there isn’t single forgone conclusion.
The Rugby World Cup has only been played 7 times, and admittedly success has been monopolised by powerhouses in years gone by… but the sport has now evolved… It is now a mature tournament but without the pitfalls that come with the sheer scale of the FIFA version.
The ‘Top Tier’ Rugby nations are only a quarter-step ahead of the next tier. It is the most level and open-playing-field competition in international sport. Who will win in 2015? It could be New Zealand… or Wales… or Australia… or France… or South Africa… or Wales… or PLEASEDEARGODINHEAVENANDLITTLEBABYJESUS it could be Ireland…
And unlike football, the nature of the sport also means playing tentatively or with fear is impossible.
You cannot dive into a pack of 120kg+ men who are all clamouring tooth-and-nail for a ball weighing 0.4kg and try and do so at 80% or 90% committment. It can’t happen.
You can’t be giving 75% effort on tracking your opposite number or they’ll pulverise you. If you relax on a play you’re going to get hurt, give up a try, or both.
Rugby means 100% effort 100% of the time.
And I don’t think any of the other sports can compete with Rugby when it comes to the passion from their players. Watch the Springboks totally absorbed in the moment as they sing their multi-language anthem, or watch John “The Bull” Hayes cry throughout Ireland’s duel anthems, or watch an entire stadium of Welsh men and women absolutely belt out their anthem:
or watch the veins pop in Kiwi necks as they belt out a Haka… and think about whether anything even remotely similar happens in other international sports… because it doesn’t.
Pulling on your nation’s colours means more in rugby. It just does.
And for that reason as much as any, Rugby’s World Cup is the Best World Cup.