Best Individual Try
Without a doubt it belongs to Shane 'twinkletoe' Williams. His magical sidestep against Fiji created one of the most breathtaking moments of the tournament. Why he had to go and ruin it with that stupid trademark swan dive on the line is anyones guess. Advice to Shane: just wear a sign that says 'I'm a bit of a twat but I can play ok rugby' next time. It would avoid any potential broken ribs when crossing the line and we would all think you were a lot cooler.
This belongs to England. Forget the substandard four years under Andy Robinson. After a forlorn Jason Robinson limped off in the middle of another thrashing (this time at the hands of South Africa), all hope looked lost for the red rose battalion. Fools were we to believe this (cue bitter laugh). With the glue of the team returning from injury (a certain first 5/8 who looked like he had spent a fair amount of time soothing those OCD compulsions of his under a sunbed) England finally found the soul they had been lacking for an embarrassing four years. Corry and his forwards found their fire (and no, I don't count Dallaglio in that). They put a baffled Wallabies side to sleep and then lumbered over a subdued France that had no answers. They don't play innovative rugby and it wasn't pretty, but when push comes to shove (and with Sheridan, you've got to admit, there's a lot of shove) England made it to the final showing to the rest of the world what tenacity, belief and great support can give to a team (but if there is so much a mention of an OBE for the coach, I think I may be sick).
Best National Anthem
For the first part of this tournament, the Portuguese, a motley crew of students and amateurs were the darlings of the series. And they didn't disgrace themselves either - especially when it came to matters of the voice.
Best Player of the 2007 Rugby World Cup
Victor Matfield. Yes, Habana got the tries and won the IRB player of the year - but Matfield was the spine, the heart and the soul of this winning South African team. He played a blinder in the final (but he always plays a blinder). Mr Consistently Awesome should be his name. The man is a star and the Boks will miss him.
Team That Rock and Rolled
Argentina / Los Pumas, stand up and take a bow. Winning to France twice, suffocating Ireland and swatting off all others as mere annoyances. Losing only to the eventual World Cup winners. Putting rugby on the map in a football obsessed country would be a hard thing to do. They not only did just that through reverting back to basics but then surprised the world with a stunning try fest against France in the bronze playoffs. If their name isn't first on the agenda in the next Murdoch Board meeting for entry into the Tri Nations, then we may as well just give up now. Rugby shouldn't be about money and it certainly shouldn't be about lining Rupert Murdoch's pockets. The third best team in the world deserve better than that. We deserve better than that.
Best Team Try
Japan against Wales in a moment of brilliance that stunned the lot of us. Well done JK. It had your stamp all over it.
Lord Sphincter Award
Once again, the Lord Sphincter award goes to the incumbent, Stephen Jones. Followed closely behind by try hard Master Sphincter - Chris Rattue. These guys are the Simon Cowells of world rugby journalism and when they finally discover that being racist/sensationalist/nasty/petty/immature/jowly/boring old sods (delete where applicable) is just the lazy journalist approach that brings you a truck load of bad karma, the rugby world will be better off. (Full Credit to Lu at Allez Les Noirs for coining the Lord Sphincter phrase). May it catch on worldwide and be used often to those who are deserved of the title...
Roy Orbison's Crying Award
There were a lot of tears in this world cup. Tears of joy and tears of depression (some by me). The latter was mostly done behind closed doors in the changing sheds, but the enduring image for me of this World Cup was watching Stephen Larkham weeping openly on the sideline. The man is a bona fide rugby legend and I can't even begin to imagine the heartbreak for him as he watched powerless from the sideline as his Wallaby playing days were numbered. He was one of rugby's great servants and his show of emotion meant something to all of us who have ever watched and been in awe of his talents on the field.
What would this guy be capable of if he played behind a decent forward pack. Takudzwa Ngwenya outstripped Bryan Habana on the turf which made Habana feel a bit silly and the rest of us feel ever so slightly pleased.
I like games with a bit of attrition. But. I love games with dazzling tries. Some people call it basketball rugby but I prefer to call it rugby at its most skillful and spectacular. Wales V Fiji was the highlight of the tournament. Down to the wire any team could have won. Swapping tries tit for tat, in the end it was Fiji breaking the hearts of a million in the valleys (not to mention showing Welsh coach Gareth Jenkins a quick march to the door) proving what the little guys can do if they're just given half a chance on the world stage.
Referee of the tournament
Now I'm not judging this guy on technicalities (because let's face it - he got a lot wrong). But if you want a figure that gets a tournament talking not to mention a few more blog hits - then Wayne Barnes has to win this award. Not only will he remain a household name in New Zealand for years to come - and I sincerely hope for his own welfare he won't be attempting to referee any Tri Nations games at the Cake Tin in the not too distant future - but the guy upped the excitement in this tournament, dividing many and influencing additions to the New Zealand lexicon:
'You've just done a Barnes' (translation: you left a huge floater in the loo) and "Have you got a bad case of Wayne Barnes or what?!" (translation: I suspect you are going blind - get yourself to an optometrist and quick!)
Most talked about decision
The All Blacks lost by two points and now there is a lot of gloating (if you're Lord Sphincter) and wailing and gnashing of teeth (if you're the New Zealand public) that the All Black brand is ruined. We lost by two points. Two Points! Not exactly a thrashing. And what's this rubbish about the 'brand' anyway? I can almost see Colin Meads banging his head against the wall about that media phrase from cappucino land. The rub of the green can win and lose you a rugby match. In this case, it lost us one, again. A crucial one. Oh well - cest la vie. Life goes on and there's no use complaining. It made for a riveting game and turned this tournament on its head.
Worst World Cup Build Up
Graham Henry's conditioning programme. If the All Blacks gave the world one rugby lesson this year it was 'don't rest your players for a super 14 tournament and then expect them to be fit and firing'. They didn't fire. They weren't fit. And we didn't win. Basta.
While the media from all corners of the earth scavenged their way through thinly veiled racist jibes and stereotypes - the ruckosphere and blogging world brought sanity and humour to the nastiness. There were some great blogs out there and I just hope that in 2011 on home turf we'll be able to welcome Matt at Green and Gold, Nursedude at Ay There's the Rub, Jonny at Scrumbag, TF at Total Flanker, Blondie at Saturday's a rugby Day, John at Mundo Albiceleste and the dudes at Blood and Mud to share a beer at Rugby World Cup 2011 in Aotearoa. On home terra firma I was proud to call the following bloggers my compatriots: The Dropkicks, Miramar Mike, Hamish for Sports After Dark, Amy at Kiwirugby and my good pals Lu and Fi at Allez Les Noirs. These friends brought humour, informed comment, humility, graciousness and good grace to the rugby world in the face of ravaged kiwi disappointment (and let's face it, we were all gutted) not to mention the voices of sanity against the one eyed media ranters and amdram journos of Fairfax and APN New Zealand.
Team Of The Tournament
The Springboks of course. They won and deservedly so. Well done South Africa. (See you next year).
Doug Howlett's tantrum; The French hospitality; Eddie Jones finally being able to have a gloat; Sebastien Chabal; Tonga V South Africa; Suzy; Bryan Habana matching Jonah Lomu's try scoring tally at a Rugby World Cup; Muzza Mexted at ITV; Streakers; The Minnows - especially Georgia and Tonga; Mark Cueto's terrible finishing; drop goals; penalites; North / South divide; South eventually coming through...
I'm hanging up my boots too until the Super 14 kicks off (theoretically - this isn't that long, just a couple of months). If you're read this far, thanks so much for sharing this World Cup with me. It has been amazing touching base with people from every corner of the globe. I've appreciated your comments and your support. If you want to stay in touch, I would love to hear from you. Please drop me a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If not - to the die hard rugby fans, I'll see you next year. To those who only care about world cups - see you in 2011. Let me know if you're coming to NZ. We'll show you a good time (even if you have to live in a tent in Invercargill. After all - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger).
I leave you with two things. The IRB world rankings and a great YouTube video sung by New Zealand's own Kiri Te Kanawa - tracking the World Cup highs and lows over various tournaments. As the words go - We're A World In Union. Rivalry is good - but friendship is better - no matter who or where you are in the world.
Peace. Kia Kaha.
Over and out until 2008.
IRB World Rankings
1. South Africa
2. New Zealand