Whilst England limped their way out of the Rugby World Cup, unable to emulate the successes of 2003 and 2007, a young Welsh side half of whom are under the age of 23 brushed aside the experienced Irish, 22-10, to equal their best performance at a Rugby World Cup.
The contrast couldn’t be starker. Public enquiries are already underway regarding England’s sub-par performance. Their previous water tight defense let them down severely against a mediocre French side [albeit one that played with eminently more passion than the group stages], and their inability to keep hold of the rugby ball for sustained periods beyond first and second phases verged on the farcical. Expect wholesale personnel changes ahead of the 2012 six nations tournament.
Wales on the other hand turned in a performance so clinical that it surpassed both their grand slam form of 2008 and arguably some of the best performances of the great Welsh sides of the 1970’s. Mike Phillip’s athletic diving effort in the corner, shortly after half-time to take Wales back into the lead, was nothing short of world class. However, it was their defensive effort that impressed most, shutting out the Irish for vast periods of the game with a battling rugby tackle count of 150. Warren Gatland and Sam Warburton’s team should take a bow.
Looking ahead, Wales deserve to beat an inconsistent French side to reach their first ever Rugby World Cup final. But regardless of whether they achieve this feat, they will have already done Welsh fans proud and return as heroes, unlike the much maligned English Team. As for Northern Hemisphere Rugby more generally, it is certainly going through a period of rude health. The upcoming six nations is set to be one of the most competitive in recent years.