Talking Points

(Rugby News Service) Monday 3 October 2011
Talking Points
Dan Carter ruing the injury that has ruled him out of RWC 2011

AUCKLAND, 3 Oct. - Does discontent in the France camp threaten to derail Les Bleus' hopes of winning Rugby World Cup 2011?

Will England be distracted by ball-swapping inquests and newspaper allegations of player misbehaviour?

And, perhaps the question preoccupying all New Zealanders right now, has the loss of injured Dan Carter dealt a fatal blow to the All Blacks' hopes of glory?

Plenty of newspaper column inches have been devoted to speculation that these three teams may have been left irreparably damaged by their own misdeeds and misfortunes.

Certainly their coaches would not have wished for such scenarios to be playing havoc with plans that have been four years in the making.

But a look at the history books suggests that a little bit of hardship is no bad thing if you want to taste RWC success.

Training injury

Since the inaugural tournament in 1987, teams have drawn strength from adversity on the road to the finals.

At RWC 1987 the All Blacks had to play every match without their captain Andy Dalton, who suffered an injury in a practice session that ruled him out of the tournament, leaving the honour of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup to David Kirk.

It was another Dalton, Springbok hooker James, who was missing when South Africa won the cup on home soil in 1995.

When the hosts had played Canada in the pool stages a mass brawl broke out and Dalton was one of three players sent off. Teammate Pieter Hendricks, the wing who had scored a momentous try against Australia in the opening match, was later cited and banned for his part in the punch-up.

The Springboks had to march to glory without the assistance of either man.

The most remarkable match of RWC 1999 was the semi-final between France and New Zealand.

Inner resolve

Only four months earlier Les Bleus had been on the wrong end of a 54-7 drubbing by the All Blacks in Wellington.

They looked to be on to another hiding until skipper Raphaël Ibañez tapped into some previously hidden inner resolve among his team, who scored 33 unanswered points in one miraculous second-half spell on their way to a famous 43-31 victory.

Argentina were the surprise package of RWC 2007 after they suffered a medical crisis in the lead-up to the tournament.

Centre Martín Gaitán had surgery after suffering a heart attack following a warm-up match against Wales. He was replaced in the squad and his teammates wore T-shirts bearing his nickname beneath their match jerseys as they beat hosts France twice to claim the bronze medal.

South Africa were proud winners of that tournament. But they had had to bounce back from a record 49-0 defeat by Australia a year earlier, which had brought loud calls for the sacking of coach Jake White.

Ignominious defeat

But the best example of a team by galvanised by misfortune were their fellow finalists England, whom the Springboks had thrashed 36-0 in the pool stages.

On the back of that ignominious defeat and some less than encouraging results against their lower-ranked pool rivals, the England team were written off by the merciless British press as well as the bookies.

But the English seem to revel in their status as underdogs and ground out wins over highly fancied Australia and France to claim their place in a second successive final.

Players from that squad still recall the moment that the odds seemed so stacked against them they chose to take control of their own destiny.

Similarly, as his team struggle to find form and fluency this time, Martin Johnson will be trying to use the brickbats to bind his players together.

The All Blacks' loss of Carter and a little French feuding may be just what their teams need to do the same.

RNS sw/gs/sg