IT HAS FELT weird, coming home.
The jet lag was one thing, but reacclimatising to the seasons was another factor we didn’t expect.
For the last month my body has recognised the tell-tale signs of a receding winter: ‘Don’t shiver Sean, there’ll be a bit of heat in the air in no time’ is my brain’s reflex. But as each day back in this hemisphere grows darker, the wind is quick to give those expectations a sharp slap on the nose.
Watching games first thing in the morning has been a further shock to the system. Previously, each match was the climax to our day; now they are merely the entrée (or breakfast even) to a full day of painstaking reality. No longer is our entire itinerary arranged around kick-off, instead the game seems positioned (at a time on a weekend morning most of us never usually see) to have the least impact on normal daily procedure.
The further it goes on, the more certain I am that this has been a good World Cup, not only for the Happy Camper, but for Ireland too. Sure, losing to Wales was hard to take and it would have been easier to go down fighting, as expected, against South Africa. But to our nearest and dearest, whose borders can be seen from Wexford on a clear day, it was a bitter pill for everyone to take… but then came France.
Wales’ subsequent semi-final showing eased the pain massively. There was no shame in losing to this Cymru. They were inspired and were it not for a lack of bottle from their aging fly-half, they would surely have beaten Les Bleus despite being shorn of their best player.
We were unlucky too in that we faced a Wales XV complete with Rhys Priestland – France and Australia must have been relieved to see a misfiring James Hook in his stead. We will have to seriously up our game to match them over the next decade and consider Wales favourites no matter what our provinces do in the Heineken Cup.
It has been a good World Cup for the hosts too. They have banished their demons in winning the final and were just too good to let 24 years of hurt continue any further.
Previously each tournament began like a procession and they looked like sailing uncontested to glory until a sudden jolt – be it food poisoning, an inspired France or those pesky Australians – derailed them beyond repair. This year they have had to endure setback after setback: Carter, McCaw, Muliaina, Sonny Bench-Warmer, Corey Jane and Zac Guildford.
They have been stumbling, hobbling and scrapping their way into form and contention but, like McCaw himself, they were exactly where they needed to be and persevered one last time.
While it has been a good World Cup for the ABs, the same cannot be said for their prodigal son, Quade Cooper. I don’t subscribe to the theory that booing him was out of order. After this run-in with Richie McCaw, the Kiwis were never going to ignore the man who turned his back on his country to lead Australia instead. I seem to remember Tana Umaga and Schalke Burger getting booed in Dublin for crimes against certain Lions tourists.
Of course, when Cooper’s crap World Cup came to the crappest possible end (with a cruciate ligament injury), the crowd reacted instantaneously, rashly and disrespectfully. Having beaten the Wallabies in the semi-final, there was no need to continue to target their floundering playmaker, the job was already done. Kiwis, however, do not do sympathy well.
“Humiliation”… Why do I think of a rugby team from close by when I see that word in black and white? Oh yeah, because Mike Tindall’s motor-boating in Queenstown (and Manu Tuilagi’s impatience to get off an actual motor-boat in Auckland) has helped plunge Martin Johnson’s England into a dreaded root-and-branch review. It’s difficult to feel sorry for them, so save the effort.
Whether it was changing balls before a penalty; flouting the advertising regulations or just good old-fashioned demeaning of hotel staff, English rugby as a unit finally showed the world what we’ve been saying for years – they’re an arrogant, ignorant bunch of oversized average rugby players.
In 2007 they fooled everyone except us Irish into thinking they were a dogged, disciplined side purpose built for knockout rugby, but since Martin Corry left the setup (and Chris Ashton came in) they are a rabble.
Their tale will not be as forgettable as the rugby they played but, thankfully, it will not be the enduring story of the tournament either. Instead, that will fall to Stephen Donald, the man who was fourth-choice fly-half this time last month but led the All Blacks to the Webb Ellis crown for only the second time.
It’s been a fantastic World Cup, but what now?