After all the months and years of anticipation, I can’t help feeling that the finals of the World Rugby Cup did not live up to expectations and in several senses the sport of rugby union was the biggest loser after that long tournament in France. 

That’s my first criticism – it was just too long, and while I totally accept that player safety was the main reason for the gaps between fixtures, surely a little bit of sensible scheduling could have been introduced so that there were many fewer ‘blank’ days. 

There were also far too many uncompetitive fixtures, with several of the tier two teams being exposed for what they really are – amateurish boys against gnarly old pros. World Rugby is talking of expanding the tournament to 24 teams but unless there is considerable investment in nations outside the top 12 or so, we’ll get the same results in Australia in four years’ time. 

Rugby Union is not the national sport of any nations other than New Zealand, Fiji, Georgia, Wales, and, funnily enough, Madagascar, though at the moment it is being embraced as ‘a national sport’ by Ireland. I feel an opportunity has been missed to promote the game right across the globe. It will need the Chinas, Russias, Indias, Germanys, Brazils, and USAs of this world to really take up rugby professionally at the elite level before it can be called the ‘world’ cup so we need to work out how that happens.  That being said, on the day that we learn that football’s World Cup finals will be going to Saudi Arabia in 2034, can we keep the oiligarchies (sic) out of rugby?

For me the tournament was in two halves – up to and including the quarter-finals and then what came after those four excellent matches. I had predicted an Ireland v France final but we got South Africa v New Zealand, and as I had feared, the final was mainly a brutal slugfest – all right if you like that sort of thing – that turned on one moment not of madness but incompetence. The yellow-turned-red card for the All Blacks’ skipper Sam Cane lost his side the match, and he knew it even as he sat pitchside ruing the fact that he had forgotten how to tackle properly. Perhaps his head was still ringing from the forearm to his face that Eben Etzebeth had given him some minutes previously – and the Springbok got away it.

My only disagreement with the Cane decision was how did the otherwise excellent Wayne Barnes, after seeing the television replay, not reach for his red card straight away.  It sort of summed up the World Cup which was beset with mistakes on an off the pitch.  

The TMO and the bunker system worked on that occasion but not on others, and the welcome introduction of laws to try and prevent head hits were inconsistently refereed. There is now no doubt in my mind that all tackling must be done below breastbone height at least. Starting with Sam Cane, every single player, professional and amateur, should be taught the simple truth that tackling high is just plain wrong not least because it is rarely effective – all the best tackles in France were correctly carried out low and hard.     

Those who were there tell me that the atmosphere in France was a lot flatter after the hosts’ elimination and that is only to be expected, but congratulations to the French authorities and the various host cities for a tournament that was safe, secure and mostly enjoyable.

I have already given my verdict on Scotland who did exactly as I expected and qualified for 2027 in Australia, the nation which was undoubtedly the biggest failure of the World Cup.  The loss against Fiji meant the Wallabies did not qualify out of the pool stage for the first time ever in ten tournaments, and head coach Eddie Jones took responsibility and resigned. I’m willing to bet, however, that the players Jones brought into the squad will blossom in time for their hosting of the next World Cup.

I’m not holding my breath for the resignation of the biggest numpties of this World Cup – those blazers at World Rugby who decreed that the draw should be made three years again when the world rankings were already out of date.

Mentioning the rankings, here’s the biggest lesson from France for Scotland. We have slipped only one place in the world rankings from fifth to sixth and the Scotland  coaches and squad must concentrate on staying there and definitely above eighth so that we get a proper seeding in Australia.    

Meanwhile, congratulations to the Scotland women’s team for their tremendous feat in winning tier two of the WXV championship. I have to say I am disappointed that they will not be promoted to the top tier – no such promotion in this inaugural season – but solid wins against host nation South Africa, USA and Japan, added to the victories over Italy and Ireland in last season’s Six Nations give plenty hope for the future