How to win the Rugby World Cup

How to win the Rugby World Cup

TACKLE AS IF YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT

BECAUSE IT does.

History shows that successful World Cup campaigns – particularly at the last couple of tournaments – are built on organised and unforgiving defensive systems. Indeed, England (2003) and South Africa (2007) both prided themselves on their ability to stop other teams in their tracks.

This is precisely why England coach Martin Johnson is likely to stick with midfielders Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall. What they lack in attacking flair, they make up for with industrious defence.

DON’T GO CHANGING

THE WORLD Cup is not the right time to be trialling players – established or otherwise – in new positions.

If you’re a New Zealander, repeat that sentence 10 times. Of course, this is not to say that new players shouldn’t be unveiled at the World Cup – otherwise there would be no Michael Jones. But maintaining a degree of selection stability (and not constantly trying to turn quality fullbacks into stand-in centres) has been crucial in all six previous RWC-winners’ campaigns.

The same goes for tactics. When Jake White took over as Springbok coach in 2004, he set in place a style that the South Africans would maintain right through to the 2007 World Cup. It wasn’t the prettiest brand of rugby, and the ’07 final will be remembered as the most aesthetically unpleasing of them all, but the Boks enter this year’s tournament as defending champions. That’s a fact.

PEAK AT THE RIGHT TIME

THE WORLD Cup isn’t won during the Tri Nations, Six Nations, or any nations’ international competitions for that matter.

And it isn’t won in the tournament pool stages either. (The All Blacks averaged 77 points a match in pool play in 2007 but only made it as far as the quarter-finals.) It’s won by the team that wins all three of its knockout games – regardless of style or artistic integrity. It’s as simple as that.

HAVE THE RIGHT PEOPLE IN PLACE

WHEN THE pressure is at its greatest – which is what happens at these tournaments – the last thing you want to be doing is carrying live explosives.

If you need extra help, get extra help, as 2007 RWC-winning coach Jake White did by enlisting former Wallaby mentor Eddie Jones four years ago.

CREATE THE RIGHT HEAD SPACE

PETER DE Villiers might be one of the more ‘out there’ coaches in world rugby, but he’s on the money when he says the key to his side retaining the World Cup will be ensuring that the South Africans can “maintain our excitement over the tournament”.

Of course, the host nation, New Zealand, has the added bonus of playing in front of its ‘stadium of four million’ this year. In 1987, Brian Lochore took his team back to the people, literally – billeting the players out on Wairarapa farms during the tournament. It was an experience that invigorated and recharged the Men in Black. In 1995, the Springboks rode to glory on the back of support from their ‘rainbow’ nation. Expect to see the ABs embracing the Kiwi public in 2011.

HAVE A DOMINANT SET-PIECE

WORLD CUP-winning teams don’t lose lineouts and get pushed backwards in the scrums. From the all-conquering All Blacks of 1987 through to Jake’s White’s Springboks in 2007 (and particularly the ‘Dad’s Army’ England side of 2003), the World Cup has been won by the team with the most solid platform at scrum and lineout time.

LOSE SOME GAMES BEFORE RWC

HISTORY SHOWS that previous World Cup winners have drawn inspiration from experiencing times of hardship in the build-up to the tournament.

Even the victorious 1987 All Blacks – the most dominant team in World Cup history – suffered its share of heartache in the year leading up to the inaugural event, rising from the ashes of defeat after losing a test series to Australia in New Zealand and then getting smashed by France in Nantes in ’86.

“We got our arses kicked in that test against France, and that was a good thing,” says former All Blacks coach Sir Brian Lochore.

FIND SOME X-FACTOR

WHETHER IT'S the attacking verve of John Kirwan, David Campese or Chester Williams, or the silky-smooth kicking of Grant Fox, Michael Lynagh or Jonny Wilkinson, World Cup victories have been built around ‘special’ players.

Indeed, it’s the extraordinarily talented who come to the fore when the going gets tough. And it doesn’t get any tougher than the World Cup. These are the players who inspire their teams with individual flair and/or clinical execution when the stakes are highest. Think: Fox, Lynagh, Joel Stransky, Stephen Larkham, Tim Horan, Wilkinson and Percy Montgomery. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the majority of those players are goalkicking No 10s. Since 1987, World Cup finals have historically been decided by kicks.

FIND A NO 10 WHO CAN KICK DROPPED GOALS

IT GOES without saying, really. Think: Joel Stransky in 1995 and Jonny Wilkinson in 2003.

’Nuff said.

TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED

TEAMS ENTERING the playoff stage with a three-game strategy are destined for failure, says All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.

“You focus on one [game] because there’s no tomorrow. If you get through that, you get another go. There’s no point putting plans in place for next week, because there might not be a next week.”

McCaw should know: he has twice been part of All Blacks teams that have failed to make it through to the World Cup final. Confidence wins World Cups but cockiness can be a real killer. And even when all the variables have been eliminated, it’s still sport – and anything can happen on the day in sport.

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