Rugby World Cup winners and losers as shocking tournament disclosures put giants in danger

World Cup victors and defeatists, shocking revelations, and troubled giants

The France World Cup is officially gone, and although the competition was successful overall, there is still room for growth.

South Africa defeated New Zealand on Saturday night to win the William Webb-Ellis Cup for a record-tying fourth time, signaling the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

With many turns and turns during the 10th edition of rugby union’s premier event, these past several months have been thrilling. This World Cup has been unforgettable, from the inspiring Siya Kolisi winning the trophy a second time to Portugal startling the rugby world with an incredible victory over Fiji.

However, there have been a number of things that France could have done a little bit better, so it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Steffan Thomas, a rugby correspondent, examines the World Cup’s overall winners and losers.

As the World Cup went on, the All Blacks continued to improve, and their unexpected triumph over what was perhaps the best Ireland team ever was one of their most memorable one-off knockout victories. After facing the humiliation of losing the Test series against Ireland at home in the summer of last year, Foster was subjected to harsh criticism.

Even though some of the criticism Foster received was really hurtful and personal, he handled it with great grace and dignity. Foster must share some of the blame for the All Blacks’ remarkable comeback from adversity to come within one win of becoming world champions, despite playing with just 14 men for a significant portion of the championship match.


They were expected to be also rans, a team that would be thoroughly humiliated in each World Cup match, but that never happened. Patrice Lagisquet, a former France coach, was the driving force behind Portugal’s remarkable performance in the pool rounds.

Os Lobos was a pleasure to watch because their attackers punched well above their weight and their quick offloading style caused issues for even the stronger teams. They were a significant headache for Australia and Wales alike, and their victory over Fiji was maybe the highlight of the World Cup.

The response they received from thousands of fans when they returned to Portugal only made it better, and with World Rugby’s help, they could grow into a formidable rugby nation.

The Springboks triumphing against hardship

Pieter-Steph du Toit almost lost his limb a few years ago due to acute compartment syndrome, a rare illness that resulted from a haemoratoma. His left leg was almost amputated by doctors, but they ultimately managed to save it, and the rest is history.

The 31-year-old has had an incredibly successful career, and his player-of-the-match showing in the championship game on Saturday night may have been his best. Du Toit was unrelenting in his carrying and his raw physicality, putting in an incredible 28 tackles that set the stage for South Africa’s victory.

He is not, however, the only member of South Africa’s World Cup-winning team to have triumphed over hardship. In 2016, Springboks player Handre Pollard came dangerously close to losing a limb as well—in his instance, an arm—due to complications from a planned surgery.

A dangerous infection meant that Pollard would need to stay in the hospital for an additional five weeks, but fortunately, his arm was saved. A number of players on the Springboks team have surmounted significant obstacles in their lives to reach their current status, like Siya Kolisi, who rose from the townships of South Africa.

High-octane drama

Particularly in the quarterfinals, the World Cup knockout stages were pure theater. Two of the best matches of the contemporary period were South Africa’s one-point victory against the hosts France and New Zealand’s thrilling victory over Ireland.

The tension was excruciating at moments, even though most of the rugby wasn’t as loose as some would have liked. What matters in sports at the highest level is what’s at stake.

You can be eliminated from the World Cup with just one knock on or one infraction during a ruck. The thrilling triumph of South Africa over a valiant England team in the semifinals was certainly exciting, but it was also among the greatest of all time.

These matches were decided by the narrowest of margins, and the Webb-Ellis Cup could have been won by England, France, Ireland, or even New Zealand on a different day.


Rugby World Cup

With good reason, Tier 2 nations are not getting enough opportunities, and World Rugby has come under heavy fire for this. Portugal was the obvious World Cup success story, pushing Australia and Wales to the limit before drawing with Georgia and defeating Fiji in a historic victory.

While Chile showed flashes of brilliance, Uruguay also turned in a few strong performances, holding their own against a France team that was playing to the bottom of the league. The issue is that none of these countries will have the opportunity to improve over the next four years. World Rugby said last week that the six Six Nations and Rugby Championship teams as well as two additional teams—likely Fiji and Japan—will compete in a biannual Nations Championship.

While the Six Nations is closed, this will begin in 2026, but promotion and relegation won’t begin until 2030. Due to a dearth of frequent Test matches against Tier 1 countries, emerging nations will be ill-prepared for the 2027 World Cup, which will feature 24 teams instead of only 20.

Portugal was a tremendous success story in 2023, but the tournament was marred by the excessive amount of mismatches in the pool stages. This was because Tier 2 countries did not have as much preparation as they should have because they did not have as many opportunities to play the big boys in between World Cups.

Eddie Jones and Australian rugby

The Wallabies were meant to reach new heights when Eddie Jones was abruptly chosen by Rugby Australia to replace Dave Rennie. They were correct; however, events did not unfold as planned, as the Wallabies were eliminated from the World Cup before ever making it to the quarterfinals.

Jones placed his trust in youth by leaving seasoned campaigners Quade Cooper and Michael Hooper at home, but it backfired horribly on him. Despite Jones’ brazenness toward reporters during press conferences, the Wallabies rapidly regressed, suffering their worst defeat in the modern era—a record 40–6 loss to Wales and their first loss to Fiji in 70 years.

Now that Jones has resigned as head coach of the Wallabies, the Australian rugby union faces uncertain times as he is expected to return to lead the Japanese national side. The Wallabies were viewed by many as the true underdogs of the competition, especially considering Jones’ track record of producing quick success.

However, that was not to be the case this time, and because Rugby Australia will host the competition in four years, they must come up with some answers quickly—especially given the pressure other Australian sports are putting on the union.

Unreliable officiating

Don’t get me wrong, there have been some very outstanding officiating performances during the World Cup, but one major issue is the inconsistent nature of the penalties for headshots. Although the use of World Rugby’s new bunker system relieved some of the referee’s workload, the resolution of numerous incidents fell short of expectations.

I know the ‘game has gone soft’ crowd may disagree, but rugby is heading in the wrong direction since the rules still don’t penalize direct hits to the head severely enough. A growing number of former professional athletes are being diagnosed with permanent, life-altering illnesses like dementia as a result of several concussions they sustained while competing. Check out my weekly piece in our rugby newsletter here.

In order to make players change their behaviors, every forceful, direct touch to the head should result in an instant red card. There will inevitably be a growing number of players who experience concussions that last a lifetime, and the biggest threat to the sport is parents who forbid their children from participating in it.

The spectacle value of the game is also being diminished by the inconsistent rulings over whether an event calls for a yellow or red card. In a different game, the identical occurrence that is considered a red card in one was considered a yellow in another.

The worst of it all occurred when Wales center Nick Tompkins was rushed off the field with a head injury after Argentina lock Guido Petti made direct, forceful contact with him. The game is failing due to the inconsistency.

No World In Union

The song “The World in Union” has been the focal point of the Rugby World Cup since its inception in 1987. Although the song has traditionally been performed at the opening ceremony and the final, ITV’s coverage has always opened with a brief performance of it. However, for some reason, that didn’t happen this time.


Even while this is minor compared to some of the other problems the game is having, it didn’t feel right to break with tradition, and a welcome return in 2027 would be appreciated.



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One Comment

  1. Yes, the World Cup is over. Deservedly whether you agree or dis-agree the Springboks won. But I do wish England, who have spat their dummy out on several occasions, who when they lose come up with the most childish and pathetic excuses and un believable claims. “Sir, the nasty man looked at me and laughed”. Then try after the game to muddy the waters. Grow up! The claims that Curry made about what he was supposed to have been called. I’d put a month’s wages on he’s been called worse in his time and called others spurious names. Rugby is not a “Gentleman’s” game. Tempers flare and wind ups happen. So if every 4 years we have a World Cup for the biggest whingers, England would win hands down. End of rant. Thank you.

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