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Wales And The European Nations Left Again With That Sinking World Cup Feeling

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From Hamish Stuart in Paris

The Wales squad have arrived home from France and it turns out there are different ways of reacting to losing a Rugby World Cup quarter-final.

You did not need to know the results, or have watched the games, the faces of Wales, Ireland and France players gave it away.

But 24 hours after the Wales players had quietly made their way through the Marseilles stadium underground complex to the team bus, the Fijians made the same journey with boom box blasting, the party music pumping and tired limbs dancing.

They had their heads held high, but then all the losing quarter-finalists deserved that feeling.

Wales knew they had their chances against Argentina, but the three Northern Hemisphere sides to go out, Wales Ireland and France, all had their chances.

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In the end you could hardly look at the four games and the four semi-finalists and say rugby was the winner, with the possible exception of the All Blacks.

Wales will lift themselves after what can be considered a par World Cup – a semi-final would have been better than par.

Warren Gatland committed himself to the long term rebuilding job, which was also good news.

The squad players did their best to help lift the loads and lighten the mood after the game, the support staff who have poured everything into helping Welsh success were feeling it just as badly as those who played.

Five months of blood, sweat and tears, then the tears flowing after the game either in private or some in public.

It is cruel, losing in a quarter-final. The semi-final would have been difficult to say the least, for Wales it would have been against the All Blacks.

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But then, potentially, England for third place would not have seemed so daunting.

Often World Cup defeats spark a blame game. It did in 2007. After losing to Fiji and not reaching the quarter-finals, it saw the end of a long serving and successful coach such as Gareth Jenkins.

For Gatland this was arguably the worst of his World Cup defeats, but that is a high bar as his only quarter-final defeats before have been to South Africa by narrow margins.

But it was also true he had least time to work with the squad after re-taking the job as Wales coach months before the tournament rather than years. For a coach who builds, that matters.

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Significant progress has been made, with the senior players leading the way. Warriors such as Dan Biggar and Liam Williams have given every last bit they have to give – they will be missed in the Six Nations.

Jac Morgan had a super World Cup, a bit of neat footwork to make ground down the wing completed his full house of rugby skills on display following on from the cross kick for a try against Fiji and his all-round game.

He will be key for the future, along with co-captain Dewi Lake – an unusual arrangement which worked unusually well because of the lack of ego and honest commitment of those two players.

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Only Biggar has definitely retired, though Williams and Gareth Anscombe are heading for Japan and will not play in the Six Nations.

Apart from that pair, George North, Gareth Davies, Gareth Thomas, Tomas Francis, Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Lydiate, Henry Thomas and Will Rowlands are the only players in their 30s – and they all have a few years in them yet.

As for the rest of the World Cup, well – it will lack joie de vivre. We will rely on the Argentinians for atmosphere, the All Blacks for attacking flair, the rest for hard-nosed nous.

It will miss the youthful exuberance of Louis Rees Zammit, the hard-working contributions of Nick Tompkins and Will Rowlands, the emerging class of Jac Morgan.

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Biggar and Williams were up with Antoine Dupont for any ‘playing through injury’ award handed out.

World Rugby need to look at consistency of how they referee head contact, they seem not to be bothered about the offside line, but can they referee the breakdown effectively to encourage attacking play?

Twitter and Dupont have been unforgiving of the way France’s game against South Africa was refereed.

It seems the officials have yet to catch on that South Africa push everything to the limit and beyond.

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Players are meant to support their body weight. Iis it really that hard to see supporting hands on the ground?

With the exception of the All Blacks, teams kicking in the hope of creating chaos have prospered more than those looking to play.
The timing of the draw, the ticket pricing to ensure full houses, and the refereeing are all areas that need looking at by World Rugby.

Also, how best to encourage the likes of Portugal or Uruguay who offered so much entertainment, but now go back into their respective boxes for four years.

Sticking with ‘what we have always done’ is not good enough.

The Rugby World Cup is a jewel in the game which can be polished and improved, not something which is already perfect.

As for the 2023 tournament, it may well turn out we have already seen the best this Rugby World Cup has to offer.

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