Jobs ended with their teams' exits from World Cup

WELLINGTON - The sixth Rugby World Cup was a raucous, surprising and ultimately successful tournament, the centrepiece for the sport in 2007.

WELLINGTON - The sixth Rugby World Cup was a raucous, surprising and ultimately successful tournament, the centrepiece for the sport in 2007.

France 2007 missed one detail, though: an employment agency for coaches whose tenures ended with their teams' departures.

Wales coach Gareth Jenkins effectively was out of a job before the tournament was over. France coach Bernard Laporte quit after finishing fourth, and Australia's John Connolly was looking for work by late November, after his team's upset quarterfinal loss to England.

Even Jake White, who coached South Africa to their second World Cup victory - their first since winning the Webb Ellis Cup at home in 1995 - was forced onto the job queue ahead of his time.

Though White resigned 12 days after the Springboks' Cup final win over England in Paris, he did so in the face of hostility from a board which meddled in team affairs throughout his tenure and gave him little reason for reappointment.

"Everything I said I wanted to achieve, I've achieved," he said.

"I want to be the first coach that finishes my job on my terms, and that's why I'm so proud it's been able to happen. Coaches don't last too long in South Africa."

Other coaches had narrow escapes. England's Brian Ashton faced a player revolt and likely dismissal before his ageing team, playing rugby which harked back to duller days, rallied to reach the final. England played a game devoid of aesthetic quality but suited to its strengths and made an unexpectedly strong defense of the title it won under Clive Woodward in 2003, saving Ashton's job.

Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan survived his team's poorest tournament performance as did New Zealand's Graham Henry, who became the first All Blacks coach to retain his job after a World Cup failure.

Henry was reappointed on December 7 by the New Zealand Rugby Union board, most of whom appointed him in 2004 and approved the early season fitness programme and rotational selection policies which led to New Zealand's defeat.

The 2007 Cup was not a showcase for the main rugby powers.

Many of the top sides - notably New Zealand, Australia and France - failed to bring their A-games to the tournament. England and Argentina played above their ratings but were unexciting. The saviors of the tournament were the minor nations - particularly Fiji and Tonga - who lacked the resources of their larger opponents but played with daring, passion and an ebullience which saved the Cup from tedium. Namibia, Georgia, Portugal and Romania were also crowd favourites.

The Cup highlighted many of the challenges facing rugby. Though Fiji reached the quarterfinals and Tonga came close to wins over South Africa and England, the gap between rugby's rich and poor was never more evident.

New Zealand spent millions on its Cup campaign while Samoa arrived in France with too little money to pay for players' meals. Tonga tried to make ends meet by signing a sponsorship deal with an Irish bookmaker before the International Rugby Board (IRB) churlishly intervened.

What to do with Argentina is a continuing problem. The Pumas cannot fit easily into the southern hemisphere's Super 14 and Tri-Nations or the northern hemisphere's Six Nations competitions. Their further development remains in limbo.

The poor quality of many of the matches at the tournament suggested rugby's rule book needs revision. Though the 2008 Super 14 will be played under experimental laws already trialed in Australia and New Zealand, few steps are being taken to improve the appeal of the game. The World Cup marked the end of many distinguished international careers, among them those of Wallaby halves George Gregan and Stephen Larkham and England's Jason Robinson, and sent a new flood of southern talent to northern clubs.

IRB chairman Syd Millar acknowledged the aggressive recruitment policies of English clubs are harming world rugby. There were also positive signs for rugby, none more so than the emergence of South Africa into a new, less troubled era.

Bryan Habana's last-gasp converted try gave the Bulls their first Super 14 title by 20-19 over the Sharks, making his team the first champions from South Africa in the tournament's 11-year history.

After providing both finalists to be pre-eminent in the southern hemisphere provincial competition, South Africa produced a well planned and executed Cup campaign to become the world's best team.

Other teams embarked on new eras more or less auspiciously. Six Nations champions France moved on from their World Cup disappointment under new coach Marc Lievremont, successor to the abrasive Laporte.

Australia also had a new coach - New Zealander Robbie Deans became the first non-Australian to hold the job.

The Pacific Islands have given rugby cause for optimism, however. - Sapa-AP

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