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Peter Bills' World Cup blog: 3rd place play-off unfair on players

I shared a panel on TV here in Auckland the other night with former All Blacks coach John Hart and that great No. 8 of yesteryear Murray Mexted.

Whilst we were waiting to go on air, we talked about this Friday’s 3rd place play off match between Wales and Australia.

Now I don’t know about you, but if it were me and I’d just lost a semi-final of the Rugby World Cup a few days earlier, the last thing I’d want to do is play some meaningless game against another beaten opponent just to make more money for the organisers.

Well, that’s all it’s for, isn’t it? I can’t see any other reason to drag tired players out there for yet another game. You’ve lost, your thoughts are inevitably focused solely on going home. Indeed, even though they will wake up in New Zealand on Saturday morning, the eve of the World Cup final, the Aussies won’t be going to it. They’re on the Qantas afternoon flight out, to Sydney.

So it’s fair to say neither side will bust a gut in this irrelevant match. My view is, it’s completely unfair on the players. Australian back rower Rocky Elsom told me before their semi-final against the All Blacks, some of the players were just hanging on, mentally and physically.

It’s November in 11 days’ time and they’ve been hard at it since training in January and the Super 15 began in February. Since then, its’ been a constant whirl of travel, training and playing matches. These guys are out on their feet.

But to come back to John Hart and Murray Mexted, both of them felt that another format was needed if an extra match had to be played at all between the semi-finals and the final. Their view was that you needed either a one-off game between the hemispheres, north against south, or if not, the Barbarians should be invited to play a composite World XV.

That way, you would be just about guaranteed to get a match that celebrated rugby’s great skills and style. The trouble with forcing exhausted players from Wales and Australia out there again is that you may well get a pretty sub-standard game, littered with mistakes because players couldn’t really care less and didn’t want to be there anyway.

I feel this is worth looking at. In more ways than one, 3rd place play-off games are for losers. And judging by the fact that earlier this week, apparently 20,000 tickets for this game remained unsold, it looks like the New Zealand public are turning their backs on such a meaningless affair.

But it could be a spectacular celebration of rugby’s wonders if you had the Barbarians playing a Rest of the World XV, or something like that.

Worth considering, maybe.

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