“Probably the greatest Rugby World Cup in the event’s history," is how Sir Bill Beaumont described this autumn’s tournament in Japan. And, let's face it, there's no point trying to argue with the World Rugby chairman as fans attempt to get their breath back after six exhilarating weeks of action in the Far East.
As the most gracious and accommodating of hosts, Japan were rewarded with a tournament which is destined to become enshrined in rugby history. This was the first World Cup held in Asia, the first hosted by a country other than one of the big eight superpowers since 1987.
It broke new ground, attracted huge crowds and exposed the sport to many new fans. It created cult heroes (both on and off the pitch), brought a hefty dollop of shocks, scrums and surprises, and of course, the inevitable heroics and heartbreaks.
France 2023 certainly has a lot to live up to!
South Africa secured their third Webb Ellis Cup in the competition’s 32 years, equalling New Zealand’s haul and confirming the southern hemisphere’s dominance once again. But this was far from the only highlight of a tournament which helped accentuate an already exceptional year in sport. Here's the other more memorable moments from Japan 2019...
The Rise of Japan
The Brave Blossoms shocked and entertained with their victories over Ireland and Scotland, rewarding the enthusiasm of native fans in attendance in a country never perpetually associated with the sport.
Japan made history by getting to the quarter-finals, and although they couldn’t get past the Springboks, their playing style and enthusiasm was a sight to behold, whilst players such as skipper Michael Leitch deserve a mountain of credit for their consistent conduct and performances.
England, The Haka And All Over The All Blacks
England’s stunning victory over New Zealand was one for the ages. We should have known expectations were ready to be defied with England’s refusal to be intimidated by the Kiwis' traditional haka, Owen Farrell’s smirk becoming one of the defining images of the tournament in the faces of glaring eyes and rolling tongues, his England lining up in a ‘V’ salute.
It went on to be one of the best 80-minute performances you’ll ever see as England bludgeoned New Zealand, eliminating the defending champions from the competition. Eddie Jones’ men controlled their opponents with a wonderfully executed and brutal display.
"The World Cup is like a rollercoaster…” said Jones. “You get down the first slope and you are not sure if you are going to throw up or hang on.”
As Wales boss Warren Gatland duly noted, the dominance was necessary but there was ultimately a prevailing feeling that England had gone hard early with the subsequent humbling at the hands of South Africa.
From crushing the Kiwis alone, England can leave the Land of the Rising Sun with their heads held high.
Uruguay Dismantle Fiji
The South Americans showed the gap between the best and the rest is getting smaller as Uruguay edged the Pacific Islanders 30-27 in the Pool D match, right at the back end of September.
It was Uruguay’s first win at the tournament since 2003 and one for the underdog, and left sorry Fiji staring at the abyss. “I don't know where it comes from,” expressed Uruguay skipper Juan Manuel Gaminara in the aftermath. “It's inside. It's in there. Today, we had to go there to fetch it, and it came.”
A further touching moment came from the Uruguay team bowing to thank the crowd at Kamaishi. Just brilliant.
Hosts With The Most
Rugby union might not be the most popular sport in Japan but the country got fully behind the World Cup.
The stadiums were full, with 1.704 million people in total attending games, for an average of 37,877 at each match, the atmosphere was electric and the locals friendly. Japan did an amazing job as hosts.
It also made everyone step up. From the rugby super fan who painted his body (with the aid of his wife) to attend a hefty portion of the games around his country, to the Canada team taking a leaf from Japan’s ‘omotenashi’ and helping in the Typhoon Hagibis clean-up, class came to the fore time and time again.
Several players etched their names in the history books with brilliant performances throughout the competition.
Kotaro Matsushima starred for Japan through the whole tournament with five tries, while Semi Radradra put on a phenomenal one-man show for Fiji against Georgia.
Tom Curry and Sam Underhill demonstrated that age shouldn’t bely maturity, and Wales hero Alun Wyn Jones - the world’s most capped lock - showed why he should be considered an icon of the game.
And then we had the final, right wing Cheslin Kolbe putting the icing on the cake and the nail in England’s coffin with a lovely try in the final, while teammate Handre Pollard’s kicking was clinical.
This try, in the Rugby World Cup final, was sensational from Cheslin Kolbe.
Captain Siya Kolisi
South Africa’s dominant 32-12 win in the final was a victory for multiculturalism and integration in the rainbow nation.
Even the most hardened England fan would have found it hard not to stirred by the images of Siya Kolisi, the first black South African captain, with his children at the Yokohama International Stadium after such a dominant and classy performance.
It may not beat Pienaar and the President in Joburg ‘95 but, with the additional resonance of a first triumph in a post-Mandela world, boy is it inspiring.