South Africa’s victory in the 2019 world cup has ended a magnificent tournament, marking a new, exciting chapter for world rugby. South Africa’s third world cup win, their last against England in 2007, was a true triumph for the Springboks who brought renewed energy and power to their play after a narrow victory against Wales in the Semi-final. This win is particularly important to the trajectory of South African Rugby with Siya Kolisi leading the side as their first black captain. A month prior to the start of the world cup Springbok legend Chester Williams, the only person of colour in the famous 1995 winning side, passed away. This final and the tournament as a whole can be seen as reflecting the progress made in world rugby since that match, both in terms of the diversity in the South African team and the tournament as a whole. Whilst the globally connected rugby family of supporters will remember and cherish the lives of many rugby greats, including Williams, Lomu, van der Westhuizen and Small who have all passed away since the last world cup, the future of the game has been showed to be in safe hands, and moving in an exciting direction.
For England, the final was a sour ending to their near perfect tournament, after last week displaying one of their best ever performances to beat New Zealand. Coming into the final the young side seemed primed and ready, with an unchanged starting fifteen appearing to be perfectly reaching their apex after four years of hard work and transformation. Star performer Ben Curry was supported by twin Tom who was allowed by his club Sale Sharks to fly out at the last minute, but it was another Shark’s star playing in green, Faf de Klerk, who stole the show on Saturday. With Farrell missing an important penalty and mistakes creeping into England’s play, the occasion of the game seemed to rattle the players, particularly after Kyle Sinckler was knocked out in the opening minutes of the match. Despite this loss England managed to reach their first final in 12 years and many of the players visibly upped their game in this tournament, with the likes of Itoje and Underhill showing themselves to be up there with the best in the world.
One of the most important reflections on this world cup has to be that the decision ten years ago to hold the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the first in Asia, has been completely vindicated and an unqualified success. Japan has been the perfect host for this world cup, we’ve seen respect, compassion and international friendship reinjected into the game, thanks in large part to the incredible atmosphere brought by the host nation’s fans. Bowing at the end of games in recognition of the crowd’s support has been just one example of the best of rugby which has been brought out this autumn. Whilst everyone wants to win it is a great inevitable, invaluable life experience to learn to lose or fail with dignity and good grace – which the teams in this competition have clearly expressed. Rugby has captured a new national fan base, with half of the Japanese population watching their team’s games as they skilfully made their way to the quarter finals for the first time. With a tragic typhoon hitting during the end of the qualifying round matches, the Japanese have handled with great skill and expertise an almost unmanageable set of tragic circumstances. Despite this they have ensured the safety of the players, the international supporters and also safeguarded and maintained the integrity of the competition. It may be years before the full impact of this tournament is fully known and appreciated but hopefully we can look forward to many years of top class, global rugby to come. Ex-Welsh rugby International Gareth Thomas believes that the increasingly multicultural tournament has proved an invaluable vehicle for improving and enriching diversity in general. The warmth of the welcome, the generosity of the Japanese people, the indomitable spirit will live long in the collective memory.