The Rugby World Cup is over, the last four teams are returning home and for the South African team that means having to check a large shiny trophy through customs on their arrival.
But was the tournament a success and what have we learnt from the latest World Cup? Here are a few answers and suggestions.
1 – The gap between the top nations and the rest is closing slowly.
A quarter of a century ago New Zealand put 145 points on Japan. In 2019 the biggest win was also by New Zealand but the margin, over Namibia acknowledge as one of the weakest qualifiers, was only 62 points. The hosts Japan became the first “second-tier” nation to win all their matches in the group stage and no team suffered a complete humiliation this time round.
2 – The game is more physical than ever but foul play is falling.
Rugby players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before and tackles are harder. As the former England captain Dylan Hartley said before the final; ““You feel it in the ribs, your lower back, from the clear-outs, in the tackles and carries you have to make. It’s the unseen pain, the bumps and knocks.” One of the major stories before the tournament, similar to what is happening in the NFL and even in soccer, was of concussion protocols and the need to protect players from head injuries. So, it was no surprise that most of the sendings-off came from hits to the head, mostly reckless or mistimed tackles rather than deliberate acts of violence. The two worst cases of foul play in the tournament both proved disastrous for the teams involved. France led Wales by 9 points in the quarter final before Sébastien Vahaamahina’s swinging elbow connected with a Welsh opponent’s head and the depleted French team could not hold on to their lead. Italy were trailing South Africa 17-3 but were close to their opponents’ line when Lovetti was dismissed in the 42nd minute for his part in picking up the Springboks’ Duane Vermeulen and dropping him headfirst to the floor – They eventually lost 49-3.
3 – Beware of typhoons.
One major criticism of the World Cup was the lack of a back up plan in case of bad weather. October is typhoon season in the Pacific and there was always a chance of one hitting Japan during the tournament. The fact that Typhoon Hagibis was the biggest to hit Japan in decades could not have been predicted but surely a contingency plan could be in place to have an alternative venue ready even if it meant the games would have to take place with no spectators?
4 – You need luck to win the World Cup.
Probably the most important moment of the Final came in the third minute when Maro Itoje, trying to tackle Makazole Mapimpi, connected with his elbow to the face of teammate Kyle Sinckler and left Sinckler out cold. The loss of the prop forward in the scrum and his ball carrying skills at close range enabled the Springboks to forge a lead in the first half. Likewise, in the semi-final South Africa only narrowly beat a Welsh team missing several their best players.
5 – Peak at the right time.
In 2018 Ireland were the best team in the world, in August Australia crushed New Zealand 47-21 and England totally dominated the All-Blacks in the World Cup but South Africa ended as the World champions. It’s all about timing…
6 – 2023 will be good.
South Africa defending against a New Zealand team who believe their destiny is to win the World Cup every time with European teams on home soil, What could be better?