Rugby World Cup 2019: Best player and game, try of the tournament and the moments to remember
Nov. 05, 2019
The Rugby World Cup reached its climax on Saturday night, with South Africa crowned as champions after beating Eddie Jones’ England 32-12 in Yokohama.
Siya Kolisi , South Africa's first black rugby captain, led from the front as the Springboks landed a third world title following victories in 1995 and 2007.
It marked the conclusion of seven long weeks after proceedings kicked off on September 20 with Japan’s opening victory over Russia. Since then, the watching world has been treated to one thrilling match after another, numerous controversies and a slew of drama.
The World Cup was making its first debut in Asia, with hosts Japan delivering a sporting spectacle that will long in the memory of all those fortunate enough to soak up the sights and sounds of this unique tournament.
With the competition now at an end, reporters Jack de Menezes and Samuel Lovett look back on those moments, teams and players who have delighted and disappointed along the way.
Best player of the tournament
Jack de Menezes: This was always going to be the tournament where Itoje could take the sport by storm, and he did exactly that in Japan with a string of phenomenal performances – not least in the monumental victory over the All Blacks.
The England lock was also their best player in the disappointing final defeat, proving their most consistent player across the tournament. His lineout calling has come on leaps and bounds, he’s a force to be reckoned with in the breakdown and maul and he is always found near the top of the tackling charts.
How he was left off the Player of the Year shortlist is beyond belief.
Samuel Lovett: Faf de Klerk
The box-kicking, sniping, free-rolling maestro has been a source of brilliance for the Springboks from day one. His ability to speed up or slow down the pace of play, dependent on South Africa’s game plan, was without parallel at this World Cup. De Klerk has been the beating heart to Rassie Erasmus’ side, while his eye for stealing precious metres brought an added attacking dimension to the team. South Africa would have been a very different, and arguably much weaker, side without the No 9 among their ranks. A world-class super star.
Big shout-out to Kotaro Matsushima, too. He was simply sublime in Japan’s five games, bringing a real edge and menace to the side’s electric style of play. His end haul of five tries is a testament to the threat he brought to the Brave Blossoms.
JDM: There were plenty of early-tournament highlights largely involving Japan, but you cannot look beyond the semi-final between England and New Zealand. The game remained in the balance throughout, but England have never dominated the All Blacks as they did in Yokohama with a formidable display of smart power rugby. The victory ended New Zealand’s 18-game winning streak at the World Cup.
SL: Japan vs Ireland
I’ll leave Jack to sing the praises of the English in their win against New Zealand. For me, I’m still sticking to my guns with the hosts’ stunning win over Ireland. It was the match that first brought this tournament alive and captured the imagination of those here in Japan.
That win had everything: the Japanese speed and incision, the never-say-die resilience, those fine, delicate twists in play which could have maybe salvaged a result for the Irish. It may not have been Japan’s best game - that came against the Scots - but it epitomised what they’re all about, and set the tone for the rest of their competition before they were eventually beaten by South Africa.
JDM: The final – it has to be, doesn’t it? We’ll never know what final we could have had if semi-final England turned up against the Springboks. But as it was, South Africa proved clear and deserved winners, and the fact that what should have been one of the great finals ended up being over and done with even with 15 minutes remaining.
Admittedly, Joe Schmidt’s side arrived in Japan already under a cloud of doubt after a less-than-convincing build-up to the tournament. But nonetheless, it was deeply disappointing to see the way in which the Irish shuffled through the group stages, barely raising the pulse as they went, before meeting their makers in the form of a ruthless New Zealand side.
Victory over the All Blacks was always going to be a tall ask, but few of us expected Ireland to roll over in such limp fashion. It was a galling end for Schmidt and captain Rory Best, both of whom have now stepped down from international duties with the country. Ireland’s campaign as a whole in Japan has raised serious questions of where the national team goes from here.
JDM: Just how much Ireland found themselves off the pace. Joe Schmidt’s side went into the World Cup as the No 1-ranked side, yet found themselves beaten by Japan and thrashed by New Zealand in brutal fashion. Given what Ireland have achieved over the last four years, this was a terribly disappointing way for the Schimdt era to end.
I said it three weeks ago, and I’ll say the same now: who else but Japan? Miracle-makers no more, the hosts completely tore up the script, beating both Ireland and Scotland to secure a quarter-final berth for the first time in their history.
More than this, they did so with a unique brand of rugby that laughed in the face of the conventional, conservative approach by some of the game’s heavyweight sides. The nation has set a precedent through what they’ve achieved at this tournament - and the hope, now, is that they push on from this while bringing inspiration to those other nations looking to muscle in on the sport’s top table.
JDM: TJ Perenara (New Zealand vs Namibia)
A real get out of your seat moment came with the 11th and final try for the All Blacks. Rieko Ioane started it off by passing to replacement Brad Weber, whose smart shimmy and delicate offload around his back to Perenara was enough to enjoy alone. But faced with an excellent tackle from Namibian fly-half Helarius Kisting, Perenara was launched into the air yet somehow managed to ground the ball in the corner with a beauty of a finish.
SL: Keita Inagaki (Japan vs Scotland)
Of the games I reported on during the knockout stages, I don’t think I saw anything come close to matching Keita Inagaki’s effort for Japan against Scotland. Admittedly, Makazole Mapimpi’s try certainly caught the eye in Saturday’s final, such was the fluid and slick nature of its execution, but I still can’t get over the way in which Japan had the whole stadium on its feet before Inagaki crossed the whitewash.
It was another level from the hosts. The initial break. The quick-fire, rolling inter-play between five sets of hands, with offload after offload pulling apart the fraying Scottish defence like string. And then the final, acrobatic spin from William Tupou to set up Inagaki for the simplest of flop-overs from one metre out. A moment that summed up Japan's campaign as a whole.
What will you remember this tournament for?
JDM: It’s a strange one, but the love and adulation for the Emperor Emiritus Akihito and Empress Michiko upon their arrival to the third-place play-off between New Zealand and Wales will stay with me for a long time. Suddenly, the second half action that had just kicked off was of no consequence whatsoever as the fans inside the Tokyo Stadium turned away and waved to the true fan fvourites.
SL: Because there’s so much, I’m going to go for a quick-fire list: the mind-boggling vastness of Tokyo; Ichiran ramen (if you know, you know); Japan’s win over Ireland in Shizuoka; reporting from Fukushima in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis; the madness of Shinjuku; the calm and peace of Kyoto; England’s deflating defeat in the final; the constant sense of displacement; the Shinkansen; and one notable laundry incident that I had better not go into too much detail on.