For better or worse, the 2019 Rugby World Cup has come to an end. As a tournament that was long anticipated given the high standard of all the teams competing, it brought high points for many, but a disappointing fall from glory for Ireland. South Africa proved themselves as champions, running out 32-12 victors over Eddie Jones’ England side. With the championship finished, here is a look at some of the major events that will make the 2019 Rugby World Cup one to remember.
Siya Kolisi – South Africa’s Captain Fantastic
Even those who aren’t fans of rugby would be hard pushed to not be moved by the story of the South African flanker, Siya Kolisi. After his mother passed away when he was 15, he was raised by his grandmother in the Zwide township, just on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth. In 2007, he watched the Springboks win their second World Cup from a local tavern, as he had no electricity in his home. After many years of hard work, Kolisi made his debut for South Africa in 2013 with a man of the match performance against Scotland. Recognised as an instant leader Kolisi became a regular in the first team. In 2018, he was named captain of the Springboks, making him the first black captain of the team in its history. This weekend, he stood on the podium and lifted the Webb Ellis trophy for a record-equalling third time. Speaking after the victory, Kolisi said: “”We have so many problems in our country. But to have a team like this, we come from different backgrounds, different races and we came together with one goal.” An instant legend and immeasurably humble, rugby needs more players like Siya Kolisi.
It was particularly disappointing to see Joe Schmidt’s tenure as Ireland head coach come to an end under such dire circumstances given all the success he has brought to the team.
Ireland’s complete capitulation
2018 was Ireland’s year. Grand Slam champions, domestic success and victory over the All Blacks at home for the first time ever. When the pools were announced for the World Cup, Irish fans became cautiously optimistic as they were in what appeared to be the easiest group, coming up against Japan, Scotland, Russia and Samoa. Ireland’s chances of topping the group seemed near certain but it all came undone after a spirited performance from the host nation. Japan beat Ireland 19-12 in their second game of the tournament, a result which would see them top the group. Ireland, meanwhile, struggled to bounce back. Two average performances against Samoa and Russia saw the team qualify for the quarter-finals but in second place, setting up a clash with the All Blacks. Ireland were abysmal in the quarter-final, never looking like posing a threat to the three-time champions. A mercy blow was dealt when the whistle went, Ireland losing 46-14. It was particularly disappointing to see Joe Schmidt’s tenure as Ireland head coach come to an end under such dire circumstances given all the success he has brought to the team.
Japan surprise everyone, again
In the 2015 World Cup, Japan managed to beat South Africa 34-32, with a last minute try securing one of the most famous victories in sport, let alone rugby. Unfortunately, Japan didn’t qualify for the knockouts in 2015, but they were given the lofty duty of hosting the next World Cup. With all the added pressure of being the host nation, few would have expected that they would have also mounted such a successful campaign. Their victory over Ireland was one of four consecutive victories in the group stages, as they headed for a quarter-final against old enemy South Africa. An incredible first half performance was not enough to stop the would-be champions but the effort from the Japanese team did their country and rugby proud. Hopefully, in time, the world cup will not be remembered for the logistical nightmares caused by the many typhoons that barrelled through the island during the course of the tournament but for the welcoming atmosphere and sensational rugby that was displayed over the seven weeks.
A changing of the guard
The 2019 World Cup marked the end point of many careers, for both players and coaches. Irish captain Rory Best had announced his retirement, as has head coach Joe Schmidt. Steve Hansen, head coach of the All Blacks, is also stepping down after seven years in charge with New Zealand legends like Kieran Read, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty and Ben Smith all retiring as well. Wales and Australia have opted for shaking things up with Warren Gatland and Michael Cheika both leaving their posts after twelve and five years respectively. These departures from the game create an exciting vacuum in the rugby world that is sure to be filled with fresh, new talent. While Ireland and Wales have announced new coaches already, there is still speculation over who will take the other positions. More interesting though will be the players who rise up to fill the gaps of the leaders who have gone before them. For rugby fans, there will be periods of turbulence but also rip-roaring excitement on the horizon.