Rugby World Cup 2021
Well, what a topsy-turvy affair Rugby World Cup 2019 turned out to be. It was full of unexpected twists and turns right up until the final! Typhoon Hagibis played its part in the group stage, but thankfully had blown itself out and did not affect the quarter-finals or beyond.
Japan were fantastic hosts. They provided us with a side to spectators that we are unfamiliar with in the West. The way they would unashamedly support one of the competing sides (at a neutral game, of course) was undeniably endearing. They would paint their faces with the nation’s flag, wear their jersey and even go so far as learn the words of their national anthem!
One fan decided to paint his torso in the colours of all 20 participating teams! The Japanese fans even routinely stayed behind after the game and helped clear the litter from the stadium.
After some intriguing group games, we finally reached the quarter-final knockout stages.
First up was England v Australia. England dominated all aspects of play and ran out 40-16 winners, which is impressive when you think it was 17-16 at one point.
New Zealand crushed a rather disappointing Ireland 46-14. Ireland never got going, which was hard to believe as they’d won two of their previous three games against the All Blacks. A big mention to Rory Best retiring after 124 caps.
Wales made very heavy weather of their tie against France and would surely have lost had it not been for the French lock, Sébastien Vahaamahina. He went from try-scoring hero to Aaron Wainwright-elbowing zero – being sent off. in the process. As it was, they only ended up winning 20-19 and, as Warren Gatland said afterwards, “The better team lost today”.
The quarter-finals closed with the potentially romantic scenario of Japan winning and reaching a first semi-final, in reality, being bashed, battered and broken by the brutal South Africans. In a now strange premonition of the final, they strangled and choked the life out of seemingly fleeter-footed opponents and ran out comfortable winners by 26-3.
All Blacks Mortal Shocker!
The semi-finals were polar opposites of each other.
England’s extraordinary victory over New Zealand by 19-7 was undoubtedly the tournament’s best game. It was strange to see an All Blacks team constantly on the back foot and having no answers to the white tide engulfing them at every turn. Owen Farrell’s smirk while watching the haka was an indication that this was simply not going to go New Zealand’s way.
Wales saved their gutsiest performance for the semi-final, but South Africa were simply too powerful and too well-organised. They were lacking their most incisive runner in Cheslin Kolbe, but Damian de Allende was colossal, and it was symptomatic he should score South Africa’s try by simply brushing Dan Biggar and then Tomos Williams aside.
Credit to the Welsh for running the South Africans so close, but there was a grinding inevitability about the Springboks. They ended up winning an unbelievably tense and tight game by 19-16. At least there was one bright moment when 6ft 7in Jake Ball hoisted the still-grinning 5ft 7in Faf de Klerk up by his collar in frustration. Perhaps the most enduring image of the whole tournament.
Warren, Steve and Kieran Bow Out
New Zealand had something to prove in the third-place play-off, and they inflicted a heavy 40-17 defeat on Wales. There was a plus point for the home nation: Josh Adams scored another try to make him the competition’s leading try scorer. Overall, however, it was a disappointing way for Gatland to bow out. Steve Hansen and Kieran Read also took part in their final international games.
The “Final” Twist
South Africa were a different, more fluid unit to the one that had turned up against Japan and Wales and completely dominated the final. They outmanoeuvred the English at every turn, murdering them in the scrum and the lineout and snuffing out every attack England threw at them.
At one point, the Boks defended over 25 phases of England pressure on their goal line without conceding – a testament to their physical condition, organisation and team spirit. England were still in the game deep into the second half, but Makazole Mapimpi touching down in the 66th minute was a hammer blow.
Kolbe’s superb try 12 minutes later, sidestepping Farrell on the inside in the blink of an eye when it had seemed he had nowhere to go, just confirmed their domination. The sight of Billy Vunipola trying desperately to cover across and reach Kolbe, but then realising he wasn’t fast enough and just putting his head down and giving up the chase, was a stark indication that it was all over. The margin of victory of the 32-12 scoreline might seem large for a final, but it was a true reflection of what had happened on the pitch: South Africa were just awesome.
One last quirky statistic to leave you with: South Africa’s wins have all come 12 years apart: 1995, 2007 and 2019. Will they do it again in 2031? And more relevantly for us Brits, when will a Northern Hemisphere country lift the William Webb Ellis trophy again?
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Rugby World Cup 2021