Thursday 20 June 2019

At the end of a wonderful tournament, Japan 2019 can't come quickly enough

This World Cup was the biggest, has been blessed by good weather, and on the rugby front it has also been the best

Best Moment: The final whistle in Brighton when Japan sealed the biggest upset in Test rugby history
Best Moment: The final whistle in Brighton when Japan sealed the biggest upset in Test rugby history
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

At 10.15 this morning the final press conference of the England RWC will kick off in the Twickenham Media Centre.

It will start with a short presentation on how this has been the most successful tournament to date, and some figures to support that will be trotted out again: close on 2.5m fans at sold out stadia across the country, leaving an estimated financial impact of €1.39bn to the economies of England and Wales.

It has been the biggest, and on the rugby front it has also been the best. You could count on one hand the number of games out of the 48 where you'd have closed the curtains had it been on in your back garden.

At a tournament that has been blessed by great weather it was appropriate yesterday that we got yet another good day, and another compelling display of top quality rugby. There was far more pressure on the All Blacks than when they put on their flawless show against France in the quarter-finals, yet again they delivered.

The speed and skill with which they put Nehe Milner-Skudder over just before the break was one of the highlights of the tournment, and a reminder that despite the direction rugby has gone there is still room for modest sized men. Well there is if they're as skliful and combative as Conrad Smith.

The man of the match award was a gimme for Dan Carter. Having led 21-3 early in the second half New Zealand looked home and hosed only to leak 14 points in the 10 minutes Ben Smith spent in the sin bin. So they had to deal with some stress. Carter's drop goal did more than anything to calm the nerves. And they finished with a flourish.

Best Team: Some would contend that it's not always the best team that wins the tournament. Not this time. New Zealand have been the dominant force in world rugby since World Cups started and unlike four years ago they won this one with a bit to spare.

Best Player: David Pocock ran Dan Carter close but the All Black outhalf is peerless. The sign of greatness on the playing field is to be able to execute consistently under pressure. Class is when you can do it without breaking sweat. How fitting that in his last game he got to play - and win - the World Cup final that eluded him four years ago.

Most Impressive Impersonation: Dan Biggar's jitterbug routine may be hard to watch but otherwise his impersonation of Leigh Halfpenny was top class with a 90.5 per cent success rate off the tee.

Best Moment: The final whistle in Brighton when Japan sealed the biggest upset in Test rugby history.

Best Atmosphere: England's pool games against Wales and Australia were special, and the countdown to both with the houselights dropped and the searchlights on, made you feel privileged to be there, but the contribution of the Irish fans to the win over France was immense and, in our experience, unique.

Best Comeback: Romania overhauling Canada and their 15-point lead. Having played some great rugby at times this tournament was a huge downer for the Canucks.

Best Stadium: We've long been fans of the Millennium for its cracking atmosphere and city centre location, but Wembley was something else. It may have taken over eight years to sort out at a staggering cost of well over €1bn, but to wedge 90,000 fans into a stadium and still have a feeling of proximity to the pitch is a triumph of design and engineering.

Flawless Fraternity: Alejo Duran (Uruguay), Valentin Calafateanu (Romania), Duncan Weir (Scotland), Juan Pablo Socino (Argentina), Colin Slade (New Zealand) and Patrick Fa'apale (Samoa) were all 100 per cent off the tee. Between them they attempted, eh, a dozen shots on goal.

Emptiest Feeling: Ireland fans will claim their mauling by the Pumas is up there but the South Africans were already far ahead on that score having been humiliated by Japan. Top of the list however were the hosts. That Monday morning feeling - on a Sunday - after losing to Australia depressed not only the English rugby community but damaged their game in the eyes of a nation. And it wasn't great for the tournament either having the hosts as spectators for the knock out stages.

Greatest Loss of the Plot: The media reaction to Sean O'Brien's one week suspension for the slap on Pascal Pape. Coming hard on the heels of England's exit it was the perfect filler for space that had been set aside for England's glory march.

Good Job: The volunteers who threw themselves into the gig, from the staff in media centres to those who herded us in and out of stadiums.

Not Such a Good Job: Whoever was given the gig for getting people to and from games by, eh, train. Whatever about the early calamities in Cardiff and Gloucester, having an 8.0pm kick off out in Twickenham should be contingent on tubes running until well into the early hours. We came across a lot of lost souls who heard the dreaded "this train terminates at the next station" when they were a long, long way from home. That's those who were lucky enough to get on board in the first place.

Best Try: A tie between DTH van der Merwe's effort for Canada from a restart, against Italy, and Nehe Milner-Skudder's killer try just before the break yesterday.

Best Pass: Simon Zebo's beautifully weighted ball inside to Rob Kearney for a perfect set-piece score against Romania.

Best Tackle: Japan full back Ayumu Goromaru nailing Scotland's Tommy Seymour at the corner flag in what was a highly entertaining game at Kingsholm.

Best Referee: Nigel Owens. Perhaps not the very best technical referee on the planet but good enough for it not to matter. Also he is unique in having got the balance right between running a tight ship and not coming across like Captain Bligh. Wayne Barnes did him no favours yesterday however.

Pontius Pilate Moment: The throwing under the bus of Craig Joubert. He made a mistake which was entirely understandable and was precluded by law from referring it to the TMO. Did we ever get a rational explanation though as to why he exited stage left quite so fast?

Lucky Dip: Whoever had Japan to beat South Africa, at 100/1.

Unlucky Dip: Japan's Akahito Yamada getting stung by a weever fish off the Brighton coast. A recovery swim after the historic win over the Boks meant he missed the next game, against the Jocks.

Best Coach: Daniel Hourcade. Getting the Pumas to the semi-finals, four years ahead of schedule, was a triumph given where they were coming from.

Least Wanted Trinket: England's Joe Launchbury picking up the man of the match award for his performance against Australia. "Embarrasing," he said, which was a reflection of the circumstances, not his outstading contribution.

To-Do List for Japan 2019: Up the ante on development of the Tier 2 nations. And bring greater fairness to the match schedule.

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