All not lost for off-form hosts England
ENGLAND 2015 will be remembered as the best and as the tournament that put the “World” into World Cup. If the composition of the final, which saw perennial superpower New Zealand defeat Australia 34-17 on Saturday was no surprise, the path to the Twickenham showpiece featured far more surprises than at the previous seven World Cups.
There had long been complaints that the pool phase was all too predictable, with the usual suspects in the quarterfinals.
Yet on the first weekend of this tournament Japan beat two-time world champions South Africa 34-32 – the biggest upset the World Cup has known.
“We may have changed the history of rugby by beating South Africa in our first game,” Japan fullback Ayumu Goromaru, who kicked 24 points in the match, said .
The victory did wonders for the sport in Japan, who will host the next World Cup in 2019.
Twenty-five million people in Japan – a rugby world record television audience – watched the Brave Blossoms play Samoa later.
“It sets us up very well commercially for that World Cup and beyond and it is great for the growth of rugby because all that money will be invested in the game in Japan,” World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said.
Japan beat Samoa and the US too, becoming only the first side in World Cup history to win three pool matches but not qualify for the knockout stages.
The group phase had an added edge after hosts England, Australia and Wales were all drawn together in the “Pool of Death”.
Australia and injury-hit Wales, who both beat England, went through to the knockout phase.
Yet fears the early exit of England, whose departure owed much to a seeming loss of nerve on the part of coach Stuart Lancaster, would damage the World Cup proved wide of the mark.
There was a world-record attendance of 89 267 at Wembley to see Ireland defeat Romania and packed stadiums were a feature of the tournament throughout.
Georgia claimed only their third win at a World Cup with a 17-10 victory over Tonga, with try-scoring skipper Mamuka Gorgodze gaining a new legion of fans.
Meanwhile, Romania came from 15-0 down to beat Canada 17-15. All these sides benefited from World Rugby’s investment in coaching, with Japan guided to their trio of wins by former Australia boss Eddie Jones.
“Rugby World Cup 2015 will be remembered as the biggest tournament to date, but I also believe it will also be remembered as the best,” World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset said.
The anticipated financial bonanza from staging a World Cup in a lucrative sports market duly arrived with World Rugby poised to benefit from a record surplus of £150-million (R3.2-billion), enabling it to spend £350-million (R7.47-billion) on the global game by next year.
If England’s early exit was the tournament’s biggest disappointment, the way France surrendered in a 62-13 quarterfinal defeat by New Zealand was not far behind, albeit the skill of the All Blacks in scoring nine tries could not be denied.
Argentina reached the semifinals for the second time in their history by showcasing a new brand of attacking rugby far removed from their traditional forward-dominated game.
It was a lesson for the “old world” to absorb as, for the first time, no northern hemisphere side made it into the semifinals.
Scotland fans, however, will long talk about the heart-breakingly late penalty call from referee Craig Joubert which allowed Wallaby “Iceman” Bernard Foley to kick Australia to a 35-34 quarterfinal win.
The number of players who were ruled out through injury was alarming, although quite how international rugby union becomes progressively less, rather than more, physical is a question few people can answer.
But those concerns were put to one side as rugby rejoiced in an stunning five-try final, in which New Zealand became the first side to win back-to-back World Cups.
The All Blacks, who threatened a rout at 21-3, were pegged back to 21-17 before veteran flyhalf Dan Carter, in his last test before retirement, kicked them into an unassailable lead.
“We sat down together and said, ‘let’s enjoy this’,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
They were not alone.