Well, that’s a wrap. The ninth edition of RWC has come to an end and it’s fair to say that throughout RWC Japan, the All Blacks remained the most popular team. They continued to set the standard and push the parameters of attack. They developed the dual playmaker role to counter rush defence – a meritorious strategy in the spirit of progressive rugby.
While many factors contributed to their popularity, it was primarily the way they played the game that made them crowd favourites. The All Blacks showed style and panache on the field, but despite this they did not win.
South Africa played to win. Rassie Erasmus took no responsibility for anything other than to make the best of what he had and to win. Their selection and strategy was formidable in the final. It was based around experience and cohesion in the areas that mattered most. They attacked England up front with physicality and skill. The Bok claimed the scrum, lineout, the contact area and the aerial possession they desperately needed.
One week earlier, English coach Eddie Jones rightly identified these same areas as the key to beat New Zealand. England dominated an area of the game that has been the foundation of All Black success over many decades. They won go-forward ball that allowed the English backs to outplay their All Black counterparts. It may have painted a false impression for the final. Many thought the English backs would be too much for South Africa and they went into the final as clear favourites. They moved the ball wide at every opportunity but they had underestimated the Bok defence who were well used to this style of game from the Rugby Championships.
The English backs were exposed; they lacked the skill that the All Black and Wallaby backs possess and they were no match for the Bok Defence.
RWC Japan has highlighted that there remains different levels of competency between those in the Southern Hemisphere and those in Europe. It also focused world attention on the emergence of rugby in Asia with Japan as a clear exponent of fast and expansive rugby.
The future for international rugby looks bright.