The curtain has descended on Japan 2019, and here our writers share their take on a number of talking points from the World Cup.
Player of the tournament – Damian de Allende (South Africa)
John Goliath says: The Springbok pack deservedly got most of the plaudits in the World Cup final for their demolition job at the scrums and on defence. But this award goes to a backline player who was a key figure for the Boks throughout the campaign. Inside centre De Allende was the South Africans’ go-to man when they needed a willing runner to take the ball up in the vacuum from first phase. He was also the one player to give the Boks momentum from slow ball or a standing start, making 235 metres from 65 carries. He also tackled almost everything moved, with most of his hits dominant. He ended up with 50 tackles in the tournament, with a tackle success rate of 85%. That’s phenomenal, because the Boks defend with a lot of linespeed and you have to be pretty accurate when shooting up towards the attackers. But the Stormers No 12 also hit a lot of rucks, competing for the ball on the ground. His energy and constant counter-rucking was key in slowing the opposition’s ball down, which gave the Boks’ fierce defence a chance to set themselves and take proper aim at their targets. In short, he was an absolute machine.
Coach of the tournament – Rassie Erasmus (South Africa)
Mariette Adams says: What Rassie Erasmus has done stretches beyond just rugby and borders on the miraculous. He transformed the Springboks from no-hopers to heroes and restored pride in the green-and-gold jersey. If you had asked any South African in 2017 – two years into the four-year cycle between World Cups – what the Boks’ chances were of winning the Webb Ellis Cup come 2019, they’d have honestly told you to go jump in the lake. No, seriously, they’d have told you that there was no chance of it happening and the only certainty for South Africa at the looming World Cup was an early flight home. Springbok rugby was at its lowest ebb then, but Erasmus came in and steadily turned its fortunes around. Fast forward a mere 20 months and Erasmus had steered the Springboks to Rugby Championship and World Cup titles – the first team to win both accolades in the same calendar year – and he did so while effortlessly meeting the imposed transformation targets with merit-based selections. In summary, Erasmus had faced more challenges as an international coach than any of his peers combined, but he overcame the challenges and – thanks to his tactically astute rugby brain – had comprehensively outfoxed said peers. Even Eddie Jones – who is considered as one of the best coaches in the world – couldn’t combat the unconventional 6-2 bench split that Erasmus had employed on his way to claiming the sport’s most-coveted prize.
One to watch again – Springboks vs England
Wade Pretorius says: Without a doubt the final. The electric start immediately put England on the back foot and exposed their lack of options in attack. It was another incredible defensive effort – especially those 26 phases in which the Boks repelled wave after wave of England attack. Watch again for Lukhanyo Am’s no-look pass to send Makazole Mapimpi over for the country’s first-ever final try. Cheslin Kolbe putting Owen Farrell on his arse was a splendid cherry on top of a sensational team display.
Forgettable encounter – Springboks vs Wales
Dylan Jack says: Unfortunately this has to be the Springboks’ semi-final against Wales. This one was strictly for the rugby purist. The game was a tactical battle featuring a total of 81 kicks and overall sluggish pace. The pace of the game was only made slower by the number of handling errors (often from the Bok back three) and all-round lack of accuracy. Wales were not helped by losing two players to injury in the first half. While many will remember the result, few will remember the contest. One that is probably worth skipping when looking back at the tournament that was.
Tournament surprise – Japan’s fairytale run
Craig Lewis says: Japan’s upset win over Ireland and progression to the playoffs was a wonderful surprise for the World Cup. The result was also especially important in the context of a tournament that had started with a novelty and ‘newness’ factor, but threatened to lose some interest due to the predictability of results. What Japan showcased at just the right time is that they have become a rugby force to be reckoned with, while they reignited real interest in their home tournament. There was also more fun in store from the Brave Blossoms as they overcame Scotland in a rousing display in their final pool match, and ended the tournament with a competitive showing against the Boks in the quarter-finals.
Try of the comp – TJ Perenara (New Zealand vs Namibia)
Jordan Daniels says: Voted the International Rugby Players Try of the Year for 2019, Perenara’s effort in the Pool B clash had everything and was completely deserving of the accolade. The try began with Perenara – usually a scrumhalf but playing out of position – receiving the ball inside his 22m area. After multiple sidesteps and a fend, Perenara threw an audacious offload to George Bridge, while falling to ground. A quick recycle was followed by Rieko Ioane offloading to Brad Weber, who showed superb awareness to find the supporting Perenara with a ridiculous behind-the-back pass. Having started the move, Perenara then proceeded to finish with a one-handed, acrobatic dive despite being tackled by two Namibian defenders.
The Boks’ biggest success story – Makazole Mapimpi
Jon Cardinelli says: Makazole Mapimpi, the first South African to score a try in a World Cup final, is the Springboks’ most-improved player over the past two years. Siya Kolisi and Rassie Erasmus often go out of their way to remind the media and public about how far Mapimpi has come. Kolisi, whose own rags-to-riches story is well documented, understands how difficult it is to beat the system and embrace a completely different language and culture. Erasmus, who has over two decades of experience in the South African system as a player and coach, knows how difficult it is to make the step up after the age of 25. Mapimpi’s rise has been particularly remarkable in these respects. On Saturday, the former Border centre became the first South African to score a try in the World Cup final. That five-pointer boosted his tally for the tournament to six.
The World Cup in five words
Jon Cardinelli says: The Boks inspired a nation.
Craig Lewis says: All hail the triumphant Springboks!
Mariette Adams says: Boks kicks rule this world.
Dylan Jack says: Attack wins matches, defence titles.
John Goliath says: When can we scrum again?
Jordan Daniels says: Upsets. Unity through adversity. Ojigi.
Wade Pretorius says: Never doubt the Boks again.
Photo: Getty Images