South Africa are World Champions for the third time having completed a comprehensive victory over the much fancied England in the World Cup Final.
It’s been a fabulous tournament and South Africa have proven themselves to be worthy winners. Never has a team lost a group stage game and gone on to win the whole thing, but the Springboks have shown that it can be done.
The England team will be bitterly disappointed. Not just because they lost, but because they never lived up to the standards that they had set themselves based on their semi-final performance.
So for one final time, let’s get stuck into some of the major talking points from the game.
What a difference five days makes
South Africa’s victory over Wales just five days ago was derided by many as a boring game of rugby that had no place at this point in the sport’s biggest stage.
Fans and pundits were saying that they would have to change things up if they wanted to avoid being torn to pieces by the English.
Five days later did South Africa change things up? Nope! They brought the same game style and it proved impossible for the English to break down.
The thing they did change was their accuracy. Everything they did was pretty much the same as against Wales, but just that bit tighter and with an absence of errors.
Box kicks weren’t too long, chasers weren’t too slow and the defence was that little bit extra mean.
It is quite a testament to Rassie Erasmus and the Boks leadership that they didn’t change their style of play in response to England’s demolition of the All Blacks.
Instead, they trusted their plan and trusted their players to execute on the day.
England’s set piece broken in half
England had been building momentum nicely throughout the tournament and were deserved favourites going into the Final. They had an all-round game that was proving impossible for sides to deal with.
However in the Final the Boks focused on challenging them right at the very heart of that game plan and took on their set piece.
And when I say they took it on, I mean ripped they it into pieces, threw it on the ground, jumped all over it and were given a penalty by Jerome Garces.
The Boks scrum especially was turned from a solid platform into a points-scoring weapon that the English just couldn’t cope with.
The English pack and forwards coaches will have been so disappointed in the way that they couldn’t compete consistently when the teams packed down and when they get back into camp next year ahead of the Six Nations it will be a key area they look to rectify.
Yes the Springboks are known for having a big, effective pack, but the way they managed to bully the English – who are hardly minnows – was incredible.
The loss of Kyle Sinckler in the third minute will have had an effect for sure but the Boks lost two of their first-choice front five early doors too and just kept rolling.
Brutal but not a hint of a yellow card
The game was played with a brutal intensity. Both sides put in huge hits and even the average level of impact had fans and commentators wincing throughout.
The Springboks’ defence was meaner than ever and the English put in their fair share of bone-shakers.
But even with the pressure of the Final and the natural physical nature of both sides, there wasn’t a single tackle that could have been considered as a yellow card.
This really was a great demonstration of how the game of rugby can be played with power and with aggression but also with discipline, and both sides should be applauded for that.
Given how the World Cup started with red cards galore, it’s a testament to the two best teams that they found ways to blow others off the park without having to spend time on the naughty step when it mattered.
Boks much more than a battering ram
South Africa were huge in the physical contest and their pack scrummaged England off the park, but don’t let that leave you thinking that the Springboks had a one-dimensional game plan.
When the chances presented themselves, the Springboks killed off their opponents with two tries that were executed with razor point precision and deft skill.
The chip ahead from Makazole Mapimpi and then the side step and finish from Cheslin Kolbe were both exquisite and highlighted two things.
Firstly, South Africa are much more a complete team than some people give them credit for. And secondly, that having genuine wingers is such a huge advantage compared to using utility players.
Handré Pollard is not in the same style of fly-half as say Beauden Barrett but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t still a threat with ball in hand and both in the semi-final and final, Pollard’s direct running and half breaks were crucial for the Boks.
Fairytales do exist
Faf de Klerk might have the hair of a Disney Prince, but that’s not the reason to now believe in fairytales.
When Siya Kolisi lifted the trophy high above his head a new story was written into the history books and one that could have an impact well beyond the boundaries of rugby.
In a post-match interview the Springboks skipper shared an emotional insight into his life when he commented that as a child all he was thinking about where he would be able to get his next meal.
Nothing so lofty as whether he might become a pro rugby player or challenge for a Springboks jersey, wear the skipper’s armband, and certainly not be crowned World Champion.
With rugby being a sport for so many more lucky and privileged people around the world, there is something very special about this South Africa win.
It’s not going to be some incredible solution to the problems the country faces, but it’s hard not to smile when you see Kolisi hold his child in one arm and the Webb Ellis trophy in the other.
Where now for English rugby?
England have played some fantastic rugby and were so close to becoming World Champions. Eddie Jones has done some good things with this team and there is obviously more that could be done.
Will England use this World Cup as a launching pad to go on and try and dominate the rugby world over the next few years?
Or will the heartbreak of getting so close and just missing have a negative effect that this playing group finds it impossible to recover from?
Jones was non-committal about his future in post-match interviews and there could be some interesting offers coming his way.
He’s been through some ups and downs with England over the past four years but has taken them to the heights of the game and shown that England can play the beautiful game in a beautiful way.
The challenge will be now can England learn how to do one of the hardest things in sport – change their game plan during a match when Plan A just isn’t working? There aren’t many sides who can do this consistently and effectively.
If England learn how then they could have a period in front of them where they dominate, especially when you consider they’ve got a lot of young players dotted throughout their first choice team.
The future of Rugby
Finally, what will the legacy of this 2019 Rugby World Cup be for players and fans alike around the world? It has been a fantastic tournament and the hosts have done so many things right both on and off the pitch.
If this momentum and success isn’t built and capitalised upon then it is a crime against the sport.
Tier Two nations clearly deserve more support and game time against their Tier One rivals and the major competitions need to find a way to work together more.
Various nations will be going back to their national unions and club competitions inspired by what has happened over the past few weeks, and let’s hope that the impact of a great tournament continued to ripple through the game over the coming months and years.