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Reflections on the World Cup

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4th November, 2019

I have to confess I did not watch the World Cup final live. That would have required time off work and a trip to the Irish Bar. All possible, of course. I’ve done it before, although I was unable to get either a seat or a beer during the 2011 decider.

My proud record of having seen every final to date was thus sacrificed upon the altar of duty and a desire for comfort which comes with age. Instead I followed the final on an internet match-tracker, then went home to watch Germany versus Poland via the ENC live-stream! The former won 35-15, incidentally.

Needless to add, my astonishment grew with every glance at the match-tracker. Like most other pundits I was fully expecting an English victory, after their ruthless dismantling of the mighty All Blacks in the semi-finals, while South Africa had struggled to put away Wales.

It would have done the game good for the trophy to return to the northern hemisphere again. This was the south’s eighth victory from nine tournaments. But somehow I’ve always had a soft spot for the Springboks.

I grew up in an era when South Africa was the most feared nation in world rugby. They had dominated the pre-World Cup era, with superior head-to-head records against all comers, including New Zealand, and achieved four grand slams before either the All Blacks or Wallabies had managed one.

For this reason I backed them against my home country in the 1995 World Cup final, as the victory confirmed the Springboks’ return to world-beating form after a period in isolation. Now that the racial integration of the sport in South Africa is making real progress, I support them even more.


A win for South Africa is a victory for the entire continent, of course, and the reports in the African press have been gushing in their praise of the Springboks – in particular the team’s first black captain, Siya Kolisi.

Siya Kolisi

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

In fact, one thing the Rugby World Cup does have over its football counterpart is that the event has now been won by teams from three continents – Oceania, Africa and Europe – whereas FIFA’s has only been won by teams from Europe and South America.

This was South Africa’s third title, equalling New Zealand. The Springboks have yet to lose a final, however, and have also managed to play three deciders without conceding a single try! Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe, meanwhile, scored the nation’s first ever tries in a final.

South Africa is the only underdog to have won the deciding match, having previously done so in 1995, albeit it as host nation. On Saturday they brought down the curtain on a marvelous tournament that had more than its share of surprises.

In a previous article I suggested Japan had saved the tournament from disaster by progressing to the quarter-finals with victories over Ireland, Scotland, Samoa and Russia. Judging by the feedback, some readers had misinterpreted this as a reference to the typhoons. But the reference was primarily about the failure of other second-tier nations to make a real impression.

The Brave Blossoms delivered, however, and by all accounts the tournament was an unqualified success, with drama aplenty from the group stages through to the final itself. Indeed, World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont described it as the “best ever.”

Japan celebrate their win over Scotland

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)


Meanwhile, a report in the Guardian has suggested the 2027 and 2031 hosts will be announced at the same time. It appears World Rugby wants an “emerging” country to host the tournament again, while the other World Cup will be a “cash cow” nation such as Australia or South Africa.

This could mean one of the latter in 2027, when the World Cup will surely return to the southern hemisphere, followed by the USA in 2031. Argentina should be in the mix, but aside from its current economic problems, it would need pairing with a northern hemisphere nation, as it is unlikely the event would head south of the equator twice in a row.

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RWC 2015 host England was also mentioned, while Russia has confirmed its interest in holding the 2027 edition. However, it is well known World Rugby is keen to stage the event in America. If the US were awarded the 2031 event, that would give them a decade or so to get their act together (sorely needed, judging by this year’s World Cup!).


The Guardian also suggests there will be an expansion to 24 teams, provided no significant change to the duration is involved. In a previous article advocating such a move I demonstrated that a six pool-tournament could actually be held in a slightly shorter time frame, with more games per round and no need for byes.

Of course, the onus will then be on World Rugby to make sure it has 24 competitive teams. A lot of work will need to be done to ensure the likes of Germany, Kenya, Hong Kong and Brazil aren’t hopelessly out of their depth against the top teams. Fixtures against tier-one nations will be required before they enter the cauldron.