In terms of the atmosphere and the action on the pitch, Japan 2019 has been acclaimed by many as the best Rugby World Cup yet.
Here, we take a look at some of the tournament’s seminal moments.
Cheslin Kolbe’s dancing feet
South Africa’s strength lies in the sum of their parts, not any one individual. But if you had to highlight one player who lifted his game to superstar status in Japan it’s diminutive winger, Cheslin Kolbe. In the same class as Jason Robinson and Shane Williams, Kolbe terrorised opposition defences in Japan and shimmied and stepped his way over for three tries, including one in the final. He also scored a brace against Italy and was denied what would have been a breathtaking try against the All Blacks by Richie Mo’unga’s superb cover tackle.
Gaminara’s tears of joy
The most wonderful occasion saw Uruguay overturn a nine-place World Rugby Men’s Rankings differential with a stirring 30-27 victory against Fiji. That it took place in a city (Kamaishi) rocked to its core by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake made it all the more poignant.
The match was easily the best of Los Teros’ three Rugby World Cup wins, eclipsing the ones against Spain (1999) and Georgia (2003). In the end, it was all too much for their captain and flanker, Juan Manuel Gaminara, who broke down in tears as he was interviewed afterwards. “I’m really proud of my country,” a choked Gaminara said with the flag of his country draped around his shoulders. “We are not the biggest, we are not the tallest, but we came here to win.”
Josh Adams’ hat-trick
There were far more heralded wingers than Josh Adams going into RWC 2019, but the Cardiff Blues flyer eclipsed them all in a tournament where he finished as top try-scorer.
Adams was only 18 months into his test career when Wales began their campaign, but he scored seven in Wales’ six matches, including a game-changing hat-trick against Fiji that showed his full array of skills. Wales were trailing 10-0 when Adams climbed highest to catch a crossfield kick for their first try. It prompted a stirring comeback which gained further momentum when he held his width like all good wingers to stroll home for his second. The making of his third was every bit as good as the finish, Jonathan Davies’ offload giving him just about enough time and space to squeeze in the corner.
Four other players scored hat-tricks at Japan 2019 – Kotaro Matsushima, Julian Montoya, Cobus Reinach and George Horne – but Adams’ was the most impactful.
A drop of class from Lopez
Camille Lopez loves a drop goal – he is one of only three players to kick one in the Heineken Champions Cup this season – and anyone who witnessed his match-winning effort for France against Argentina in Japan last year will understand why.
In an encounter between two evenly-matched sides that was likely to be pivotal to either of the teams’ chances of progressing to the knockout stages, Argentina looked set for a winning start in Pool C only for Lopez to strike the sweetest of drop goals from all of 38 metres out to win the match, 23-21.
TJ Perenara started and finished a brilliant blindside try – later named IRPA Try of the Year at the World Rugby Awards 2019 – in the All Blacks’ 71-9 win against Namibia, but the move will always be remembered for the other-worldly, behind-the-back, reverse no-look pass from fellow replacement Brad Weber. It was the All Blacks’ 11th try of the match, but they had definitely saved their best until last.
Inagaki cuts loose
It’s doubtful that a loose-head prop has ever scored a better try than the one Keita Inagaki scored in Japan’s historic 28-21 victory over Scotland. Inagaki’s 25th-minute try came off the back of four sublime offloads in the opposition 22 and epitomised the high-octane running rugby that was a hallmark of the Brave Blossoms’ breathless play that took them to the quarter-finals for the first time.
An emotional embrace between Christian Lealiifano and his young son at the end of Australia’s quarter-final defeat to England was another tear-jerking moment from a tournament when emotions ran high.
The fly-half’s presence was remarkable for the fact that just over three years earlier he’d been diagnosed with leukaemia and had undergone a bone-marrow transplant and chemotherapy before staging his remarkable comeback.
In a similar vein, Nasi Manu received a standing ovation from those in the stadium in Sapporo when he took to the field for Tonga’s opening game against England after battling his way back from cancer.
England’s semi-final win over the All Blacks
Some thunderous tackles from the likes of Maro Itoje, Sam Underhill – who also had a try disallowed – and Tom Curry, on top of some smart attacking play, saw England end the All Blacks’ unbeaten record in the tournament at the semi-final stage.
The double reigning champions had gone 12 years and 18 tournament matches without defeat dating back to the RWC 2007 quarter-final, but were well beaten by an England side that lifted their game to another level on the day.
Kolisi creates history
For many people, Siya Kolisi lifting the Webb Ellis Cup aloft at the International Stadium Yokohama on 2 November was an even more unifying moment than when former president Nelson Mandela presented the trophy to Francois Pienaar 24 years earlier.
South Africa’s first black captain created history in leading the Springboks’ most diverse squad yet to victory and nobody would have taken greater pleasure from that moment than Mandela himself had he been there to witness it.
Take a bow, Japan
At the end of every match, teams took onboard Japanese culture and bowed to all four corners of the ground to acknowledge the fantastic support and welcome they’d received from locals.
In all 12 RWC 2019 venues, the Japanese public fully embraced the tournament, although Rugby World Cup fever reached another level in Kitakyushu where 15,000 fans turned up just to watch Wales train. A rousing rendition of the Welsh national anthem, Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land Of My Fathers), left former Wales captain Ryan Jones to proclaim: “I’ve never seen anything like it”.
Read more: Rugby World Cup 2019: One year on