With the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, it was evident that this tournament would be exceptional, providing hours of excitement. Nothing, however, could prepare us for the drama, suspense and shock that has been created in the tournament thus far.
The World Cup tournament was opened by Japan, kick-starting the first game against Russia. Without any doubt, the world expected the hosting country to secure a win easily, but this assumption was put to question by the Russians when they were awarded the first try within the starting minutes of the match. This was but a small indication of how many “shocks” were still to be expected throughout the tournament.
All though Russia dominated the first few minutes, Japan regained their confidence and recovered fiercely, winning that match which proved to be a significant win for them. This wave of confidence carried them further into the tournament, leading to more excitement.
The same could not be said of the Springboks, who left the field with their tails between their legs after being defeated by New Zealand with a score of 23-13. This listless performance was out of character and caused great concern amongst the South African supporters. Throughout the course of the tournament, their performance bettered and scores accumulated, encouraging renewed faith in our Bok squad.
The games played by the smaller countries were quite spectacular and caused their own upsets within the rugby world. One of the firsts was Uruguay’s close but sure triumph over Fiji with a score of 30-27. This was cause for more excitement and once again hinted that this World Cup would be exceptional and still provide many interesting and unexpected turns.
Expectations grew for the group game between Japan and Ireland. The Irish dominated their first group match against the Scots without effort, with an end score of 27-3. Ireland became a quick favourite to be crowned the victor of the tournament and experts speculated that a win against Japan would be just as effortless for the Irish. But once again, the tournament took an unexpected turn when Japan rose to the occasion, beating Ireland 19-12. The world of rugby was on fire and spectators followed the tournament with renewed interest.
The next big match was between Wales and Australia. The game was the deciding factor which would determine the winner of the group, as well as the play-offs the following week. The Red Dragons were declared the victor with an end score of 29-25 which caused a few frowns concerning the quality of rugby played by Australia.
The following group match was the historical match in which Japan beat Samoa and for the first time, they went through to the play-offs. This match attracted a world record amount of spectators which amounted to more than 65 million. The wonder of sport once again resonated and with so many spectators whose hearts were beating with warmth for Japan, they triumphed over Samoa with ease, ensuring their win with a score of 38-19. The match, characterised by its awesome tries, will be replayed in recollections of anyone who witnessed it in the years to come. It was confirmed: Japan would be known as the team who stole the hearts of all spectators in the 2019 World Cup.
A further unexpected happening hit Japan in full force. This time, it was not from the sporting world, but rather the strongest typhoon to hit Japan in 50 years. Causing damage and havoc wherever it hit, it was the first time in history that World Cup matches had to be cancelled. A cancellation threatened the game scheduled between Japan and Scotland, and with some luck it was not affected after all. The pressure was on. If Japan lost this match, all of their hard work and impressive performances would have been wasted because this match could potentially push them out of the tournament. But the opposite happened and Japan was not just the victor of the match, but the winning team of their group with an end score of 28-21. With this, Japan qualified to go through to their first ever play-offs in a Rugby World Cup.
The eight teams playing against each other in the play-offs of the 2019 World Cup were: Japan vs South Africa, England vs Australia, Wales vs France and New Zealand vs Ireland. As expected, these matched provided spectacular moments. After England and New Zealand beat their opponents with confident scores of respectively 40-6 and 46-14, the focus once again turned to Japan. Although supporters were cautious of the team that beat South Africa in 2015, the Springboks showed their steel and Japan’s wave of confidence came to a crushing end, destroying their dreams by beating them 26-3. Predictions of rugby experts were accurate, except for yet another upset hitting the rugby world when France lost their nail-biting match against Wales. The French received a red card in the 48th minute, causing them to lose the battle against their fierce opponents. With this, the semi-finals were set and England were to play against New Zealand, and South Africa against Wales during the following weekend.
The semi-finals provided more surprises. The top four teams were there for a reason and bookies naturally assumed that New Zealand would be playing the final for the 3rd consecutive time. But England’s coach, Eddie Jones, devised a different plan. With an almost faultless performance full of hard tackles and pure tactics, England surprised the All Blacks completely. They were clinical and accurate in their execution of their game plan and defended like fearless warriors, not giving New Zealand the slightest chance to gain momentum. When the whistle announced the end of the game, the score was 19-7, and Steve Hansen and the team’s dream to raise the infamous “Bill” were shattered.
The second semi-final was played on Sunday between South Africa and Wales. This match was less appealing and at times reminded of a Wimbledon tennis match with the ball being kicked form side to side. Both teams played in a similar style, trying to put their opponents under pressure and keep them there, trying to capitalise on mistakes. South Africa’s forwards were an important factor and kept Wales under constant pressure in the set phases and on defense. It was a nail-biting victory for the Springboks with 19 points against 16.
With the final two matches being played in less than a week, we learnt that anything could happen in this tournament. Will New Zealand lift their heads and send Wales home without a bronze medal, or does Wales still have a trick up their sleeves? Can the Springbucks up their game and win the World Cup for the third time, or is England a step ahead?
Who would have guessed that we, always the underdogs, who had lost against the All Blacks within the past two years with a points’ difference of over 50 on two separate occasions, would be playing in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final? Once again, rugby is the force uniting our nation, letting us stand together as one. 23 green jerseys will represent us on the field, but behind them is many a patriot backing our boys in their battle. We are looking forward to the final. Stand up for the champions, stand up for the Boks!