Rugby World Cup 2015 best ever ?

The best World Cup ever? You bet your life it was. England 2015 was by some margin bigger and better than any of the previous seven World Cups, with stadiums packed to the rafters watching high quality rugby across the board as the two tier nation showed that they have narrowed the gap on their big brothers.

Perhaps the most telling indicator of how this World Cup caught the imagination of a global audience was the leap in TV viewing figures in Japan after they had beaten South Africa in Brighton — 800 000 for the Boks’ game to 25 million for their second-round match against Scotland.

It bodes well for the hosting of the event in the land of the Brave Blossoms where, after the victory against the Boks had caught the imagination of that country, goal-kicking hero fullback Ayumu Goromaru became a sporting hero over night for millions of children.

In leading the charge for the minnows, Japan won three of their four Pool games and missed out by a point on making the quarter-finals. The Japanese story was pretty much reflected in the improved showings of the other tier-two nations – they had foreign coaching staffs and many players were based in stronger, overseas-based competitions.

The “lesser” rugby nations came to England far better prepared, coached and conditioned than in previous World Cups.

Eddie Jones, the Japan coach, out-smarted Heyneke Meyer with his “ruck-and-run” rugby, as he put it. “It is the new rock and roll!” Jones added.

Another indication of the greater competiveness of the Pool stage was the vastly improved performance of South Africa’s country cousins, Namibia. In 2003, the hopelessly amateur Namibians lost 142-0 to Australia, this World Cup they lost with dignity to New Zealand, scoring a memorable try in their 58-14 defeat.

There were no major blow-outs in this event, as has been the case in previous World Cups. In fact the most number of points scored in a match was 64 — South Africa beat USA 64-0 and Argentina beat Namibia 64-19.

And the crowds turned out in their tens of thousands, no matter who was playing. It is a numbers game in England, which has the highest number of registered rugby players in the world and matching fan bases, while London is a short journey away for European fans. Thus we had 89 000 fans on consecutive weekends watching the Ireland v Romania and New Zealand v Argentina matches.

In all, 2.47 million tickets were sold across all 48 matches, including over 100 000 child tickets, with an average of 98 percent of tickets sold across all venues. Some 460 000 spectators were visitors from overseas.

In addition, close to 1.5 million fans watched games at the official Fanzones in host cities and especially at Trafalgar Square, where massive screens were erected around Nelson’s Column.

The final was enjoyed by an estimated audience of 120 million, the highest peak audience for a sporting event since the 2014 football World Cup.

There had been fears that the World Cup would lose momentum when England perished in the Pool of Death, but the event did not bat an eyelid. The fall-out over England’s demise in fact resulted in a media frenzy, with England coach Stuart Lancaster and captain Chris Robshaw being crucified for weeks on end and an official enquiry into the team’s under-performance will be launched this week.

Robshaw’s decision to take three points on offer from a penalty to draw their match against Wales and go for a try in the corner, which failed, caused an uproar that still has not fully diminished – a draw might have seen England through to the quarter-finals instead of Wales.

There were plenty of memorable matches, almost too many to mention, but for sheer drama one would have to single out 13-man Australia defending for their lives against Wales to hang on for a win, and for jaw-dropping enterprise, there was the astonishing performance from the Pumas in defeating favoured Ireland 43-20 in a quarter-final.

Wales were again on the wrong end of a dramatic match when the Springboks squeezed past them thanks to a moment of magic produced by Duane Vermeulen and Fourie du Preez six minutes from time.

The quarter-finals were of superb quality and when the dust had settled, it was the four Rugby championship sides that had advanced to the semi-finals. Not a Six Nations team in sight, and the British press launched days of enquiries into why there was a gap between Hemispheres.

One theory commonly advanced was that there is much better weather south of the equator, which encourages more innovative playing styles, and with the World Cup being played in September and October, the weather was mild and dry.

That was certainly true. The weather was mostly perfect. Less than a handful of matches were marred by rain. And for more than anybody else, the sun shone on the backs of the All Blacks. The world’s No 1 team and the back-to-back World Cup winners continuously set new benchmarks for the game and it is difficult to imagine them letting their standards drop between now and defending their title in Japan. A betting man would back them now for a hat-trick of titles.

by Mike Greenaway in London

ENDS

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