Rugby World Cup: Gerry Thornley's best and worst moments, top five tries and more
Japan’s high-tempo rugby was thrilling while Ireland’s exit was low point of tournament
Japan players celebrate their victory over Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama. The home side’s daring, energetic, high-tempo rugby thrilled all spectators. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images
The enthusiasm, warmth, hospitality and friendliness of the people and the diversity of Japan’s cultures, its sights and sounds, Tokyo’s amazing fish markets, the temples, the parks, the infrastructure and, of course, the ever-dependable trains, and not least its night life, made for a memorable tournament.
The narrow alleyways and tiny bars of the Golden Gai had to be seen to be believed, and likewise, after a month-long build up to Halloween, the 100,000 or so in costumes who descended upon the famous Shibuya Crossing. You name it, they wore it, and many more you would never have considered.
And with each of Japan’s victories the public seemed to embrace the tournament more and more.
Typhoon Hagibis was the 19th typhoon of the season and estimated to be the most devastating typhoon to hit the Kanto region since 1958. It caused widespread damage across Japan and as of October 20th at least 86 people were confirmed dead and eight others went missing.
It kind of put two cancelled rugby matches in perspective and the organisers weren’t helped by the rainy season enduring, unusually, until mid-October. Even so there didn’t seem to be much in the way of contingency plans and due to the cancellation of the England-France and New Zealand-Italy games, the 2019 World Cup will always have an asterisk against its name.
Although Japan’s win over Ireland coloured our perspective, there’s no doubt their daring, energetic, high-tempo rugby thrilled not just home fans and for pure undiluted unwavering fun, their thriller with a like-minded Scotland, who died with their boots on, lifted the senses.
After the All Blacks’ high-calibre game with the Boks on the opening weekend, it was Ireland’s misfortune to run into them on their best of days, before England unforgettably wrenched the trophy from their grasp.
Ireland’s exit, most obviously, and some of the fallout from it, was top of this tree. It was sad to see such a high-achieving group of players and management give their all for such an anti-climactic departure.
Other lows were the Sebastien Vahaamahina red card, after France had shown up, but Scotland didn’t, nor did Argentina and, to an extent, Australia, while the Pacific Islands, collectively, probably had their worst World Cup.
Top five tries of the tournament
1. TJ Perenara (New Zealand) v Namibia
Yes, it was the last play of the match and the score was 65-9 so it was hardly the most meaningful, but it did have the most breathtaking combination of skills. Replacement scrumhalf Brad Weber fed Ben Smith as first receiver inside the All Blacks who moved it left to TJ Perenara, now playing in the unfamiliar role of outhalf.
Perenara side-stepped two players in making it to half-way, then dummied a third before offloading to George Bridge while falling to the deck. From the recycle, Rieko Ioane sniped and popped the ball to Weber who ran and flicked a right-handed offload behind his back to Perenara on his outside. Despite being thumped over the touchline by Obert Nortje and Helarius Kisting, Perenara somehow touched down with his left hand, which was the only part of his body still in play as he did so. Wow!
2. Manu Tuilagi (England) v New Zealand
From the game’s first lineout on 42 seconds, Jamie George hits Courtney Lawes at the front and Tuilagi trucks it up the middle. Tom Curry, one off, carries hard to the next ruck. From quick ball, two passes finds Elliot Daly, who beats Richie Mo’unga and offloads to Anthony Watson, who beats another two.
The playmakers, George Ford and Owen Farrell switch play from right to the left, where Daly skip passes to George on the left touchline. He beats another two. From the next recycle, Lawes shows soft hands to Kyle Sinckler, who pivots in the tackle and offloads to Ford. He pulls the ball back for the charging Mako Vunipola. Lawes takes Ben Youngs’ pass to set up another ruck over the gain line, from where Tuilagi picked up and dived over.
There was just one minute and 36 seconds on the clock. In seven high-tempo phases, every English player contributed and 11 of them handled. The All Blacks had been hit by a white bullet train. They were never allowed to recover.
It was England’s ninth try in the opening 10 minutes of their 14 Tests this year. Some statement of intent.
3. Charles Ollivon (France) v Wales
There were just seven minutes gone and this quarter-final was scoreless when Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack shifted ruck ball on to Virimi Vakatawa. He stepped Josh Navidi and offloaded out of the tackle back to Ntamack on his inside. He in turn passed inside to the supporting Dupont, who drew a tackle from Liam Williams and passed inside to Ollivon, and the flanker galloped in under the posts unopposed. Some statement of intent too, and so French. Alas, so too was Sebastien Vahaamahina’s red card and their one-point defeat.
4. George Bridge (New Zealand) v South Africa
For the best part of 22 minutes, the Springboks had thrown the proverbial kitchen sink at the All Blacks before one break-out led to Mo’unga drawing the sides level at 3-all. From the restart, George Bridge reclaimed an Aaron Smith box kick and from a midfield recycle, spotting the Boks were pushing up but short of numbers, Mo’unga crosskicked to Sevu Reece on the right touchline.
He gathered and accelerated away as if on jet heels from Makazole Mapimpi, before finding Smith who drew a tackle before Ardie Savea charged onto his pass. Smith effected the clear out too. Ryan Crotty stepped in at the base, and one pass later Beauden Barrett spotted an inviting gap between Eben Etzebeth and Frans Malherbe to accelerate though and offload for the supporting Bridge to score.
The All Blacks at their brilliant best.
5. Cobus Reinach (South Africa) v Canada
From inside his own 22, outhalf Elton Jantjies didn’t so much cross kick as kick pass to winger Warrick Gelant on the right touchline. Gelant gathered, beat DTH van der Merwe and raced over half-way line where Damian de Allende provided the link to send scrumhalf Cobus Reinach scampering in under the posts to complete a hat-trick inside the opening 20 minutes.