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World Cup takeaways: The Offside Line’s take on what we learned from Japan 2019

South Africa scrum-half Faf de Klerk (who was arguably player of the tournament) is ecstatic as he celebrates scoring a try under the posts to extend his team's lead to 16-3 against host nation Japan in the quarter-final. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

South Africa scrum-half Faf de Klerk (who was arguably player of the tournament) is ecstatic as he celebrates scoring a try under the posts to extend his team's lead to 16-3 against host nation Japan in the quarter-final. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

AS the sun sets on the 2019 Rugby World Cup, five of The Offside Line’s contributors have their say on what they made of the tournament.




Japan did a huge service to rugby in defeating both Scotland and Ireland and hopefully their inspirational style will be a template for other countries to adopt (Scotland?). But, when it came to the crunch, size mattered, as the Japanese found to their cost in the quarter final against South Africa. And notably when they were marched backwards some 40 meters by an unstoppable Springbok maul.  It mattered too in the final where England’s bulldozers could not stop South Africa’s bulldozers. 



The starting point of any examination of the whole sorry episode must surely start by looking at World Rugby’s lack of contingency planning, before worrying about how the the SRU reacted.










New Zealand were on an 18-match winning streak at World Cups going into their semi-final and had already beaten South Africa in their opening game of this tournament, but they were made to look ordinary by England’s razor-sharp accuracy combined with breath-taking ferocity, and ultimately finished a distant second in that contest.

It felt at that point like we had witnessed an epoch shaping event from an England team ready to take the game to a new level. For once, the pre-match hype south of the border leading up the final seemed to be proportionate, but South Africa – solid but unspectacular since that opening weekend defeat to the All Blacks – had other ideas.

They met fire with fire and in the end were worthy winners on Saturday with plenty to spare.



My wife and I were supposed to be meeting friends from Scotland but had got ourselves lost. We asked a woman in the street, showing her on our phone, where we were trying to get to. (All Japanese learn English at high school so many of them can speak as much English as me and you, probably, speak French.) She didn’t just tell us where to go, she took us to the right street, made sure we got the right bar and then joined us for a beer inside before heading home with a tale to tell her patient husband. Later that evening we were joined by a Japanese friend I have known for quite a long time but not especially well. He joined us for food and drink before picking up the tab for four foreigners, two of whom he had never met in his life.

Note to self, be more helpful to all those foreign visitors during the Edinburgh Festival.

It was much the same throughout the tournament and everyone who was there has their own little version of the above story to tell. Everywhere you went people would bend over backwards to help, show, explain, translate and generally make life a lot easier for us ‘gaijin’. This even extended to the underground where the wrong ticket would often be waved through, if only because God simply didn’t make enough time to explain to every foreigner what they needed to know.

With bar prices prohibitively expensive, my abiding memory if RWC’19 was rugby fans congregating outside the local 7-11’s where cans of beer could be had for cheap. When the food outlets were mobbed in the early matches the Japanese allowed fans to bring in their own food, a courtesy that soon expanded to drink as well since the nice people on the gate were far too polite to ever check your bag properly.

The Tokyo Olympics are going to be a blast, if the opportunity arises then grab it with both hands, but it is not obvious we can say the same thing about RWC’23 which is, of course, in France.



Scotland’s squad of 31 did not have strength in depth to compete in RWC.  The reason for this is the small base of players from which the squad is selected. That then raises the question of how to increase this base. Would a third pro team do the trick? Or will Super Six raise the playing standard sufficiently to produce more players capable of performing in international rugby?  The problem is much more deep rooted and is about increasing numbers in age-grade rugby. A small number of independent schools do a very good job of producing top players but what Scotland has to do is to tap into the enormous potential within the 95% of youngsters educated in the state sector, most of whom play rugby through the club system. That’s for Murrayfield to find solutions but it could also be in the hands of a Scottish Government seeking to increase participation in active sport. 


Rugby World Cup 2019 in photos




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