Hail and farewell to the captains and the kings of the Rugby World Cup

The e-mail from the tournament organisers dropped yesterday with the usual hyperbole about what a great job they had done. And for once, you could not find fault with the declaration from World Rugby that England 2015 had been the sport’s biggest and best World Cup.
Hail and farewell to the captains and the kings of the Rugby World Cup

Record attendances, compelling competition and a whopping £80 million (€112m) surplus are difficult claims to argue with and it is a pleasure to report that personal experience actually confirms that such declarations are no overstatement.

Of course, this reporter might have had a different opinion crammed on a London to Cardiff express the morning of Ireland versus France, or been told the last train home to the Welsh valleys from the pool of death tussle with old foes England was to leave Twickenham at half-time. But one can only call it as one felt it and this World Cup was a tournament for the ages.

Let’s get the figures out there before we go any further. Attendances over the six-week, 48-game rugby jamboree totalled 2,474,584, with Ireland’s Wembley meeting against Romania attracting a World Cup record 89,267 crowd.

A sell-out stadium of 80,125 was at Twickenham on Saturday to see New Zealand crowned champions having beaten Australia 34-17 in a final watched by estimated 120 million worldwide television audience.

The tournament generated 1.6 million train journeys and 1.4 million road users, some of whom may even have reached their destination by the time the 2016 Six Nations begins but at least, hopefully, they were witness to some of the most enthralling contests seen at a Rugby World Cup.

From the bravura displayed by Japan to beat South Africa on the opening weekend to the All Blacks’ epic run to retaining the Webb Ellis Cup, this World Cup has had no equal and even Ireland, poor battered Ireland, played its part.

Ironically, the spine-tingling defeat of France in the Pool D finale proved to be the death knell for Joe Schmidt’s Six Nations champions, costing his side the services of Paul O’Connell, Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony and the suspended Sean O’Brien for the quarter-final against Argentina the following weekend. But for one glorious Sunday in Cardiff, Ireland were the bee’s knees, lifting a nation’s hearts back home and providing the Welsh capital with one of its biggest paydays thanks to its hoteliers’ exploitation of tens of thousands of Irish supporters and their willingness to pay any price to be present. None who present under the Millennium roof that afternoon will forget the way the Welsh national stadium was transformed into a deafening corner of Ireland, yet the same memories and hearing problems will have been etched on the minds and ears of Wales and England fans present on an equally famous night at Twickenham.

How the tournament deserved their presence during a final played out with blood and fire on the pitch but decidely lacking in passion in the stands, the muted and sporadic chants of All Blacks and Wallabies fans barely doing justice to the titanic efforts of the players they were nominally supporting. One, alas, can only imagine the atmosphere an Ireland v England final would have generated.

That the Six Nations sides, Scotland and Wales excepted, provided the biggest disappointments of this wonderful tournament is a massive shame and sitting on top of the miserabilist tree looking down on the French, Italians and Irish, are undoubtedly the hosts.

But credit should go to the English public who maintained their support for the World Cup long after Chris Robshaw and his troops had slunk back to their clubs.

It may have been all too predictable but they did not fail to delight and the tournament got the champions it deserved. For that we will be grateful.

And so to the future. The pool stages showed us that the gap is closing between the haves and have nots in the game. The 100-point drubbings are no more and tier-two and three teams need further exposure to the big beasts of world rugby.

And while we are saying goodbye to some of the all-time greats, and worrying what the impact of the arrival of the likes of Ma’a Nonu at Toulon, Will Genia to Stade Francais and Dan Carter at Racing Metro will have on the Champions Cup ambitions of the Irish provinces, let us toast the emergence of a new generation of stars over the last six weeks. Of Argentina’s Santiago Cordero and Nicolas Sanchez, the tournament’s leading points scorer; of South Africa’s young midfield axis of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel, New Zealand backs Nehe Milner-Skudder and Beauden Barrett, Japan’s Ayumu Goromaru and Ireland’s own Iain Henderson.

We could gripe about trains, Cardiff hotels and poor refereeing but if England 2015 has taught us anything, the game is in good hands and playing it the right way – to win rather than with a fear of failure – earns its rewards, Long live the new kings.

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