Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes' Rugby World Cup talking points
Last Updated: 04/11/19 5:31pm
Sky Sports rugby union expert Stuart Barnes is back with his final Rugby World Cup talking points column following the conclusion of the tournament in Japan.
There is a look back on South Africa's win over England in Saturday's final, plus reflections on the tournament as a whole and the moments which stuck out.
Stuart also reveals his team of the tournament and gives his verdict on World Rugby's Player of the Year...
1. It looks as if Warren Gatland's final thought on England was bang on the money. England, so good against New Zealand in the semi-final, were a pale shadow in the final against a South African side whose set-piece basics put England on the back foot from the earliest moments of the match.
So accurate in so much of their game a week before, here Eddie Jones' team were inaccurate to the point of reckless. Passes flew in all directions, there were dropped balls and knock-ons - you name it.
England were not as bad as they were brilliant in the semi-final, but against an organised South African team they were nowhere near good enough.
2. So credit to the South Africans, their captain, Siya Kolisi, and head coach, Rassie Erasmus. As the captain waited to step forward for the trophy lift, television cameras focused on the two men in discussion.
I would like to think the black Springboks captain wanted to share the moment of the lift with his white coach in a display of racial unity.
And I would like to think that Erasmus refused, understanding the galvanising power of sport - if only for a brief period of time - and told his captain to claim the deserved headlines for a united South Africa.
3. Defence wins World Cups. I tipped South Africa in these columns, my newspaper columns, and everywhere else in the weeks leading up to the World Cup itself.
The early loss to the All Blacks did not put me off them, but the scruffy nature of their semi-final win against a ravaged-looking Wales, when contrasted with the England demolition of New Zealand, did the damage and I deserted my instinctive sense that this was set to be South Africa's year.
That makes World Cup wins for the Springboks in 1995, 2007 and now 2019. I don't care much for things like the 12-year factor, but I do care for the fact that in three finals, in four hours and 20 minutes of rugby, the Springboks are yet to concede a try.
As I said, defence wins World Cups and it takes one hell of an exception to break that rule. On Saturday, England were nowhere near that exception.
4. Are South Africa the best team in the world after winning the final? Given their record against the All Blacks in recent years, you know they are there or thereabouts - but this is a tournament which rewards competition rugby, not the year in, year out grind of the Test game.
The Springboks beat England; England beat New Zealand; New Zealand beat the Springboks and Wales themselves lost just the one game, to South Africa. It's a cup format so, while no one can question the right for South Africa to be called world champions, it is tough to categorically say they are the world's best.
5. Now call me old fashioned, if you will, but wasn't it something to see a game of rugby where scrums were so much more than a means of restarting the game.
The set piece was the very foundation of the Springboks' win. Not only did they force penalties and many points from England at the scrum, they put Eddie Jones' men into a retreat that sometimes looked panicky.
Just when we thought England were ready for anything, they capitulated against the South African scrum. The 6-2 split of forwards and backs on the replacement bench was an unadorned statement of intent to which England's answer was utterly unconvincing.
6. Where now for England and Eddie? He was chosen to deliver the World Cup and, on those terms, he failed.
Yet to knock out New Zealand in what was the outstanding tactical performance of the competition is hardly the mark of a failed campaign. From the first pool match to the final, England played with a certainty that fooled many of us.
Jones, as Australia coach, pulled off a masterstroke to coach the Wallabies to victory against the All Blacks in 2003. He did likewise this year and, likewise, lost the final. Maybe the head coach has too great an obsession with the wonderful rugby land of New Zealand.
7. Wonderful rugby country that it is, New Zealand has given way to South Africa as the most successful team in the nine tournament history of the World Cup.
The sport's two great traditional powers have three titles each to their credit but South Africa, rightfully absent in 1987 and 1991 because of the country's abhorrent apartheid system, have won three titles in just seven attempts. They have also won twice away from home, whereas New Zealand have two home wins, so are without doubt the leading World Cup force.
8. My moments of the tournament? I was touched to see the tears of joy after Uruguay's victory against a Fijian team who made an awful error in resting too many first-team men.
It paled into insignificance next to Japan's achievements in beating Ireland and Scotland before losing to the eventual winners in the quarter-finals.
The manner in which South Africa were made to defend in the first 40 minutes of the tie tells much about the excellence of Japan, but the way in which the Springboks closed out the match in the second half was the stuff of champions.
9. Here's my team of the tournament: Beauden Barrett; Cheslin Kolbe, Timothy Lafaele, Damian De Allende, Semi Radradra; Handre Pollard, Aaron Smith; Stephen Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Kyle Sinckler, Eben Etzebeth, Maro Itoje, Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Sam Underhill, Duane Vermeulen.
10. When World Rugby announced their shortlist for player of the year, I could not help but think it was not the wisest of lists. USA front row Joe Taufete'e was in there to keep the American market interested, despite their pretty average showings in the pool stages.
Eventual winner Pieter-Steph Du Toit has been outstanding all season, through South Africa's Rugby Championship success to the World Cup lift, and he is probably the most deserving recipient.
But I was hoping the award would go to the electric feet and engaging personality of Cheslin Kolbe.
The way he left Owen Farrell clutching at thin air was the coronation moment in the final, while he made himself a hero in France with his dazzling performances for Toulouse.
It is four years until the next World Cup, where Toulouse is set to be one of the host cities. Good luck to France, well done South Africa and congratulations to Japan for their efforts in 2019. As Roy Orbison sang, it's over.