Rugby World Cup 2019: Why Japan can surpass South Africa 1995 as the greatest tournament ever

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How will Japan 2019 come to be remembered in 10 or twenty years’ time? Will it be the tournament that gripped the world by what the hosts achieved? Or the one where World Rugby were put through their biggest test yet in having to cancel typhoon-affected games? It could also be remembered for the tournament that finally opened up the top of the game to more than just one or two competitors.

But hopefully the last six weeks will come to be remembered for much, much more than that.

In terms of what the World Cup will do for the game, Japan 2019 could prove the most important of the lot – bigger than South Africa 1995 which until now has been the benchmark for all other hosts. It takes something special to surpass the moment Nelson Mandela handed Francois Pienaar the Webb Elis Cup after the Springboks’ victory over the All Blacks 24 years ago, but on Saturday we witnessed exactly that as Siya Kolisi became the third South Africa to hoist the famous trophy into the air – and crucially the first black Springboks captain to do so.

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It was far more than a fairy tale story given what Kolisi has been through to get to the biggest stage in the sport, but then that is not why this tournament should be remembered as an all-time great. The obvious answer would be to praise the Japanese hospitality given how warm the reception was for foreign fans in the Land of the Rising Sun, but then that happens in South Africa and France too.

But there is something else, something far bigger for the greater good of the game. 2019 could finally be the catalyst to abolish the dreaded term ‘tier two’.

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