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Perfect Rugby World Cup tournament gets perfect ending

Siya Kolisi holds the Webb Ellis trophy aloft. Credit: PA

If you were designing the perfect Rugby World Cup in Japan, other than the hosts themselves winning, you probably couldn’t manufacture a better image to be left with than Siya Kolisi raising the Webb Ellis trophy.

It was impossible not see echoes of the Mandela final, when in 1995 the then president, wearing a Springbok jersey, handed over rugby’s ultimate prize to Francois Pienaar.

During the apartheid years the Springbok emblem came to symbolise the evil of white majority rule.

Mandela’s statement that day was brave, politically risky but ultimately a piece of genius.

At a time when the rainbow nation was a new concept, it prompted optimism that South Africa could develop as a peaceful and successful multi-racial society.

Nelson Mandela wore the Springboks' shirt during the 1995 final which South Africa won. Credit: PA

The South African team that won in 1995 fielded just one black player; compare that to Kolisi’s men who speak several different languages and come from a variety of backgrounds.

Some privileged, some like their black captain, from extreme poverty.

So, there has been progress.

The country may still suffer the same economic hardship; it has serious crime issues and corruption is endemic, but it also has Siya Kolisi, a man whose story is the embodiment of what is possible.

The South African team contained players from all walks of life. Credit: PA

Whenever a moment transcends the sport it is framed by, it is an opportunity for good and cause for celebration.

And this is one of those moments.

But Japan has served up many others in the past two months, maybe not as significant, but memorable nevertheless.

It was before the tournament even began that we were given an indication of just what type of hosts the Japanese might be.

Wales’ opening training session in Kitakyushu drew a crowd of 15,000 onlookers.

Not only that, they belted out a near word perfect version of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau which they had memorised.

Kamaishi, devastated by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, hosted Uruguay and Fiji.

It was a match that carried so much significance for this coastal city, flattened in the tragedy, losing more than 1,000 of its inhabitants.

Kamaishi was due to hold a second, but as Typhoon Hagibis ripped through the country, Canada against Namibia was called off.

Once the giant storm had passed through, Canada’s players took to the streets to help the local community with their clean-up operation.

A giant TV screen in Japan shows Canadian rugby players cleaning up after Hagibis. Credit: AP

They swept away mud and cleared debris; the spirit of rugby shining in the wake of tragedy.

Japan’s victory over Scotland to reach the quarter finals was another goosebumps moment, not least as the match was still in doubt some 12 hours before kick-off because of Hagibis’ terrible impact.

Somehow, they got the game on and the Brave Blossoms rewarded everyone with a thrilling brand of rugby that sent Scotland home and ensured they became the first ever Asian team to make the knock-out stages.

A staggering 55 million people watched the game on television in Japan.

Japan stunned the world to beat Scotland. Credit: AP

Rugby is not a major sport here but nevertheless the people threw themselves into this tournament; grounds were all but full to bursting at every game and likewise the fan zones.

When Japan weren’t playing, locals would adopt a team to support and come to the matches wearing a replica shirt and face paint.

The half time karaoke sessions within stadia on game days were something that should be compulsory at every ground in every sport across the globe from now on.

They have been both kind and enthusiastic hosts.

If the Japanese provided some of the most exciting, skilful and risk averse rugby of the tournament, England gave the best performance.

There is no question their crushing of New Zealand in the semi-final will stand the test of time.

England stunned to bat New Zealand in the semi-final. Credit: PA

It was as near perfect as is possible but may in the end have been their undoing.

Warren Gatland mischievously noted after England’s win, he’d be concerned that they’d played their final one game too soon.

Whatever the reasons, their showing on the biggest of days was as bad as they’d been outstanding the week before.

Maybe though that’s what the rugby Gods had always intended.