YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 21: Beauden Barrett of the All Blacks kicks the ball through during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on September 21, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

2019 has been a year to remember for rugby union lovers with a World Cup always making the normal season that extra bit special.

Japan were the hosts for the playing of the eighth edition of the World Cup and carried out their duties with the utmost distinction. Indeed, the world left the Land of the Rising Sun having been charmed by the locals, who made every effort to roll out the red carpet on each occasion for the thousands of visitors.

One of the lasting memories of this particular World Cup will certainly be the Japanese fans in the various stadiums, singing along with a sheet of paper in hand to the national anthems of the participating teams. A wonderful gesture that transcended rugby and illustrated the warmth of these remarkable people. The world stands in admiration of you Japan, Arigato.

As for the action on the field, the Springboks were victorious in the end as they won their third World Cup after beating England in a final that turned into a bit of a mauling. Few would have predicted that Rassie Erasmus’ men would have been able to sweep the Red Roses aside with such disdain after Eddie Jones’ men had thumped New Zealand only seven days previously. Maybe a team can peak too early but South Africa are no strangers to beating England in a final and deserve great credit for doing so. Once again we saw the power of rugby at work as South Africa’s World Cup win united a country in desperate need of hope.

Honourable mentions from the 2019 World Cup must go to the Japanese side for making the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. Uruguay also deserve a nod after beating Fiji and Namibia showed great courage and steady improvement despite being on the end of a few beatings.

On the other end of the spectrum, there should be genuine concern for Australia, who look a shadow of the team of yesteryear. Australia will hope new coach Dave Rennie can turn things around and make the Wallabies a force in world rugby again, needless to say, that will be an interesting story to watch unfold over 2020.

Ireland also flopped miserably and it’s unclear where the solution will come from for the men from the Emerald Isle given how uncertain the future looks. Their odds of 4/1 in rugby union betting to win the Six Nations flatter them, given how poor they looked during the World Cup. Like Australia, the Irish also have a new coach and that man is Andy Farrell who will be tasked with making sure the winds of change blow.

In many ways, it feels like 2019 has given us a glimpse into the future. Coming away from the World Cup, you can’t help but feel that the All Blacks’ legacy has finally crumbled with new superpowers emerging once again in the shape of the resurgent Springboks, tenacious Japanese and supremely talented England. The rest have a lot of work to do in order to re-establish themselves on the world stage.

And with that, the curtain falls on a World Cup year with the stadiums in Japan now hushed and empty with the William Webb Ellis trophy back in the rainbow nation. In the vague distance, France 2023 can just be seen but you can be sure that the New Year will bring with it meticulous planning for the next World Cup.