Although it might sound a wee bit biased to say so, it was perhaps the best result for international rugby that the All Blacks won the 2015 Rugby World Cup. While in fact, for the global game, it probably didn't matter whether New Zealand or Australia won the final match, it was certainly a fitting result for an All Blacks team which had dominated world rugby for the last four years.
What really mattered, however, was the fact that the two best teams in the tournament were present for rugby's showpiece game. As counterintuitive as it may seem, Rugby World Cup finals have not always been graced by the best teams in the game.
The importance of the final
Even the most die-hard fans of their countries would be hard-pressed to say that the 1999 & 2011 French teams, and the 2007 English team were in any way the best teams in the world in their respective eras, despite their participation in the final.
Often too, the teams that won these tournaments, while undoubtedly being the best, did not succeed through playing beautiful rugby.
The English team of 2003 was a smart, efficient, and ruthless rugby machine. But they were still not a team comfortable playing 15-man rugby.
In 2007, the Springboks built their victory on playing risk-free, defensive rugby. Rather than taking chances with the ball in hand, they accumulated most of their points through defensive pressure and capitalising on opposition mistakes. Whilst it was brutal and effective, it was not a wonderful advertisement for the game of rugby.
Even in 2011, the All Black team that beat the French in the final was not a team operating at the peak of its powers. While throughout the early stages of the tournament New Zealand played an excellent brand of rugby, by the time they got to the final they were a shell of the team that started the tournament.
Playing with a 4<sup>th-string Fly Half and a captain operating on one good leg, the All Blacks laboured to beat France 8-7 in the final, a victory built on sheer willpower above anything else.
This time round however, there has been no doubt that the two best teams, playing the best style of rugby, were present to contest the final in 2015.
The way the final played out reflected these facts. With a final score of 34-17, the 2015 final saw both the most points scored (51) and most tries scored (5) in any world cup final.
While it may have lacked the sheer drama and intensity of the finals in 1995 & 2003, from a spectator's point of view it was surely the best advertisement for the game.
The impact of RWC 2015
The reason why it is so important for the Rugby World Cup final to be played by the best teams, and in the best manner, is due to the inordinate influence it has (as well as the tournament as a whole) on shaping the game of rugby going forward into the future.
For a long time, particularly within the Northern Hemisphere, there has been a deep-seated belief that the way to win knockout rugby games is through a conservative, defence-oriented style of rugby. The Southern Hemisphere style, typified by an emphasis on high-tempo attacking rugby, was dismissed as soft, frivolous, and lacking any real substance. And to be fair, previous world cups have ultimately been dominated by defence and kicking.
However, the abject failure of the Northern Hemisphere nations at the 2015 World Cup (with no Northern Hemisphere teams making the semi-final stage of the tournament) has forced a major rethink in the way they play the game.
Amongst coaches, scribes, and fans up north, there has been a general acknowledgement that their playing philosophy is in major need of reform. Compared to their Southern Hemisphere counterparts, they are lacking in skills and imagination, obsessed with the weight-room rather than the tactical intricacies of the game.
While 2015 has been a painful experience for the Northern Hemisphere nations, it also affords them a huge opportunity to reform the way they play the game. Undoubtedly they have the athletic talent to compete at the highest level, but they are held back by the training and playing philosophies instilled in them by both club and country.
And this is by no means an unachievable goal. In the space of four years, Argentina have totally transformed their playing philosophy. Going from a style very much derivative of the Northern Hemisphere, they have committed to playing a style of rugby reminiscent of Australia and New Zealand.
And the results have been spectacular. Along with New Zealand, Argentina dominated the attacking statistics at this year's world cup, with more running metres and offloads than any other team at the tournament, and just trailing the All Blacks on the try-scoring tally*.
The 2015 Rugby World Cup has been widely regarded as the best ever (it is by far the most commercially successful). Hopefully, due to the manner in which the final was decided, it may have set the platform for an even better tournament in Japan in 2019.
*Statistics from Rugbyworldcup.com
Tim Newman lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. He holds an MA in History and is currently working as a ministry intern at Cornerstone Church.
Tim Newman's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-newman.html