Both on and off the field, Rugby World Cup 2015 succeeded in raising standards.
The All Blacks became the best team in the game’s history by becoming the first to retain the trophy and, in doing so, playing a brand of rugby better than anything we’ve seen.
And England (with a little bit of Wales) put on a tournament that has been widely trumpeted as the best so far.
Stadiums were packed, fan zones were vibrant and the smaller grounds in particular added a great amount of colour and passion to the matches they hosted. Kingsholm was jumping out of its skin when Argentina played Georgia there.
What can Japan 2019 do to outstrip England 2015?
For the first time, the tournament is visiting a developing rugby nation. It has never stepped outside of its core of powerhouse nations when looking for a host, and so 2019 is already breaking new ground in that respect.
The next hosts have already had to negotiate a bump in the road with the change in venue for the opening and final matches.
It was all supposed to take place at a new 80,000-seater stadium being built for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but that plan was torn up, per the Daily Mail. We will now kick off in a 50,000-seat arena, and the final will be played at the 72,000 capacity Yokohama stadium.
That crease having been ironed out, the Land of the Rising Sun can move forward with plans to host the oval ball world in four years’ time, but how can a tournament that has just set itself a new definition of "best ever," raise the bar again?
1. Be more competitive
This applies to both ends of the rugby spectrum. We saw Japan strike a mighty blow for their own rugby future by beating the Springboks and winning a further two games in the pool.
We need more nations from their level to do the same. Georgia are itching to take a major scalp; Samoa and Tonga are capable, and yet they seldom deliver on the potential their talented players possess.
Fiji were unlucky to be in a horribly difficult pool. These are the teams who can find it within themselves to bloody a Tier One nose or two, and only with more regular fixtures against them will results like Japan’s in Brighton become more frequent.
Up at the top table, we also need to see two or three nations mount a credible challenge to New Zealand. The All Blacks are going to shed a lot of experience, with Richie McCaw (probably), Dan Carter, Keven Mealamu, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith all departing the international scene.
There is every chance their successors will be just as good in four years’ time, but this changing of the guard also represents an opportunity for the others to chase them down.
2. The north must right the ship
As entertaining as this tournament was, seeing no northern hemisphere sides make it past the quarter-finals means we have something of a lopsided world order at present.
England and France, with all their riches and deep stocks of players, need to get their houses in order for 2019 if they want to rattle some southern hemisphere cages.
Wales need better luck with injuries, and Scotland must stay true to the upward curve they seem to have set out on. Ireland must regenerate and trust their system to bring through some fresh blood.
And what of Italy? Where is the progress for the Azzurri since they came into the Six Nations? Sure, they have slowly picked off results against off-colour sides in the old championship, but the line on the graph has not steadily risen in the decade-and-a-half that they’ve been eating at the top table.
Compare their progress to that of Argentina. Enough said.
We need a more even-handed World Cup with at least one side from north of the equator capable of mixing it with the members of the Rugby Championship.
3. Give us a plate tournament
Once the pool stages were over, we waved goodbye to Japan, Georgia, Romania and the rest, when we really could have done with seeing a bit more of them.
The tournament becomes strung-out during the knockout rounds, with fans starved of midweek action.
If the third–and fourth–placed teams in Japan 2019 were then entered into a plate competition played in midweek, it would give us more rugby to enjoy, give those teams more exposure to seldom-seen opponents and boost the coffers of World Rugby, who would then have more money to plough into developing the game.
The Telegraph's Brian Moore laid out his own, detailed proposal for the idea, stating:
Until the last two tournaments these games might have been of questionable quality but that is no longer the case. When you bear in mind how well the Tier 2 teams played in the pool games, you can see from the prospective plate draw that these games would be well worth watching.
4. Give teams equal rest
It was not fair to make Fiji play England and Australia in four days, nor to make Japan play South Africa and Scotland in the same time period.
It is not beyond the brain power of the schedulers to sort these issues out, and it needs doing. The Guardian's Robert Kitson has already figured out a workable plan:
You do not even require high-tech gadgets. To formulate a schedule which is not just equitable but allows everyone at least six days between games is relatively easy. It simply means scheduling no fixtures on the first three days of any given week. Instead the pool matches would all take place between Thursday and Sunday: two apiece on Thursday and Friday, four on Saturday and two more on Sunday. Where is the problem with that?
Japan, with a full week’s rest, may not have suffered the dip in energy that allowed Scotland to run riot in the latter stages of their contest in Pool B, and Fiji would surely have given Australia a better run for their money had they been fully recovered from rattling England’s cage.
Equal rest will result in a higher number of close games, sending the entertainment factor ever-higher.
5. A strong host nation
Fears that this World Cup would fall flat on its face when England departed early were unfounded.
The next edition would doubtless continue to entertain should Japan not make it out of their pool, but what an injection of romance it would be if the Brave Blossoms went deep into the tournament.
Their chances will be greatly increased by the entrance of a Japanese side, the Sunwolves, to the Super Rugby competition, alongside a new franchise based in Buenos Aires.
The Argentinian side will be stuffed full of many first-choice Pumas, which is a move that will surely be of huge benefit to the national side with such a strong group of players enjoying four seasons together as a club side.
This much was intimated by Pumas man mountain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, per ESPN:
They're going to be playing the whole year together, against the best teams. They'll be playing that quick style of rugby that, when the weather is nice, it's suitable to score a lot of tries, and that's the way to win games. If we use it well, it's going to be very helpful for us.
If the Japanese can do the same, the improvement to the national team will be exponential and give them a chance of standing toe-to-toe with the main contenders in 2019.