The Telegraph's Mick Cleary looks ahead at a new decade in rugby.
Much as England fans were dismayed at their team's loss to South Africa in the men's World Cup final, few of them would begrudge Siya Kolisi his time in the global spotlight. The image of the Springbok captain holding aloft the Webb Ellis Cup in Yokohama was a picture that went round the world, the first black captain in 128 years of rugby in the Afrikaner-dominated sport in his country, a totem of hope and possibility in fractured times as the hundreds of thousands who turned out to greet Kolisi and his team back home illustrated.
There is a sense of transition in the men's game as well as in the world order. There are not as many box-office names to garner headlines as once the likes of All Blacks, Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, did. Perhaps it is no coincidence that New Zealand themselves have slipped from their once seemingly unassailable perch.
The jockeying for top spot will intensify across the year. There are names out there, such as a Maro Itoje or Kyle Sinckler on English soil, part of an unprecedentedly diverse team (32 per cent BAME) that must look to grow from the disappointment of that losing final to deliver across the coming year. We shall soon be seeing more of exhilarating Fiji wing, Semi Radradra, when he joins Bristol Bears while the likes of the excellent Japan hooker, Shota Horie and wing, Kenki Fukuoka, can only hope to build on the record TV audiences (53.7 million for match against Scotland) they drew in the World Cup to truly establish rugby in that county.
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The women's game has its own stars to cherish from Black Ferns' Portia Woodman, equally adept at Sevens as she is as 15s, to Niall Williams, sister of Sonny Bill and an accomplished athlete in her own right. As the first country in the world to give women the vote, New Zealand has long made a point of giving profile to females in sport. In fact, it is considered not exceptional to do so. Elsewhere in the world it is a constant battle for limelight.
Strength in depth
The 2019 Rugby World Cup delivered record numbers across the board, be it in mainstream media or via social networks, all of which indicates that the sport has an appeal round the globe. Japan's quarter-final against South Africa had a 41.6 per cent share of the TV audience in a population of 125 million.
And yet there is disquiet about the commercial viability of the game, particularly in the southern hemisphere which is falling ever further behind its friends in the north in terms of being able to pay the market rate for home-grown talent in order to keep its stars in Super Rugby. If that disparity of revenue is not corrected – and Gus Pichot's aborted League of Nations competition format was an attempt to put into place something that might address those issues – then participation numbers could shrink, particularly in Australia where rugby league and Australian rules dominate the sporting agenda.
There is a different reason for concern in the women's game, the lack of resource in a world in which England and New Zealand are the only countries with up-front full-time contracts for women.
France has a workable system but until the sport is fully professionalised there will be worries about the depth of talent coming through. The pathways are tangled and overgrown. The rise in popularity of women' football has also had an adverse knock-on effect in participation numbers in women's rugby.
The Sevens circuit is in better health with countries such as China, Canada, the USA and Fiji benefiting from Olympic funding. There is a much greater spread of talent as a result.
Biggest off-field headache
The biggest off-field headache remains a literal one, that of concussion. Even though great strides have been made in recent years in the detection as well as treatment of head injuries, the game cannot afford to be complacent in believing that it has got on top of the issue.
The in-game medical protocols, the Head Injury Assessments (HIA), have now become common practice with spotters looking for any signs of contact to the head, particularly those not picked up by officials at the time. But there is still more to do, especially in educating all involved as the outcry over penalising high tackles that erupted at the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup indicated.
The complaints eased, the tackles came in lower but the situation still needs forensic monitoring. That much is true also in the women's game where the safer, more readily accessible sport of football has attracted some of those athletes who might have taken up rugby.
Hottest ticket in 2020
The Tokyo 2020 Sevens. The year following a World Cup is invariably a fallow one in the men's XVs game, which is why Sevens has a chance to shine on centre stage in Japan. Certainly Fiji's gold medal success in Rio was one of the great stories of that Games as the seven-a-side team, coached by Englishman Ben Ryan, beat Great Britain in the final to claim a first ever gold medal for the country in any sport.
Great Britain will have to up its performance levels in both the men's and women's game if it is to challenge for the podium in Tokyo.
One prediction for 2020
The renaissance of France. Les Bleus have been on their uppers for far too long, a feckless, uninspiring lot who have not troubled the Six Nations' trophy engravers in a decade.
Yet in their usual cavalier manner, they showed tantalising glimpses at RWC2019 of just what they are capable of with a scintillating first half against Argentina followed by an impressive start against Wales in the quarter-final, only for a rush of blood to the head (and elbow) of lock Sebastien Vahaamahina in the quarter-final against Wales that saw him dismissed, to turn France's hopes to dust.
A new management that includes former Wales defence coach, Shaun Edwards, should bring more steel and consistency.