Gareth Jones discusses the key talking points moving forward from the World Cup, the future effects on the international game and in particular what it means for the 2020 Six Nations.
A stunning tournament in Japan has again taken rugby union to another level as it continues its rapid development and world recognition since turning professional in 1995.
The competition, superbly hosted by the Japanese, has left us with many wonderful memories, some painful scars, plenty of talking points and much intrigue about what happens next and what the future holds for home nations like England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, particularly going into the 2020 Six Nations.
2023 World Cup
2020 Six Nations
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- England to win 2020 Six Nations Grand Slam
- Scotland to finish bottom in 2020 Six Nations
- Wales to beat Ireland in 2020 Six Nations
Should Eddie stay or go?
2020 prediction: Eddie Jones to remain England coach
This is the biggest question to be answered and it will have a huge bearing on what England achieve over the next four years.
It was widely believed before the tournament that if England failed to make the semi-finals, Jones would be gone. So where does a World Cup final defeat leave him?
England did exceptionally to beat New Zealand to reach the final, but they choked against the Springboks and Jones will have to take responsibility for that.
He can be a marmite character - certainly not to everyone's liking - and his reign so far has not been as straightforward or successful as anyone expected. When you have the playing and financial resources of the RFU, England should win every Six Nations, not just two in the last four years, the most recent coming in 2017.
However, he has again proven in Japan that he is a man with a plan, one who gets it right when it really matters, and he clearly has the respect and following of his players.
He is Mr World Cup, having reached three finals as a coach and guided Japan to the World Cup's greatest ever upset in 2015, so who is more suitable to lead England into 2023?
The RFU's question has to be, who would be better? There are no obvious choices.
Warren Gatland won't be tempted due to his Wales roots. The Welsh defence coach Shaun Edwards is a free agent and would love the job but you feel the RFU won't trust him as a head coach and France looks more likely for him. Steve Hansen is free after leaving New Zealand, but I think it would be emotionally too difficult for him to coach another nation now, certainly so soon.
The fans and media would probably like to see a domestic coach promoted, but Quins' Paul Gustard has only just left the England setup to cut his teeth as a director of rugby, while Rob Baxter at Exeter looks happier staying at his beloved club and is not the type of character that craves the drama and celebrity of the England job.
Mark McCall of Saracens is the other standout, but again, would he want to swap expected years of domestic domination and success for the risk of another four years of England inconsistency? Even if he does have international ambitions, as an Irishman he might want to hold out for that job in the future.
As for Jones, he is the type of man to walk if conditions aren't perfect for him and he feels unwanted. But the question for him is where would he go next?
Having coached England, potential future jobs at a Wales, Scotland or Ireland are surely out. New Zealand is the only big one left out there that he's not done, but Gatland would be ahead of him in that pecking order.
England remains the best job for Jones and with a squad that is still youthful and in the middle of its journey he knows he could take the Red Rose one step further in France in four years.
Before then, there's the chance to collect more silverware - starting in the spring.
England to dominate Six Nations
2020 prediction: England to win a 2020 Six Nations Grand Slam
We don't honestly know how this World Cup final heartbreak will affect this England squad moving forward.
There will have to be changes in order to prepare for the next World Cup, as that's what the RFU and England fans demand most. But this is a young squad, with the majority of players expected to be around in another four years.
In 2003 England were labelled "Dad's Army' as Sir Clive Woodwood designed a team to win a World Cup on experience. The average age of the squad was 28, with eight starting finalists at 30-plus, and Jason Robinson not far off at 29.
Once England lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy they imploded. Most of those legends retired or went on a year too long, and Woodwood quit. There was no succession plan, it was all about 2003. England were made to pay for that, a fact highlighted by their failure to win another Six Nations until 2011.
In 2007, when England were again defeated in the World Cup final by South Africa, they had just six players at 25 years old and younger, with another 14 warriors at 30-plus.
This time around it is very different. The 2019 squad had an average age of 26.75, with the World Cup final team becoming the youngest ever to take to the field in a final with an average age of 27 years and 60 days.
Starters like Kyle Sinckler (26), Maro Itoje (24), Tom Curry (21), Sam Underhill (23), Billy Vunipola (26), George Ford (26), Owen Farrell (27), Elliot Daly (26) and Anthony Watson (25) all have another World Cup in them and another four years of experience and bonding should make them as strong as that 2003 side.
Add to that the fact that Joe Cokanasiga is 21, Jack Nowell 26, Henry Slade 26, Lewis Ludlam 23, Luke Cowan-Dickie 26, and it shows England have a lot of players that are top quality now and with a few more years of international rugby should progress from very good to world-class.
The likes of Dan Cole, Ben Youngs, Joe Marler, Coutney Lawes and George Kruis will probably be removed, some quickly, some slowly, but they will be replaced by the next generation, who in turn will be supported by those who've collected invaluable experience in Japan.
History shows that World Cup winners have an average age of 28, so with the growth and ageing of England's current young guns led by Sam Underhill and World Player of the Year nominee Tom Curry, England should be primed for the next World Cup.
There will be setbacks along the way, as teams plateau and need to go back to the drawing board at points, but that's international sport. In reality England should be aiming to win the next two Six Nations at least, before confidently striding into 2023.
With Wales and Ireland at Twickenham in the 2020 campaign, an England Grand Slam should be on the cards and what better way to confirm that, for all Saturday's heartache, the future is bright.
New eras for Wales and Ireland
The reason I believe in England's future domination is not just because of the talent and depth they have at their disposal, but because of the state of the other nations.
Let's start with Ireland and Wales, who both begin new lives with debut international head coaches, as father figures Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland depart their respective positions.
Both New Zealanders left Japan regretting their teams never reached 100 per cent in the tournament, but knowing they had taken both nations from inconsistent, decent teams to world-class.
It is a huge challenge for their replacements to win over their country's fans, players and media; a bigger one to match, let alone improve upon, what has been achieved in recent years.
Farrell's huge Irish test
2020 prediction: Ireland to struggle to fourth place in 2020 Six Nations
Andy Farrell looks to have the toughest challenge with Ireland. Their pool defeat to Japan and their humiliation at the hands of New Zealand makes you feel they are having to start again.
They peaked a year too soon and the performances of some of their players means some international careers are surely over now, even if their age suggests they have more to give. Number eight CJ Stander, at 29, is a perfect example here, as his form has fallen off a cliff in 2019.
Added to this, Schmidt was like Woodwood in 2003: he wanted experience and didn't trust youth. There has been little in the way of building for the future. Schmidt put everything on black and lost, and leaves Farrell paying the bill.
Ireland's World Cup squad contained only six players aged 25 or younger, and only three of those started that quarter-final defeat to New Zealand.
Several of their leading lights - Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney, Peter O'Mahony and Cian Healy - will struggle to make another World Cup, while captain Rory Best has already retired.
Farrell is also experiencing his first ever head coach role - not just at international level. He faces the prospect having to discover and develop at least another 15 players to make Ireland competitive again, while learning on the job himself.
However, this isn't just about age and birthing the next generation, it is also about developing a new all round style that can make Ireland less predictable and more dangerous around the whole park. Once teams figured out Schmidt's tactics they became much easier to beat, as highlighted by their shocking decline in 2019.
Farrell needs to find some tricks up his sleeve to keep his opponents guessing.
The Six Nations is Ireland's lifeblood, they have to be successful here to help the Irish RFU's finances, but at some point that view has to change and they have to start building for World Cup years or they will never get past a quarter-final.
Farrell has to make some tough choices. One, does he change this policy and risk everything on being successful in four years' time? Two, does he slowly make changes to his squad, keeping some of the ageing, failing players while bedding in a few new faces in? Or does he cull the majority now, take the fresh start with younger players, but risk a bumpy ride in the first few years? Stuart Lancaster tried this with England and soon lost his job.
Whichever path he chooses, Ireland could take some beatings over the next two years as they rebuild and learn together, but they always have talent coming through and if Farrell gets it right they could be strong again by 2023.
In the 2020 Six Nations they travel to England and France and these could be painful experiences. That's why I'm calling a fourth place finish for Farrell and his squad.
Wales ready to build
2020 prediction: Wales to win in Ireland in 2020 Six Nations
Wales look in a healthier position than Ireland and can demonstrate that by winning in Dublin come the spring.
Unlike Schmidt and Woodwood, Gatland built for the future. He didn't want 2019 to be the end of both him and his legacy, he wanted it to be the latest part and for Japan to be another building block in the future success of the Red Dragon.
He deliberately sent a young squad to Argentina in the summer of 2018 and that hugely aided the international development of players like Rhys Patchell, Hallam Amos, Josh Adams and Adam Beard, all key players in Wales' progress to this year's semi-final.
Wales' World Cup squad possessed 12 players at 25 or younger and another big handful around 26 and 27. They all have another World Cup in them.
Yes, they will lose experienced heads like Dan Biggar, Hadleigh Parkes, Jonathan Davies and Alun Wyn Jones along the way, but unlike Ireland they will be replaced by players who have already cut their teeth in international rugby, know what it is about and will improve.
The question mark is over the new boss of Welsh rugby, as replacing Gatland is like all those poor managers trying to succeed at Manchester United following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.
That said, Wayne Pivac is yet another Kiwi to take the Welsh reigns and looks a fine appointment, having turned regional side the Scarlets into a true European force.
His challenge is to find a cutting edge and the game-changers that can add magic dust to Wales' graft. That's why he's been appointed, because he's done exactly that at the Scarlets, who have become a fearsomely creative, attacking, running side.
How hard will it be to change the Gatland culture, though? Basically the whole of Wales rugby is now modelled in the Gatland way after 12 years at the helm. Ferguson continues to cast a huge shadow over Old Trafford and the same fear lies here with Gatland.
How many times will Pivac hear 'Warren didn't do it like that' or 'Warren liked it like this' or 'When Warren was here...'?
Every game, training session and press conference will be compared to Gatland and Pivac will be judged harshly as a result. He needs a strong start to earn the time required to mould his side to his style and ensure Wales develop the all-round game required to challenge at a World Cup once more.
With Ireland and England away in the 2020 Six Nations it could be a rocky first campaign, but in reality only England should be beating them. Wales have fewer questions to answer than the Irish and are fancied to win in Dublin.
Scotland - a tier two nation
2020 prediction: Scotland to finish bottom of 2020 Six Nations
Rugby union lacks enough tier one nations full stop, let alone world-class ones, so World Rugby is not in the habit of relegating tier one sides to tier two. Even if they were, Italy would be on the chopping board ahead of the Scots.
But do we have to start treating Scotland as a tier two nation? I don't say this with disrespect, but in order for us to start judging fairer.
Scotland are a tier one nation through history and longevity, but it's in the dim and distant past. Having won the Five Nations five times, they're yet to win a Six Nations, and have finished bottom on 33 occasions in their 124 tournaments.
Look at the facts. Scotland has fewer than 40,000 registered players and only two professional regions to give their professional players the platform to develop their skills.
England have 13 professional clubs, with over three million registered players in total. Ireland have over 1.5 million and Japan, the tier two nation who beat Scotland at this World Cup, have over 1.2 million, too.
Scotland have always punched above their weight and overachieved and deserve huge credit, but you feel 24 years into professionalism it is starting to overwhelm them. How are Scotland meant to keep competing when so many other nations have more players, clubs and money?
Scotland suffered in the 2019 Six Nations due to a lack of depth in their squad when injuries hit, and that was repeated in the World Cup. They just don't have the pool of players to give them the quality of competition in their squad to improve, let alone cover injuries when they inevitably arrive.
We have to accept that their disappointing campaign in Japan could become the norm moving forward, as they lose further ground on their richer, bigger rivals.
They are making moves to improve standards, creating a new league known as 'Super Six' to try and bridge the gap between club rugby and the professional game, but this will still be a semi-pro effort and emerging players will still struggle to gain the dedicated training and playing time to raise standards to the required levels.
I really feel for Scotland, who under Gregor Townsend try to play the game positively and creatively, but I also fear for them and cannot see any way they won't continue to finish, at best, second bottom of the Six Nations.
Italy have completely gone now, but boosted by another new coach and with home advantage against Scotland they will see 2020 as a rare chance to earn a victory and avoid the wooden spoon.
France - who knows?
2020 prediction: Could be competitive in 2020, third or second place finish, but expect title challenge in 2022
France are always the interesting nation and the hardest to predict. Their playing pool and finances mean they should always be at the top of the sport, but they've failed to fully embrace professional rugby, meaning standards on and off the field are not where they should be.
The penny seems to have finally dropped in recent years in this area as they develop their rugby structures, academy and coaching systems, but it all takes time after years of neglect.
They have won the last two Rugby Under 20 World Championships, which shows signs of improvement in their rugby setups and this is why talk around this World Cup from the French had been that this tournament was a write off and it was all about building for 2023 - when they host the competition again.
The fact they were so impressive against Wales, in a quarter-final they should have won, showed the world what they are capable of when they truly get going, but it also showed how much work is still to do. Again the squad was falling out with each other and the coaches; they were poor in the pool stages and lost discipline against Wales.
Fabien Galthie takes over as boss now, having been part of the coaching team during the tournament to ease him into the job. Positive noises are coming out of the camp about his work so far.
However, we've heard this before. The players and media all love their new coach, until they lose a game and he starts dropping players and changing tactics and soon another revolution is on the cards.
Sean Edwards, who is leaving Wales as defence coach, is rumoured to be joining the French coaching setup. The brash, aggressive, former rugby league man is exactly what France need. They lack his professionalism, focus and desire and if they listen and learn from him they are on to a winner.
But he is tough, hard working, doesn't suffer fools and is English - four characteristics very likely to upset the French. It will be an explosive mix and whether that makes a dirty bomb or beautiful fireworks, it's hard to tell at this stage.
What is clear, with a young squad (16 players in Japan were 25 or under), a fantastic league setup, and some of the most talented players in the world, France have the potential to be world champions in four years.
Scrum-half Antoine Dupont is an incredible talent and has the world at his feet at 22-years-old, fly-half Romain Ntamack had a decent World Cup and is only 20, Damian Penaud on the wing is top draw and is just 22. You feel if they don't finally realise their full potential over this four year period they never will.
Six Nations home fixtures rotate every year, so this year they do have England and Ireland at home, and there is a chance they could compete for the title.
But it might just be a year too soon for them, especially as their opening match is England, so I expect them to be realistic winners in 2022 when they next host those two nations. This is France, though, so expected the unexpected.