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Jonathan Bradley has picked his top 20 moments of the Rugby World Cup.
Jonathan Bradley has picked his top 20 moments of the Rugby World Cup.
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Our man in Japan Jonathan Bradley is coming to the end of his World Cup adventure.

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Ahead of this weekend's final, he picks his top 20 unforgettable moments from an action-packed six weeks:

1. Japan's opening win over Russia: This was a World Cup 10 years in the making, the excitement growing for the first non-Tier One nation to play host from the moment it was confirmed that the tournament would be held in Japan a decade ago.

A spectacular opening ceremony in Tokyo followed with an atmosphere to match. Japan were nervy on the night but they ensured there would be no dampening of the early enthusiasm when Kotaro Matsushima's hat-trick score sealed an opening-night bonus-point victory against Russia.

Japan wing Kotaro Matsushima is congratulated after scoring his side's opening try of the Rugby World Cup by Yutaka Nagare.

2. New Zealand v South Africa: This game in the first weekend was a game hyped up for months upon months.

After a huge win, the love affair between the All Blacks and the locals was sealed when the back-to-back champs bowed to all four corners of the Yokohama Stadium. South Africa would obviously get the last laugh though, advancing to tomorrow's final while New Zealand are left to fight it out for third place.

New Zealand’s George Bridge scored the first try of the match (Adam Davy/PA)

3. Ireland's bonus point win over Scotland: It's easy to forget given what followed afterwards but Ireland looked superb against Scotland in the same stadium just 24 hours later.

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As the rain tipped down, Joe Schmidt's forwards dominated proceedings and wrapped up the bonus point not long after half-time. It was a night when anything seemed possible... hindsight is a funny thing.

Rory Best played all 80 minutes of Ireland's opening victory over Scotland.

4. Dungannon's split loyalties as All Blacks face Canada: Pete Nelson and Angus Ta'avao first met at Royal School Dungannon a decade ago.

In the pool stages of a World Cup in Japan, they were on opposite sides when Canada met New Zealand. It's a small world. Nelson left Ulster after 60 appearances last summer, quickly getting the call-up for Canada for whom he qualifies through his Toronto-born grandmother.

Ta'avao spent a year in Dungannon as part of an exchange programme with his school back in New Zealand.

Reunited: Former Royal School Dungannon pupil Peter Nelson (left), now of Canada, and Angus Ta’avao of New Zealand, who coached at the school, pose for a photo after yesterday’s game

5. Josh Larsen's red card apology: Staying with Canada, this has been a World Cup dominated by talk of record-setting red card tallies.

Still, it was nice to see Les Rouges' Josh Larsen make a beeline for the Springboks changing room after his dismissal for a dangerous clearout on Thomas du Toit.

"I just wanted to come and apologise for my red card tonight," he said. "I'm pretty gutted about it but I just wanted to apologise to you guys face-to-face and wish you all the best for the rest of the tournament."

The red card is issued to Canada’s Josh Larsen by referee Luke Pearce.

6. Urugay's delight after Fiji shock: There have been some great post-match interviews so far, with Russia's Blackrock College alumni Vasily Artemyev chief among them, but the best was Uruguayan skipper Juan Manuel Gaminara after his side stunned Fiji.

"I don't want this to end," he said. "I'm really proud of my country. We're not the biggest, we're not the tallest but we came here to win." Scenes.

Juan Manuel Gaminara

7. Wales edge Australia in group stage thriller: There hasn't been a plethora of genuinely great games to choose from, but the pool stages served up at least one classic with Wales narrowly edging past Australia.

It was high-scoring, high quality and featured momentum that swung back and forth like a pendulum. Relying on Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi at the breakdown, Wales were superb in a game that always had high stakes given the winner would avoid the England/All Blacks side of the draw.

Rhys Patchell made a difference when he came on against Australia (David Davies/PA)

8. Namibia lead the All Blacks: Bonafide routs, though, have again been 10 a penny at this World Cup, one of the most one-sided being the 71-9 thrashing that the All Blacks doled out to Namibia.

Long forgotten by the end was that Namibia actually took a 3-0 lead thanks to an early penalty.

As the camera panned to the coaching box, Namibia's Phil Davies could be seen laughing heartily that his men were leading the most feared side in world rugby, however briefly.

Damian Stevens kicks Namibia into an early, albeit brief, lead against the All Blacks.

9. Perenara picks off a pretty try in New Zealand win over Namibia: The game did contain one of the tournament's best tries.

A typically slick All Blacks move was somehow finished off by an airborne TJ Perenara just before he found himself bundled into touch. Not the most important score the Kiwi No.9 will ever get but a pretty one nonetheless.

10. Japan give country a lift with win over Scotland: It had a rival or two in the race for try of the tournament, though, when Japan met Scotland in Yokohama.

Coming so soon after Typhoon Hagibis, the storm that had originally threatened the game, it was an emotional night in Japan's second largest city and the Brave Blossoms produced a performance that, for 80 minutes at least, seemed to take the country's mind off the widespread tragedy.

Their rugby was a sight to behold as they booked their place in the last-eight for the first ever time.

Japan’s Isileli Nakajima celebrates victory over Scotland (David Davies/PA)

11. Canada players help with Typhoon Hagijis relief effort: Some games didn't get the go ahead, one such cancellation coming in the form of Canada v Namibia.

Rather than head for home early, Canada hung around though, helping out with the relief effort. A message put into the team's WhatsApp group saw 15 or so of the squad take to the streets, shovel mud, remove debris and brush out flooded buildings.

Canada players assisting with the typhoon clean-up operation in Kamaishi

12. Rory Best bids farewell to Ireland fans: It was, let's face it, not a World Cup to remember for Ireland.

It did, however, bring the curtain down on Rory Best's distinguished rugby career, 14 years after he made his Test debut. The Ireland skipper waved goodbye to fans following a rousing reception.

Despite the disappointment of his side's quarter-final exit, he was still able to share a post-match moment with his family, his kids having arrived in Japan the previous week.

Final farewell: Rory Best soaks up his final moments as an Ireland player with his kids

13. Leali'ifano among other rugby greats to play final World Cup games: Best is not the only one departing of course.

Kieran Read, David Pocock, Ben Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Christian Leali'ifano, Mamuka Gorgodze, Sergio Parisse and Kenki Fukuoka. It seems we've seen the last of all of them at this level.

14. Japan steal hearts and get deserved reception: If Joe Schmidt's men didn't make much of a mark on the tournament, the same could hardly be said for the host nation.

They quickly became every rugby neutral's team of choice, and the sea of red and white that bedecked every stadium in which they played was a sight to behold.

Even when their run finally ran out of steam and the tears streamed down players' cheeks, the fans remained, cheering on the heroes who have caught the imagination of a country.

Potential market: Japan has been gripped with rugby fever

15. de Klerk has a laugh with stunning maul try: While Japan still felt like the story that night in Tokyo, the victorious Springboks produced one of the most eye-catching passages of the tournament.

One for the purists, perhaps, but their maul, which travelled a full 50m as the crow flies before the ball was popped up for trailing scrum-half Faf de Klerk to dash over the line, really was a sight to behold.

16. Vahaamahina gets a red for the ages: One of the most memorable moments of the tournament was, unfortunately, one that any Frenchman would surely give anything to forget.

Les Bleus appeared to have everything in hand in their quarter-final against Wales in Oita, only for lock Sebastien Vahaamahina to needlessly see red for a moment of madness as he crashed his elbow into Aaron Wainwright's jaw. A temporary leave of his senses, it really was a dismissal for the ages.

17. England's v-formation response to the haka: Before last week's first semi-final even began it felt as if we were in for a classic.

As the crowd, still heavily favouring the All Blacks, roared their appreciation for the Kiwis readying themselves for the Haka, England formed a flying V to face off against the challenge. The fans took the noise up another level entirely and the stage was set for the enthralling contest to come.

England’s players stare down New Zealand’s haka in a V formation (Adam Davy/PA)

18. Maro Itoje delivers all-time great World Cup performance: Nobody imposed themselves on that game more than Maro Itoje.

While the likes of Sam Underhill, Tom Curry and Manu Tuilagi were fantastic, Itoje's goes down as one of the great World Cup showings, and he deservedly picked up the man of the match award for an 80 minutes that will go down in English rugby lore.

Mauro Itoje did more than most to ensure England’s final berth (David Davies/PA)

19. Warren Gatland's final bow to end a long reign: Few men have achieved the longevity in the Test game that has become a hallmark of Warren Gatland's time in Wales.

While other coaches have come and gone at all of their rivals on the world stage, Gatland was a constant for Wales, ultimately lasting 12 years before he briought the curtain down in the third-place play-off defeat to New Zealand.

His record of three Grand Slams speaks for itself, and it was clear after the semi-final just how much he meant to his players and staff.

Warren Gatland's spell as Wales manager came to end in the third-place play-off defeat.

20. England's family affair for the World Cup final: Rugby has always felt like a bit of a family affair, and this World Cup is no different with Mako and Billy Vunipola two of England's most important performers.

It's been nice, too, this week to see clubs back in England getting on board as well.

Sale were the first to let Sam Curry off to go and watch his twin brother Tom in tomorrow's final, while Wasps soon followed suit with Marcus Watson arriving yesterday ahead of brother Anthony's big day.

England’s Mako Vunipola, left, and Billy Vunipola

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