South Africa were crowned the new world champions in 2019 as rugby union took centre stage for two glorious months in Japan, while England’s Premiership and European champions Saracens courted attentions for all the wrong reasons.
In what proved an entertaining yet frantic year for the oval-ball game, New Zealand’s reign at the top of the sport finally came to an end in one of the most extraordinary ways possible – there semi-final defeat against England ending eight years of global domination.
But while the World Cup ended up in South African hands for the third time – and the sight of their first black captain Siya Kolisi lifting the Webb Ellis Cup being beamed around the globe – the story rapidly became about Japan and their historic run to the quarter-finals, along with hosting one of the greatest World Cups ever seen.
Before attentions went to the Far East, Wales were able to secure the third Six Nations Grand Slam of the Warren Gatland era, while England Women also completed a European whitewash before coming agonisingly short in the Women’s Super Series as New Zealand reminded everyone of why the Black Ferns have been the team to beat for so long.
But at club level, there was supremacy and scandal in equal measures as Saracens recorded another Premiership and Champions Cup double, beating Leinster in the ultimate European showdown before edging Exeter Chiefs in what was viewed as the greatest Premiership final ever seen, only to be brought crashing down to earth after breaching the salary cap regulations that leaves them fighting for their Premiership future.
To recap what has been a non-stop year for rugby union, click through the gallery above to see the story of 2019 in 100 pictures.