The news has hit this week of a phenomenon tearing through the pitches of the Rugby World Cup, and it's not any of the world-class players who have travelled to Japan for this year's tournament, but Typhoon Hagibis that is shaking things up. This has resulted in the first ever match cancellation in Rugby World Cups history and hordes of disappointed fans, however it does mean England has finished top of Pool C and goes into the Quarter Finals in a strong position, still one of the favourites to take home the trophy in this years tournament.
Although typhoons may shock English fans, whose experience of weather effecting sport usually stretches to a soggy pitch meaning Saturday morning football has been called off, it is fairly commonplace in Japan to have several typhoons a year with 'Typhoon Season' designated as May to October, and August and September being peak season for the tropical cyclones. Perfect conditions for a World Cup hosted solely outdoors!
So as the typhoon passes and the tournament gets back underway this weekend, with England preparing for the quarter finals, we're taking a look at some of the other ways this year's tournament is different to England's' hosting in 2015, and how the Japanese have put their own unique spin on the Rugby World Cup Brand for 2019.
It has to be said that The International Rugby Board (IRB) didnt make a particular effort to change the logo much from its conception in 1987 and it stayed very similar right up until the 2015 tournament (as the saying goes, if it ain't broke...) However, in 2014 the IRB stepped away from the logos of the past as they rebranded as World Rugby, and a new design was born ready for 2019 that allowed each tournament to have its own unique identity. This was a bold step into a new age in which each tournaments branding aims to become bigger, better and more memorable that the last, all under the watchful eye of World Rugby. So let us step back and see how it all began, as from 1987 until 2023 there's a story to be told in the logos of Rugby World Cups past, present and future.
First let's cast our mind back to the 80's; mixtapes and leg warmers aside it was the decade that saw the World's first Rugby World Cup in 1987, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand who have both gone on to win the title more than once with New Zealand current champions with the 2015 trophy. It was also the debut of the Logo that formed the basis of them all up until this year's tournament with a criss-cross of lines forming the iconic silhouette of a rugby ball.
Black and blue were the colours of choice, with the stark contrast of black and white conjuring up images of the New Zealand's All Blacks Kit, the team that went on to become champions of the inaugural tournament. It's not clear why there is more black than blue, or why someone decided to put the words 'World Cup' before 'Rugby', throwing any logical grammatical order out of the window, but it remains a strong first logo and one that proved popular enough to create the mould that lasted nearly two decades. The use of lines to create the rugby ball is fairly creative, the varying thickness suggesting at some 3D shape and unlike some other tournament logos (some tennis ones I won't mention) it is fairly clear it is for a Rugby tournament and not a global bank (okay, the Australian Open logo is questionable in its relation to tennis...).
Thankfully someone who could read stepped in and switched around the wording, so the text stands bold, gets the point across and most importantly makes sense. The colours were switched to blue and green, two that are still used in the branding today, which conjure up an image of groomed green pitch and clear blue sky - the promised land of the rugby pitch. The iconic ball made of white lines stands strong, and the angled split of the colours is pleasing to look at and a good example of a simple but effective logo.
There isn't much to say here, four years on and someone remembered to change the one to a five, a good job well done.
This year there were some changes, the most notable being the insertion of the IRB logo on top of the Rugby Ball. It's not too clear why they decided to do this then and not earlier, but perhaps it was something to do with the fact this was the first World Cup after the IRB had opened the sport to professionalism, allowing players to earn proper money playing the sport. Another notable change is the slightly darker blue creating a more intense contrast and stronger colours in the logo, and the attractive little Trademark symbol in the bottom right hand corner, all in all a slightly more commercial look heading into the new millennium.
There were more changes in 2003, an almost imperceptible change on the typeface for the 2003 world cup makes it easier to read, and the introduction of the host countries name on some forms of the logo serves as a first attempt by the IRB to give some sort of personal identity to the host country.
This has been more common in other sports, such as football and cricket who have consistently given each host country its own logo for world cups, allowing the country to put its own spin on their tournament with designs reflecting their culture, colours and national identity. It would be a huge stretch to say that Australia tacked on the side in the IRB colours is any kind of nod to Australian culture, or a nod to anything really other than how it's spelt (more difficult than you think) But it's a step in the right direction for the IRB in allowing each country to make the World Cup it's own.
(Also the year England finally took home the trophy, and hopefully not the last)
This year the cup came to Europe and France played hosts for the 2007 tournament. Again, there isn't a great deal to say about the logo except that in some forms 'France' was tacked on the bottom in order to let us know where we were at. Trés bien.
New curves, a cool and fresh typeface and a reworking of the iconic ball of white lines. 2011 saw it all. The change of typeface was welcome and adds a modern look to the logo, with the numbers being the most notably different. A big decision was made to refresh the ball icon, whilst keeping the same aesthetic, and it looks cleaner and more interesting than the previous ball with a side on approach that is less symmetrical.
The distribution of blue and green also works well, making the ball the centrepiece and not cutting up the white lines needlessly. The incorporation of IRBs logo in the top right also makes the whole thing feel more cohesive, with the curved edges of the square matching the curved edges of the new font, bringing it all together in a fine example of modernising a logo whilst keeping what made it great in the first place.
Carrying on from 2011, the logo remains the same, with only a slight shift in the blue back to a slightly lighter shade. Some forms also featured 'England' on the bottom on a green background with a curved typeface that looks clean and contemporary. This was in fact after the IRB had rebranded itself to become World Rugby in November 2014 along with a new logo and look but the World Cup kept the iconic branding for its last year before things really got shaken up.
The rebrand complete, the logos completely redesigned, 2019 officially heralded the new age of World Rugby on the global stage. This time, instead of just nudging the logo along with a few tweaks and curves the whole thing was re done, with the iconic ball relegated to the logos of IRB past, and a new stylised W badge taking centre stage. The World Rugby logo provides the silhouette, and it seems the host countries pick out their best creatives to come up with a logo that best represents them.
For Japan this year that was the incorporation of their two most recognisable symbols - the red rising sun seen on their flag and Mt. Fuji. The simple design and clean lines come together to create a beautiful image that encompasses Japanese culture (and a clear blue sky notably free of Typhoons) The different shades of blue contrast nicely with the red and white, and the sun and snow form a perfect circle which echoes the flag and creates a satisfying composition.
But the logo is just the top of the iceberg when it comes to the Japanese World Cup, they've had everything from an official app to designated Fanzones across the country where fans can enter for free and watch live screenings with food, drink, rugby-related fun and with each region having its own unique content that recognises and celebrates each host city. World Rugby even deemed it necessary to warn Japanese bars and restaurants that they needed to stock up on beer because they thought the host cities would run out, a sure sign of a good time for the fans. So, it seems Japan have definitely stepped up their game this year, both on and off the pitch, as they defeated Scotland in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis taking themselves into the Quarter Finals, and one step closer to the final in Yokohama on the 2nd November.
The bar has been set for France in 2023, who have already released their logo in anticipation of the tenth Rugby World Cup taking place in the year of the 200th anniversary of the acclaimed invention of the sport by William Webb Ellis. It's a bold take on the World Rugby logo, with two Mobius strips (an infinite one sided loop) in the colours of the French flag forming the simple logo, and promising a tournament that's going to be big and bold.
It's sometimes difficult for global brands such as World Rugby to keep their identity whilst allowing some form of change in today's competitive market that demands each major event almost become a brand in itself, but this is a remarkable example of a well thought out creative plan that lends itself to all parties. So as we await to see who takes home this year's Webb Ellis Cup, and hope for an English victory, we can at least enjoy the insight into Japanese culture this year has offered (and the next time a bit of rain ruins the football we can be thankful it's not a tropical storm)