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In fact, yes, Japan were champions. Wales lost the title to England in their first World Cup warm-up match, but then beat the English the following week to reclaim the title. Wales then lost both of their remaining warm-ups to Ireland, who thus took the title into the World Cup. Japan then took it with victory over Ireland (it was the second time Japan had held the title - the first being in 2013). They lost to South Africa in the quarter-finals. England have, of course, got the chance to reclaim the title on Saturday. Fingers crossed!
This is correct, and I apologize; in retrospect, I apparently misinterpreted the previous explanation comment and thought it said that Ireland were the champions (a line that led to England), when in fact it said that Wales were (a line that led to Japan).
So South Africa won the Rugby World Cup to retain the title last November. Coronavirus has meant that the Springboks have not played an international since - hopefully they will be competing in the Rugby Championship this November.
South Africa finally returned to international rugby on 2nd July 2021, exactly 20 months after they last played a match (which was, of course, the 2019 Rugby World Cup final). They beat Georgia 40-9. Their next three internationals are against the British & Irish Lions which don't count for the purposes of the URUWC (because if they did, and the Lions won the last match, the title would remain dormant for four years). Instead, the URUWC resumes on 14th August with South Africa vs Argentina.
South Africa won both their matches against Argentina in August 2021, but then lost to Australia. The Wallabies kept the URUWC for the rest of the Rugby Championship, by beating South Africa again, before doing the double over Argentina. They then beat Japan.
There then followed a remarkable sequence of seven successive matches where the holders lost the title; the first time this has ever happened in URUWC history. 07/11/21 Scotland 15-13 Australia 13/11/21 Scotland 15-30 South Africa 20/11/21 England 27-26 South Africa 05/02/22 Scotland 20-17 England 12/02/22 Wales 20-17 Scotland 26/02/22 England 23-19 Wales 12/03/22 England 15-32 Ireland
Finally, Ireland held the title with a 26-5 win over Scotland, and now head to New Zealand next month.