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Four more years

Wales had it in their hands and blew it. For the longest time Argentina looked like they weren't going to score a try but finally did after the "controversial" call. Biggar shouting: "it was head contact" wasn't wrong. That's been the precedent for at least a penalty but some of us have been saying all along that the precedent can be wrong. Not every head contact should automatically result in a card or a penalty. Wales being let off for a shoulder charge off the ball cancels this out anyway. Then they miss a golden chance at the end to score what would have almost certainly been the winning try. Argentina deservedly victorious despite looking like a tier 2 team for most of the tournament and big parts of this game.

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This was a t!tanic struggle. Easily the best game of the tournament so far in terms of overall quality and drama and one of the best world cup games ever. Ireland showed great character and courage but in reality, based on form and previously demonstrated ability, they choked, looking nervous and rattled from the start. Their gameplan played directly into AB hands. Their kicking game was mediocre to non-existent and their defence, while brilliant in parts, overall wasn't good enough to compensate.

If you can't win your own lineout, kicking for touch quickly loses value. The ABs beat them in all important moments and metrics: scrum, lineout, breakdown, defence, offence, game management, having a fly half who can run. These were fine margins but at elite levels, fine margins make all the difference. Ireland never had the lead once, that tells its own story.

The weight of expectation can make the best crumble. The All Blacks are very familiar with this feeling, suffering 20 years of hurt (obviously don't count 1987-1991) before learning they had to condition themselves psychologically for high pressure moments and the possibility of failure in addition to having strategy and ball skills. Ireland will learn too.

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For a union with as little resources as Fiji has, the expectation surrounding them for this World Cup was unfair. Had they made less mistakes against Wales we might be singing a different hymn but their song had to end somewhere. A Quarter-Final exit is no disgrace.

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If the NZ v Ireland QF was a clash of the T!tans, this one was made in Hyperborea. It was decided by the most minuscule of margins. A try saving back tap, a monster penalty goal attempt falling short by a foot, a contentious conversion charge down and more.

Ultimately though it came down to the Boks coping better under pressure. In the first half France absolutely steam rolled their way through the usually magnificent Bok defence, playing a brand of ball-in-hand rugby that no one, not even the All Blacks, have matched in this tournament. Duponte was doing his thing, constantly turning the Boks around with his perfectly placed and weighted kicks, leaving them scrambling in defence by the tips of their fingers.

However, France's ability and alertness under the high ball was worse than pathetic, gifting the Boks two very easy tries, making themselves look like complete amateurs in the process. Their defence in general was also not up to the standard of the rest of their game. When South Africa got anywhere near the "strike zone" they always looked like scoring.

Despite this, France had control of the game for much of the second half, playing with territory, possession, and scoreboard pressure. They took residence in South Africa's 22 for Etzebeth's sin bin period but it was the almost expected case that their 14 men defended better than 15 (and/or they tweaked their defensive strategy at half time). Frantic moments followed where momentum swung both ways in quick succession. France however still had the game at their mercy, leading 25-19 while threatening to score what would have probably been a winning try but despite their immense efforts they just couldn't break down the Bok defence to go two scores ahead.

France's player of the game Jalibert was pulling the strings in the second half. With a gorgeous looping skip pass he looked to have set up Ficoud and Penaud who had a 2-on-1 over Arendse when loose forward Francois Cros had the dumbest moment of his rugby life, ruining the move by half-intercepting a ball way over his head that was meant for Ficoud. You absolute muppet. That was really France's last hoorah, and their decision to go for 3 points when they were 4 behind with 7 minutes to go might haunt them for years.

Contrast that to SA who now dominated France's replacement front row in the scrum, then rode that momentum all the way to France's tryline to, again, score without facing too much French resistance. Once they took the lead, you just knew they'd manage the game from there. Duponte should have been replaced for the last ten minutes at least. He looked absolutely out of gas and was trudging along like someone with emphysema. Lucu's fresh legs could have been a game changer but apparently Galthie serves Duponte's ego ahead of the team.

50-50 calls went either way so Bok and British fans who were claiming France would be favoured can probably shut up now (we know they won't). France however have mostly themselves to blame.

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Images aren't loading here for some reason but I'll finish this crap off in the name of completeness.

Argentina were very disappointing in this tournament until the Japan game in which they played with the passion and purpose we know they're capable of. Their SF against the All Blacks though only emphasized the chasm in skill, organization and consistency between the top tier 1 teams and the also-rans.

The dissolution of the Jaguares and their exclusion from Super Rugby Pacific seems the obvious reason for this, yet this is the same team that beat the All Blacks twice during this World Cup cycle. Simply reaching the semis was already a form of pride restored after a frankly embarrassing performance against England in the pools, and perhaps a third place medal will augment this feeling, even though it would mean more to them than to England.
England almost, nearly, bull$hitted Joe Marler'd their way into a World Cup final they were never supposed to get close to after the circus that was their World Cup preparation. They were literally minutes away with a two-score lead and absolute control of territory, possession and momentum when a few brain farts and basic errors cost them. South Africa's nuke squad scrum was absolutely dominant but England could've mitigated this if they were smarter and braver.

That said, for them to even be in that position was already beyond expectation after almost being embarrassed themselves by Fiji in the QF. For about 70 minutes they made the Boks look very, very ordinary. Yet their inability to even look like scoring tries ultimately proved the difference. The ball was wet for both teams. Owen Farrell celebrating a Springbok knock-on like he'd scored a try probably sums up their entire World Cup cycle. At the edge of the Bok 22 he put trough a grubber when maybe he should've put it through the hands on a clear overlap. The Boks won a penalty from the resultant scrum which eventually led to their try.

The big positive is that Borthwick is clearly a good coach. Given time he can do good things and time is what he didn't have for this cycle. The "maverick" decision to fire Eddie Jones less than a year from the start of the tournament doesn't feel wrong now, though it doesn't feel completely justified either. Under Borthwick they've gone backwards to go forwards and having him start fresh in 2024 may still have been the smarter option. The players might be in a better place mentally but their level of play doesn't match their final position in the tournament when we remember the luck of the draw helped them to the semi-finals in the first place.
Looking back, this was a pretty average World Cup that spontaneously lit up in the quarter finals. NZ v Ireland and France v SA were two of the best games in rugby and world cup history.

As someone hyper critical of the NZ rugby administration, I was prepared to celebrate an early NZ exit in the QF but Ireland disappointed. By the time of the final, the AB fan in me won out and I wanted the boys to smash the Boks to teach arrogant SA fans a lesson (tbf the t0ssers are on twitter/reddit/youtube, not here).

Credit the Boks though, they did it again. Mentally miles ahead of everyone else and that starts at the top with Rassie who, as much as it pains me to say it, is the GOAT (for the time being).

Four more years boys, but at least Rassie will have serious competition now. The era of the Razor begins.

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