France faced a painful symmetry with Ireland, while the Springboks continued their dominance in the southern hemisphere.


France faced a painful symmetry with Ireland, while the Springboks continued their dominance in the southern hemisphere.

Ireland and New Zealand showcased an epic Rugby World Cup quarter-final that culminated in 37 phases of intense Irish agony. Surprisingly, France and South Africa managed to outshine this remarkable feat within just 24 hours.

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Although France’s final valiant effort was not quite as lengthy as Ireland’s, their desperate search for a decisive score as the clock struck red ended in heartbreak. Much like their Irish counterparts, French players collapsed on the field in despair, while a southern hemisphere nation celebrated their continued World Cup dominance over a northern hemisphere powerhouse.

The Stade de France bore witness to two of the most exhilarating rugby matches in history over the span of a single weekend. Few venues, regardless of the sport, have ever hosted such incredible spectacles in such quick succession.

While the history books will record the Springboks’ 29-28 victory and their secured spot in the semi-finals, the 80,000-strong crowd will forever remember the sheer excitement of witnessing an unparalleled display of rugby brilliance. Likewise, they will not forget the collective devastation felt as their beloved national team fell agonizingly short on the grandest stage.

The quarter-final weekend highlighted the disparity in the World Cup draw, which was predetermined by World Rugby three years before the tournament. The matches between Argentina and Wales, and England and Fiji in Marseille, though engaging, paled in comparison to the spectacle that unfolded in Paris.

The relentless pace, incredible line-speed, and moments of sheer brilliance displayed by Les Bleus and the Springboks, particularly in an electric yet controlled first half, were a true delight to behold. That opening 40 minutes, culminating in the hosts’ 22-19 lead, might well be remembered as the finest half of rugby ever played.

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The second half of the match may have lacked in scoring but compensated with heightened tension, providing another thrilling finale within 24 hours. The fact that the trailing team, the crowd favorites, the team that nearly all neutrals were rooting for, fell devastatingly short once again, felt almost unjust.

Despite the talk of a power shift to the northern hemisphere in rugby, the Springboks persevered, ensuring that 75 percent of the semi-final teams would hail from south of the equator. England, as the sole exception, face an uphill battle as the last hope for the north. This situation almost seems like a cosmic joke, with the much-maligned England, who benefited from a favorable draw and aren’t particularly favored by their European counterparts, holding the north’s final aspirations. While Steve Borthwick’s team might strive to halt the southern tidal wave in their upcoming clash against South Africa, the events of this weekend suggest that such hopes may be in vain.

Amidst all the pre-match discussions about the physicality and intensity of the impending clash, it was the exceptional quality and efficiency displayed by both sides that truly stood out. Although the intensity reached unprecedented levels, even by World Cup standards, it was the remarkable skills of the players that left the most lasting impression.

The apprehensive anticipation that often precedes a high-stakes knockout match meant that the in-stadium atmosphere before the game didn’t quite match the carefree exuberance displayed by Les Bleus’ enthusiastic supporters in their opening night victory against the All Blacks. However, it took less than three minutes from the opening whistle for the Stade de France to erupt with excitement as the home side executed a massive rolling maul that splintered the Springbok pack and led to prop Cyrill Baille diving over in the corner for the opening try.

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If that display from France served as an early statement of intent, Eben Etzebeth of South Africa took it upon himself to respond emphatically. The towering lock, known for his aggressive style and fierce demeanor, showcased his athleticism and all-around abilities. Etzebeth intercepted a French pass near the try line, tapping the ball backward for a crucial

turnover. Later, he disrupted a high box kick, allowing Kurt-Lee Arendse to pounce on the loose ball and streak away from the defense. The Springboks’ fly-half, Manie Libbok, who had faced criticism for his kicking in this World Cup, made his own statement by converting the touchline kick to level the score.

Libbok continued to display his exceptional playmaking skills, causing chaos in the French ranks with a well-placed up-and-under kick. Damian de Allende capitalized on the ensuing confusion, charging over the line from close range after a couple of phases.

France’s quick ball delivery from rucks kept the aggressive Springbok defense on its toes, leading to a penalty opportunity. In a testament to his return from injury, Antoine Dupont displayed his strength and tactical prowess, swiftly executing a tap-and-go before delivering a wide pass to Peato Mauvaka for the equalizing try in the corner.

The Springboks retaliated, capitalizing on a loose French pass in midfield. After a clever grubber kick from De Allende, Cheslin Kolbe collected the ball and raced over the line. However, Dupont’s exceptional kicking ability promptly reversed Kolbe’s momentum, winning a five-meter lineout. Subsequently, Cyril Baille found his way over the try line after a few phases from the lineout.

For those who predicted a first-half try double for loosehead prop Cyril Baille, it might be time to try their luck with the lottery this week.

The frenetic first 40 minutes of play culminated in a crucial moment before halftime. Eben Etzebeth’s high tackle on Uini Atonio, resulting in contact with the head, led to a penalty slotted by Thomas Ramos, granting France a 22-19 lead at the break. Despite a less eventful second half in terms of scoring, the tension continued to mount.

The Springboks managed to withstand Etzebeth’s absence without conceding further points. Although Ramos extended France’s lead to six with a penalty, the Springboks countered with their fourth try. Etzebeth, a constant presence on the field, bulldozed his way over the try line, carrying three defenders with him.

With Handre Pollard stepping in for Libbok to utilize his superior goal-kicking skills, the Springboks edged closer to victory. Pollard’s successful conversion and a monstrous penalty from within their own half almost secured their win. However, France still had one final opportunity.

Ramos narrowed the French deficit to 29-28 with a three-pointer in the 72nd minute. Les Bleus launched a spirited attack from their own 22 in the dying minutes, inching into the opposition’s territory. Yet, like their counterparts the day before, they struggled to find a breakthrough. After an 11-phase effort that fell short, they eventually knocked on in contact, signaling the end of the match.

A stunned Stade de France fell into silence as players collapsed to the ground in anguish, completing the haunting symmetry from the previous day. Despite the northern hemisphere’s dominance in this World Cup cycle, a final between New Zealand and South Africa now seems almost inevitable. France’s greatest opportunity to claim their first World Cup title heartbreakingly slipped away, leaving England as the last hope of the hemisphere.


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