The team that had supposedly forgotten how to lose suddenly remembered at the worst possible time yesterday and the first all-Six Nations global decider vanished like a mirage.
The Welsh dream of converting Saturday’s World Cup final into a derby against the next-door neighbours came to a grievously predictable end but not before the sport itself had taken a fearful battering.
Where the first semi-final winner had raised the game to stratospheric levels of majesty, the second bludgeoned it to bits.
Where rugby, to quote the quaint old saying, had been the winner on Saturday, yesterday it ended up the loser, a universal turn-off.
Those neutrals who stayed with it will have been relieved that a late penalty squeezed out of Wales by a prolonged piece of Afrikaner muscle spared them 20 minutes extra-time.
While England got there in the grand manner, the Springboks followed by playing next to no rugby at all. Far from keeping it secret, one of their more experienced players had given due notice of a tactical approach straight out of Jurassic Park.
“You just need to win,” Frans Steyn said during the week.
“You don’t need to play rugby. The team that plays the least, that makes the least mistakes, wins. If you look at the 2007 final, we didn’t really do a lot.”
Nobody in his or her right mind would want to do that. The South Africa- England final in Paris remains, by some distance, the worst, a truly forgettable occasion void of tries and treats other than one solo run from the then Newcastle centre Mathew (Correct spelling) Tait.
Yokohama yesterday turned out to be every bit as grim. The Boks kicked the ball out of hand 41 times.
Their opponents, hard to beat but out of the same risk-averse school and seriously lacking in the creative department, kicked it 40 times rather than trust themselves to do something different.
Rugby needs a final worthy of the game and if the Boks refuse to adopt a slightly more ambitious strategy then even the most committed Anglophobe will be tempted to break the habit of a lifetime and think about hoping that Farrell & Co. rise to the occasion.
Family matters apart, for Farrell, senior, it will all take some understanding.
Ireland’s new head coach has seen his native England outplay and outclass the All Blacks seven days after the ex-holders had outplayed and outclassed Ireland 46-14, a swing of 44 points.
England’s statement of intent had desired effect
Provoking the All Blacks during The Haka is one thing, leading them a merry dance thereafter a different matter entirely.
England managed both, thereby exploding the myth that New Zealand are hard enough to beat without upsetting them.
The pre-match scenes will have evoked memories for one of Ireland’s last captains of the amateur era and one of the bulldog breed of English hookers. Willie Anderson and Richard Cockerill stage-managed memorable confrontations and duly paid a price for their defiance.
Anderson brought a whole meaning to in-your-face aggression with his eye- balling of Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford during the war-dance at Lansdowne Road 30 years ago.
The All Blacks turned their fury into a routine 23-6 win in John Gallagher’s farewell Test before cashing his Union chips in at Leeds Rugby League club.
Cockerill’s version of getting up close and personal with his opposite number Norm Hewitt, at Old Trafford eight years later, forced the International Rugby Board to enforce a 20-metre exclusion zone around The Haka.
”I was quite excitable,” Cockerill said by way of understatement. “They want to smash you, we want to smash them. It’s a war dance, after all. Then ‘Johnno’ (Martin Johnson) came up to me and said: ‘What the f*** have you done?’”
England lost, 25-8.
In Yokohama on Saturday evening they did something different, lining up in a V-formation at the suggestion of a man well versed in the art of psychological warfare, Eddie Jones. When substitute prop Joe Marler over-stepped the demarcation line, officials intervened.
England knew what they were doing, as confirmed by their New Zealand-born, Welsh-reared prop Mako Vunipola: “We knew it would rile them up.”
A try before any New Zealander had a chance to touch the ball riled them a whole lot more.
Referees need to watch tardy kickers
Now that the Japanese jamboree has only a week to run, the organisers have finally got round to reminding goalkickers that they have 60 seconds to take a penalty.
The law has been studiously ignored by every official over the last five weeks, allowing Japan’s Yu Tamura to take as long as 96 seconds over one kick, and Owen Farrell a second longer over another.
At least Nigel Owens acknowledged it towards the end of England’s scintillating passage into the final.
Ironically, the warning was not given to the injured Farrell but his deputy, George Ford.
As the Leicester stand-off prepared to apply the last rites to the defending champions with the clock coming up to 77 minutes, Owens told him: ‘Come on. This kick has to be taken before 78.’
Ford beat the deadline comfortably enough even if it turned out to be his only miss.
The clock runs down from the moment the attacking team signal their intention to go for goal and the law could scarcely be clearer — the penalty shall be disallowed if it’s not taken within a minute.
Why the World Cup organisation has studiously ignored it until the eleventh hour, only they know.
Tuilagi bids to make different kind of splash
When Jonah Lomu trampled all over England at the start of the 1995 World Cup semi-final, his four tries made a lasting impression on a then four-year-old boy in Samoa.
“I was a massive fan of Big Jonah,” Manu Tuilagi said. “I tried to be like him. You try but you don’t succeed because nobody plays like him.”
Lomu delivered the first of his quartet against Will Carling’s team two minutes after kick-off. In the first semi-final between the countries since then, the boy inspired by the late All Black scored his in 98 seconds.
Manu Tuilagi is on course to finish this World Cup on a higher note than his last one, in New Zealand eight years ago, when an accident-prone England squad were sent packing in the quarter-finals.
Tuilagi wound up being arrested by police for jumping into Auckland Harbour off a ferry.
This World Cup could have a very different finale.
Team of the weekend
15 Elliot Daly (Eng).
14 Anthony Watson (Eng).
13 Manu Tuilagi (Eng).
12 Owen Farrell (Eng).
11 Jonny May (Eng).
10 George Ford (Eng).
9 Ben Youngs (Eng).
1 Mako Vunipola (Eng).
2 Jamie George (Eng).
3 Kyle Sinckler (Eng).
4 Maro Itoje (Eng).
5 Courtney Lawes (Eng).
6 Tom Curry (Eng).
7 Sam Underhill (Eng).
8 Billy Vunipola (Eng).