Rugby World Cup quarter-final clashes were the best ever

Rugby World Cup quarter-finals take their place in history as the best ever after France and Ireland crash out in spectacular showing against southern hemisphere giants

  • France were knocked out of their own Rugby World Cup by South Africa
  • Ireland’s last-eight curse continued as the brilliant All Blacks rallied in Paris
  • The two southern hemisphere giants could now meet in an epic World Cup final 

In a taxi back to central Paris in the early hours of Monday morning after a second consecutive evening of rugby nirvana at the Stade de France, I picked the brains of two valued colleagues.

I was sure in my own mind that the World Cup quarter-finals I had been hugely fortunate to witness between Ireland and New Zealand and France and South Africa amounted to the best action I had ever witnessed covering the sport. But France 2023 is only my third global showpiece as a journalist.

My opinion needed to be fully framed in the context of history. That is why I sought the opinion of two other members of the press.

Remarkably, they have both covered all 10 of the World Cups to date. ‘There has never been anything like this,’ one said. There we are then.

On social media, Australia’s double World Cup winner Tim Horan backed that up. ‘Best weekend of World Cup quarter-finals ever,’ he posted.

France were knocked out of their home Rugby World Cup after losing by a single point against South Africa

South Africa’s clash against France will go down as one of the best World Cup matches ever

Springbok captain Siya Kolisi was barely able to speak after beating Les Bleus in Paris on Sunday

To be in the French capital and witness the performances of four extraordinary sides was a true privilege. The quality on show was just tremendous.

The physicality, intensity and accuracy produced by the players was on another level. In the end, it was the same old story as the southern hemisphere giants prevailed.

New Zealand ensured Ireland’s last-eight curse continued. Then, only 24 hours later, South Africa sent the hosts France tumbling out of their own tournament.

The drama was extraordinary. ‘It was an amazing game,’ said Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, barely able to speak after beating Les Bleus.

‘The way the two teams played outshines everything. It was an amazing atmosphere.’

The lopsided nature of the draw for this World Cup meant that undoubtedly the tournament’s four best teams all faced each other in Paris. Two brilliant sides were always going to go home.

World Rugby was rightly criticised for the draw. It was done far too early. But the flip side of that being the case was that we saw the best quarter-finals in history.

It will be no consolation to Irish and French fans. The front page of France’s leading sporting newspaper L’Equipe carried an image of a dejected Antoine Dupont on Monday morning.

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton will now retire after the All Blacks inflicted a quarter-final defeat on the European nation

The headline was simple and summed up the mood of a nation. ‘Crying,’ it read.

New Zealand and Ireland served up a battle for the ages. It took one of the best All Black displays in recent memory to get the better of the world’s No 1 side. The quality of the contest was perhaps best summed up by the curtain raiser and an astonishing finale.

Ian Foster’s All Blacks went through 29 phases in attack at the start of the game to win a penalty which opened the scoring. Then, right at the end, they withstood a 37-phase Irish onslaught as Andy Farrell’s side looked for what would have been a match-winning try. Their defence was incredible. There was no way through the wall of black.

At the final whistle, both teams collapsed knowing they could not have given more. Surely, there was next to no chance France against South Africa could be as good Incredibly, it was even better. The anticipation ahead of kick-off was palpable.

The queue for the media entrance to the Stade de France for the hosts’ game with South Africa was the longest I’ve ever seen, even three hours before kick-off. Around the waiting journalists, French fans drank beer and were in jovial mood. ‘A la final,’ one screamed at the top of his voice. ‘C’est histoire!’

The rendition of La Marseillaise raised the hairs on the back of your neck. It was showtime.

Boy did France and South Africa deliver. The first 40 minutes has to be the best half of rugby I’ve seen. Both teams scored three tries apiece. The second half was tighter and not quite as good. But it simply could not have been.

New Zealand produced a sensational performance against the world’s highest ranked team in Ireland

Ireland’s defeat against New Zealand was another astonishing match to witness

It would have been impossible and beyond human endurance to serve up such brilliant entertainment over the course of a full 80. In the end, the Springboks did just enough.

Jacques Nienaber’s side prevailed by the narrowest of margins to set-up a semi-final with England. Steve Borthwick’s side are the only northern hemisphere team left standing.

The Springboks have now won 78 per cent of their knock-out fixtures in World Cup history. With France’s exit, it feels like some of the life has been sucked out of this tournament.

The front page of France’s leading sporting newspaper L’Equipe carried an image of a dejected Antoine Dupont on Monday morning

Hours after the final whistle, the streets around Saint-Denis were strewn with rubbish, a nation’s dream in tatters.

Back in central Paris, as we digested the night’s action over a 2am pint, the streets were empty. We were lucky to be served. The French party was over.

The semi-finals between New Zealand and Argentina and South Africa and England will have to go some to match what was served up in the last-eight in Paris at the weekend.

There is no doubt both matches would have been fitting of World Cup finals. The behaviour of all four sets of players was also exemplary. It was rugby that will be remembered forever.

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