At times it was brutal, often it was downright ugly, but who cares? In the end there can have been few more poignant sights than that of Siya Kolisi, the boy from a dusty, poverty-stricken South African township, on Saturday lifting the Rugby World Cup following an emphatic victory over England.
The first black man to captain the Springboks hoisted the trophy high into the Yokohama night and was instantly showered by golden streamers as fireworks lit up the sky at the end of a momentous 32-12 triumph.
It was a scene destined for posterity, and sporting showreels the world over, and one which prompted tears from South Africans on the field and off it.
“Since I have been alive I have not seen South Africa like this,” Kolisi said. “It was like in ‘95,” he added, referring to the Rainbow Nation’s first World Cup triumph, on home soil.
That victory was immortalised by Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first post-apartheid president, wearing then-captain Francois Pienaar’s number six jersey.
That gesture was mirrored on Saturday when a beaming President Cyril Ramaphosa also donned the number six shirt, now worn by Kolisi, as he watched the presentation pitchside, waving to the captain who replied with a victory sign and a clenched fist.
“So many challenges we have,” Kolisi said. “Coach (Rassie Erasmus) told us we are not playing for ourselves, we are playing for the people back home.
We are really proud as South Africans. Not many people gave us a chance. We had to believe in each other and our plan. We love you, South Africa, and we can achieve anything if we work together.”
Giant number eight Duane Vermeulen agreed. “We are doing it for each other but also for 57 million people back home in South Africa,” the man of the match said.
This night was all South Africa’s as they won their third World Cup to draw level with New Zealand as the most successful side in the tournament’s history. With three cups from three finals, they are the only nation with a 100 percent record in the showcase match.
England lost finals in 1991 and 2007, the latter to South Africa, and now join France as three-time runners-up.
England will now try to figure out how a side that obliterated the seemingly invincible All Blacks in the semi-finals could show up with so little invention.
But perhaps that had been the problem. To expect another performance the like of that was unrealistic, yet that is what it would have taken on a night when the Springboks were simply electric.
“It was a great World Cup,” England coach Eddie Jones said. “Humbled to be part of it. Disappointed we are not the world’s best team. We finished second. Silver medal isn’t as good a gold one.”
Criticised all tournament for being uncreative, on the night South Africa did it all.
They dominated the scrum, were immense in defence and ground down the English. They even crossed the tryline, not just once but twice — their first tries in any World Cup final — when first Makazole Mapimpi bounded over the line in the 66th minute to add a beautiful bauble to their prodigious work rate, and then Cheslin Kolbe skipped through the ragged England defence to drive home their superiority.
‘Mr Metronome’ Handre Pollard, meanwhile, had been ticking off the points for this famous victory, scoring 22 from the tee, but it was Faf de Klerk — the diminutive scrumhalf who looks like a 1980s popstar but tackles like a super-heavyweight — who pulled the levers for this win.
All darting runs, quick thinking and laser accurate passing, De Klerk kept England on the back foot throughout, and absolute South African dominance in the scrum meant there was nowhere for England to go.
Time and again they gave up penalties in that area and had to watch Pollard step up and do what he does best.
It was a match played entirely on South Africa’s terms, and underlined Southern Hemisphere dominance of the event. Even after the first foray into Asia, the only Northern Hemisphere winner was England, in 2003.