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It could be 1995 all over again, one round early.

Twenty years ago there was barely a single


living rugby aficionado in full possession of his marbles who imagined that New Zealand would
lose the World Cup final in Johannesburg. They had Sean Fitzpatrick, almost as good a referee as
he was a hooker, running the show from the front row; they had Jeff Wilson and Andrew
Mehrtens and Josh Kronfeld. And, as a top-of-the-bill attraction, they had Jolly Jonah
stampeding around the green fields of Africa like an entire herd of big game.
Yet somehow the Springboks found a way of neutralising Lomu and his silver-ferned brethren
and got their hands on the Webb Ellis Trophy as a consequence.

The question is this: is it conceivable that Heyneke Meyers side, not wholly dissimilar to Kitch
Christies victorious vintage in the way they are set up, will perform the same kind of miracle
against opponents blessed with all the attacking talents?
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Steve Hansen, the inscrutable New Zealand coach, clearly senses that there is a possibility of
semi-final defeat lurking out there, if not a probability. After watching his sides pretty special
display in sending France back across the Channel on the sticky end of a 62-13 humiliation, he
switched straight into Bok mode by saying: I continue to say that Saturdays are the fun days
after the work days from Mondays to Fridays. So well acknowledge to ourselves that weve just
delivered a performance, put a full stop on it and go back to work.

I love playing South Africa because theres a relationship between us that stretches back way
before my time. Our nations greatest rugby challenges over the years have come from them, so
we have to understand that we havent won this thing. We have to put France behind us and
concentrate completely on preparing for the Boks. If we do what we do with honesty, well give
ourselves a chance.
The fact that the scoreboard did New Zealand no favours at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday
night says all that needs saying about the quality of their rugby.
The France coach Philippe Saint-Andr, generous in his reflections despite being in no mood to
talk about anything to anyone, acknowledged the brutal truth: it was not so much a case of his
side being outplayed, he suggested, as of the All Blacks playing a different game entirely.
To the New Zealanders, this is a sport played in the open a sport of movement and speed and
technique, of power and explosiveness, he said, tacitly admitting that whatever the French
tradition in these areas may be, their rugby of today is out of kilter and out of date. The All
Blacks are the Brazil of rugby union. We knew we had to put great doubt in their minds, but they
came at us so fast we found it difficult to do this. Every time we lost the ball, we received a
punishment. Their reactivity was of the highest quality.
Thierry Dusautoir, the French captain, put it another way, albeit with a struggle: The impotence
we felt for so much of the game [long pause] to leave a tournament in this way [very long
pause]its complicated. There was no space on the field for us to exist in the game.
It was not the speech Dusautoir had planned to make at the end of a distinguished international
career.
Dan Carters career, already as illustrious as it gets, continues to travel onwards and upwards.
His contribution in the quarter-final was above and beyond and something other, and it reminded
all right-thinking rugby followers of the length of time Jonny Wilkinson spent playing second
fiddle to the outside-half from Canterbury.
And to think Carter might not have been New Zealands number one No 10 in this tournament
had Aaron Crudens knee not given way back in April.
Add to this the fact that the left wing Julian Savea is beginning to treat everyone as doormats,
instead of wiping his feet exclusively on players clad in England white, and there are reasons to
think that Hansen has successfully pulled the best stunt of all by getting the best out of his
players when it really counts.
The importance of playing the right level of rugby at the right time is not lost on him, thats for
sure.

When you come to a World Cup, theres a difference between pool play and knock-out play, he
said. When you reach the quarter-finals, things change. If you dont turn up, you go home.
For the French, home is the only direction available to them. Saint-Andr is out of the loop,
internationally speaking, as of now: Guy Novs, the quintessential man of Toulouse for longer
than anyone cares to remember, is charged with making sense of things on a countrywide basis
over the next four years.
Has it come too late for him, as the Wales job came too late for Gareth Jenkins before the 2007
World Cup? Quite possibly. Novs is already in his 60s.
But the new coachs age is probably the least of the problems at the heart of the Tricolore game.
As Saint-Andr said in tones of desolation: This group of players and staff gave everything for
three months in the build-up to this competition, but perhaps three months every four years is not
enough. Perhaps under the system we have, there will always be too much catching up to do.
See More: New Zealand vs South Africa Live Stream