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Rugby World Cup Final – a Barnes-Stormer!

So, the Springboks are world champions (again), a South African president is sharing the limelight (again) and pictures of Wayne Barnes are being taped to dartboards across New Zealand (again).

Same old – as in 1995, 2007 and 2019.

To be fair to poor old English referee Barnes, he did a pretty good job of officiating the Rugby World Cup Final in Paris on Saturday night.

It’s not his fault the game has got itself into such a mess.

Yellow cards upgraded to red, yellow cards kept as yellow, and a moment of sublime genius wiped out because one man in a truck with a bank of cameras had spotted something no-one else in the stadium had noticed.

Richie Mo’unga might have bowed out as an All Black by producing the thrilling break that set up what looked a winning try for Aaron Smith.

Instead, the try was wiped out, not because Barnes thought it should be, not because South African players spotted anything wrong, or any of their fans in the 80,000 crowd – but because one guy with a replay monitor had spotted the tiniest of infringements much earlier in the move.

Is that what showpiece sport is really all about? Ruining the most thrilling moments because a hair was out of place?

New Zealand captain Sam Cane became the first player to be sent off in a final and three others were yellow-carded in a brutal, incredibly tense clash where Handre Pollard’s kicking made the difference in a 12-11 victory that gave the Springboks a record fourth title.

Without a match for the next seven months, there is plenty of time for the Boks to savour their victory in the final at the Stade de France.

It’s most certainly the end of an era with players from both nations disappearing into the sunset.

Of the 35 players that South Africa used at this World Cup, 20 are aged 30 or older and many are expected to have come to the end of their test careers, as new four-year cycle begins ahead of the next World Cup in Australia in 2027.

South Africa next play a home series against Ireland next summer, then the annual Rugby Championship with Argentina, Australia and New Zealand and will end 2024 on tour to Europe, including a test at Twickenham against England in mid-November and possibly one also against Wales.

Head coach Jacques Nienaber is leaving to join the staff at Irish province Leinster while former Irish international Felix Jones, another integral part of the South African coaching team, becomes an assistant coach under Steve Borthwick with England.

It is expected that 37-year-old Duane Vermeulen, who probably played his last game in Saturday’s final, will join the staff, having already spent time in the coach’s box during the tournament in France.

None of the winning squad have spoken of quitting, either the game overall or their international careers, but the intensity of the World Cup campaign takes a toll as the 31-year-old centre Damian de Allende explained when asked whether he would continue with the Boks.

“I would love to say yes but at the moment I have to take it year by year,” he said after Saturday’s victory.

“I’m getting a little bit older, my body is taking a bit longer to recover. It was tough this week and last week.”

We know the feeling.

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