Welcome to Paris, where you may have heard there is a rugby match taking place.
In a tournament with some unexpected outcomes, this game seemed to be decided in the long run. Ireland move seamlessly from the top of the world rankings to top spot in the group and face New Zealand, whose second place behind France in Pool A highlights their current status.
But academic considerations of form and progression are often sidelined from the high balcony of a Rugby World Cup knockout. The All Blacks can tell many stories from the years between 1987 and 2011, when being the best team in the world was worthless after a defeat; Visions of Phillippe Bernat Salles haunting sleepless hours and Whispers of “Four more years, boys.” penetrate the quiet moments.
And of course Ireland. A nation that, for some inexplicable reason, has never won a World Cup knockout game and has failed at the final eight hurdle each time. Surely it will be different this time, after all, they are facing a team they have beaten five times since their famous 2016 win in Chicago? What’s more, Andy Farrell’s men claimed their first series win in New Zealand last summer, prompting a tearful Peter O’Mahony to say: “This has never happened before.” It’s something I did as a young lad never thought possible, but now the young guys back home will know it’s possible.”
Aside from the youngsters, the Irish team and their coach have no illusions about their ability and potential. Grand Slam champions, unbeaten in 17 games and a purring, brutal engine in which everyone knows their role and carries it out brilliantly.
New Zealand have a few ghosts in their team, some of their aging players are not as tireless as the rest of the team and their performance level, while strong, is just below the very best. Ironically, they would do well to take inspiration from one of their famous defeats: England in the 2019 semi-final, where a strong but overlooked side took on a juggernaut and dispatched it. In simpler terms, they may just remember that they absolutely defeated today’s opponents in the QF the week before.
What will be the result? Another dubious result for O’Mahony to show the youngsters at home, or the historic natural order of rugby restored by the All Blacks?
Make yourself comfortable, it won’t be long.