And so, now there are four, the four it was really going to be all along. Those that remain, England, New Zealand, South Africa and Wales, are the four best sides in the world, comfortably the four top ranked teams in the world, and the four nations who entered the tournament in the best form. Does it not all feel slightly predictable?
For one, I predicted the unpredictable ahead of the quarterfinals. I desperately desired Ireland to turn over the All Blacks, willed the French to send Gatland back to New Zealand without his most coveted trophy. None of it came to pass. Instead, four superior teams beat four slightly less superior teams. Before that, all eight had beaten the raft of inferior teams that made up the rest of the pools.
This must surely be of concern for World Rugby, and undermines the very notion of a competitive, knockout tournament. Sure, the pool stages threw up some incredible upsets (who could forget the heroic exploits of Japan and Uruguay) but here we are, a month after the tournament began, and what has really changed?
Of the ‘elite’ rugby nations, only Scotland and Argentina, the two worst ‘elite’ nations at the present moment, in rankings and in performance, who were drawn into the two most competitive pools, did not make the quarter finals.
Only Japan, the host nation, sprung any sort of meaningful surprise and, even then, given their rise over the last four years, their extended period of preparation, their favourable scheduling, their incredible support and the dire showings of Scotland and Ireland, it must be classed as the least surprising upset possible. Quite predictably, the Springboks, ever keen to spoil the fun, squeezed and throttled the life out of the Brave Blossoms at the weekend.
Unquestionably, the gulf between those operating at tier one and tier two, in playing time, resources and ability, is of serious concern. Too many teams – Namibia, Tonga, Samoa and USA, to name a few – qualify regularly for the World Cup only to act as speed bumps in the way of the elite juggernauts, on their irrepressible trundle into the knockouts.
Perturbing too, will be the growing gap between what could be termed Tier 1A (currently made up of our semi final contestants, but the strata Ireland occupied just a year ago) and the other tier one nations.
That England, a far from vintage England side, mind you, carrying patchy form since 2017, can overwhelm the Wallabies with such a meaty, dismissive shrug, is bad for rugby. Likewise, that the All Blacks, who were undoubtedly incredible, can brush aside the team ranked number one in the world just weeks ago, should also concern fans of the global game.
Whilst the Rugby World Cup only began in 1987, the fact it has been won by just four nations, three of whom make up the current semi-final fixture list, is indicative of a sporting culture dominated by the very best, in which there are glass ceilings separating off the various tiers and sub tiers of the game.
If New Zealand win their fourth title, their third in succession, then rugby is most definitely in need of an intense revaluation. I, for one, will not be betting against them again.
Written by Joe Ronan