There's a scene in the movie Shakespeare in Love when Geoffrey Rush, playing the impresario, a man who knows everything worth knowing about theatre, is asked "How do actors manage to turn the shambles of rehearsal, with jealousies and pride aflame and lines not learned or even written, into a show worth watching"?
I don't know, he says. It's a mystery.
Rugby's like that. How did England turn itself into a team that outplayed the All Blacks? How did the All Blacks, after the misery of their semifinal, do the same against Wales? How did Japan manage it against Ireland? Most of all, how did South Africa not just beat England, but triumph over them in one of the greatest displays of one-sided rugby we've seen in a Rugby World Cup final?
How do you turn chaos into art?
Actually, How do you turn art into chaos? is worth asking too. On their way out of the tournament, the All Blacks, Australia, Ireland, Wales and England all played like Scotland. How did that happen? Scotland played like Scotland too, but that was less surprising.
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Did you notice? All those earnest warnings about how, among the top teams, there were only ever a few points in it? Except for Wales vs France, that didn't happen.
Every team played one game too many. They didn't play themselves to a standstill, a mere drop goal separating them. Every team rode into the Valley of Death and was slaughtered. It was South Africa's great good fortune that it happened to them in their very first game, so they had time and the opportunity to rise again.
How magnificent they were in the end. How satisfying to see the English scrum taken apart like that. How absolutely fabulous that Faf de Klerk didn't box kick all bloody day like he did against Wales. How deeply, deeply satisfying that the only team trying to score tries won the game by scoring tries.
Although I'll confess, when Cheslin Kolbe produced the magic for his, I was off the couch shouting "Sevu Reece can do that!"
And now we move to a new time, when Sevu Reece will do that and so will so many others.
For that, we give thanks to Steve Hansen. I love Steve Hansen. Shag. He's Fred Dagg come to town, off with the woollen singlet and gumboots, on with the suit and never mind you can't do up the top shirt button or pull up the tie.
Laconic is the word. Dry wit. Don't get carried away, we're Kiwis and we don't need anything too flash around here.
Such a clever ruse. Because the reason to love Steve Hansen is that he insisted on flash. He was the confident but non-cocky guy we all love to think is our national character, and all the while he was producing sophisticated, free-running, flash-as-hell rugby. And showing the world how to win with it.
Shag made rugby worth watching. He wasn't the only one – he built on Graham Henry's work, for starters – but he took it higher and he led the charge. His legacy has just been played out before us: none of the games, except that South Africa vs Wales embarrassment, was an old-fashioned slugfest. In previous world cups, most of the them were. Most of the big ones.
Steve Hansen kept the faith with Sonny Bill Williams, a gifted, principled and extraordinarily generous man, on the field and off. Who also had some dreadful moments, that's true too. SBW is an enlarged version of a human being who has enlarged the sense of what sport is.
I was coaching kids when he introduced the world to the backhanded offload. You could look around the field at training, several teams of kids, and there they'd be, whenever the coaches weren't looking, practising that slip pass out the back of one hand. Most of them hated passing practice, done the regulation way, but a lot of those backs could do the backhand.
SBW rugby, Shag rugby. Flash as hell, nothing to write home about.
Kieran Read has retired now too. The man, we're told, who stopped the bullying culture in the All Blacks. A tough guy who so obviously oozes kindness, and he made more tackles than any other All Black, third highest in the comp. Fantastic. Please do not fade from sight, skipper. Your country needs you, in some good way.
Shag did so well, giving us these guys. And giving us Ardie Savea. It's my favourite sight in all the All Blacks magic: Ardie, chest heaving, knees up with thighs pumping, hair on fire, bursting with the ball through a horde of defenders.
Favourite moment? TJ Perenara's miracle try against Namibia at the end of a great attacking sequence. That's runner-up. Best of all was Ben Smith on Saturday night, the Bender Fender, planting his hand in the face of Welsh fullback Tomos Williams, on the way to scoring his second try.
Such a great statement of skill and purpose, made for himself and for the team. Is there anything more commanding in rugby than a fend to the face?
How remarkable, to look back and think how obsessed we were about the backs. Should we have dual playmakers, who's best for the midfield, are the flash new kids really better than the wily old hands?
Turned out the correct answer was: doesn't matter, you're looking in the wrong place. Against England, we somehow needed bigger, stronger, faster and more ruthless forwards.
The best thing? We're going on an adventure now: new coach, new captain, new team. Are we up for it? Are we emotionally and psychologically equipped?
Have we been listening to Shag? For years now, he's been inviting us to get a grip. To understand the players are humans not robots, to know that learning how to lose is necessary if you want to learn how to win. Above all, to give ourselves more fully to the pleasures of the game.
The new adventure will take the full four years and I hope they take a tonne of risks. Real risks, the kind that don't always pay off, that are worth taking for the advances you make with the ones that do.
The best thing about RWC 2019? South Africa won. Captain Siya Kolisi spoke afterwards about how that win was about far more than rugby, and who could doubt it? "We can achieve anything if we work together as one," he said. His coach, Rassie Erasmus, talked about the way rugby can generate hope.
They prepared and played so well, all the way to the end, and now they can take their win back to a homeland that so desperately needs hope. Shag told us often: it's only rugby. He won't begrudge that for Kolisi and his teammates, it's also something else.