- 20 Oct 07, 11:22 PM
Stade de France, midnight on Saturday - Can I make this blog sigh? Can I make this page shed a soft tear? Can I make these words jump off the screen and link arms with you?
Tonight, the nerve-frying, heart-squeezing, bone-shaking dream that has been England’s World Cup wonderland finally came to rest.
At a Stade de France so cold the claps froze on your fingers, the Springboks did exactly what Brian Ashton’s boys had done for the last four weeks – held firm, made no mistakes, poured on the pressure and picked the enemy off with penalties.
Don’t hurt yourself with thoughts of Mark Cueto’s disallowed try. Don’t torture yourself with what might have happened had Mathew Tait slipped through one more tackle on that slicing run, or Jonny landed that close-in drop-goal at 3-6 or the long-distance drifter with 10 minutes to go.
It’s hard to admit that it’s over, that we can’t wake up tomorrow and do it all over again.
But it's time to shake a Springbok hand, give thanks for the extraordinary events of the past two months and salute an England team that went further than anyone in their right mind could expect them to.
Sometimes you just know when a match will be yours, and when it will slip away from you.
It didn’t matter how hard England pushed, how many choruses of Swing Low Sweet Chariot swung round the stadium or how many roofs were ripped off by the roaring millions back home.
Tonight, their everything was not enough.
This was stone-cold, hands-up reality after a day when giddy madness had reigned in Paris.
Men had thrown crazy amounts of money at mere rumours of tickets, shipped beers in such vast quantities that you feared the end for some would come before the beginning.
Seeing the passion on the players’ faces at the start – roaring out the anthems, holding on to one another like sailors lashed together in a storm – part of you was crippled with anxiety, while another part wanted to be out there, to be at the heart of such a marvellous maelstrom.
Expectation was hanging so heavy in the air you could almost taste it, belief and doubt mixing together to form an atmosphere so tense you could slice it.
But, when the moment finally arrived, the magic was never quite there. The breaks England needed to win never came.
With 20 minutes to go, even the most banjaxed of England fans around me knew the game was up.
Not tonight the leg-clenching tension of the previous two weeks, nor the ear-splitting noise at the same stadium seven days before.
This was South Africa’s final from a long way out, and everyone in the Stade de France, deep down, knew it.
The Springboks may not have sparkled. They didn’t have to. This was professional rugby for a professional era, a production high on practice and proficiency.
As I write, the fireworks have faded away, the stands emptied, the last celebrating South African skipped off the field. All that’s left on the pitch is a giant slick of golden glitter.
It’s time to go, head back into the bars of Paris and wash all those hopes and disappointments away.
South Africa – I take my hat off to you. England – thanks for the ride.
Tom Fordyce is a BBC Sport journalist travelling around France in a camper van with Ben Dirs. Click here to search for all of Tom and Ben's blog videos.