The players, the contest, the entertainment and everything were blown clean off the field.
Cometh the hour, cometh The Whistle.
Once every four years rugby union arrives on the great global stage. Performed before an audience of many millions, here is an opportunity for the romance of the game to reach into the minds of the world. Emotion, ferocity, heart, passion. It was all there in the form of the true star of the 2023 big dance, rising to the occasion, defying gravity, fearless, formidable: The Whistle.
From the first of 80 minutes The Whistle asserted itself. Peep, it went. Peep, peep. It was art and it was science, waves of sound at 2,000 hertz. In moments, rugby – even, from time to time, entertaining rugby – threatened to emerge, only to encounter a greater force. The extinguisher. The rewind. The impenetrable rules. The Whistle.
A novice might imagine that Wayne Barnes, to whose lips The Whistle was sealed, is the hero, but a wiser, sour-grape-drunk, sore-loser analyst (me), understands that The Whistle is deeper, wider and more powerful than the spittle-flecked mouth flaps of one man. Rugby is a team sport and so is The Whistle, the Television Match Official tethered to the contest like Nasa mission control centre to a moon landing: a primed and holy squad preternaturally determined to find any light or flair or fun, any speck of joy, and kill it dead.
And more than that: The Whistle is a mindset, a philosophy, a way of life that transcends the turf of Stade France. Literally hundreds of administrators and officials have come together across years to create The Whistle, to make it peep. Peep, peep. Arise, Sir The Whistle. This is your day. Were there really any players there at all? Who can say? Who really cares? The Whistle was omnipresent, overwhelming. In Paris, around the world, across time and space, there was The Whistle and only The Whistle.
Speaking after the match, The Whistle said, “full credit to the Springboks and full credit to the All Blacks.” They did their best. They might have done better. But there was only one winner on the day and it wasn’t rugby. As casual viewers switched the channel, muttering what-the-fuck-is-going-on-here, The Whistle prevailed, tireless, peeping, peep peeping, invincible.