YOKOHAMA, 2 Nov - As Siya Kolisi cradled then lifted aloft the Webb Ellis Cup, barely 20 metres away England captain Owen Farrell and his team-mates were overtly struggling to come to terms with their defeat.
After all, it was supposed to be England's day. Ruthless in the quarter-finals against Australia, imperious against New Zealand in the last four, many pundits in the week leading up the final were quick to anoint them with the trophy. As Kolisi himself put it in his post-match press conference: "No one gave us a chance."
That has proved a foolish course. South Africa were utterly dominant, especially in the scrums, as they equalled New Zealand's record of three Rugby World Cups and became the first team to win the Rugby Championship and World Cup in the same year.
Their 32-12 victory was the second-widest margin in the history of the tournament. In fact you have to go all the way back to 1999 and Australia's 35-12 win over France to find a more one-sided final scoreline.
World Cup finals are rarely try-laden encounters. It was always likely, then, that much of the match would come down to discipline and a kicking contest between two of the game's finest practitioners – Handre Pollard and Farrell.
It was the Springboks who won on both counts. Crucially, England conceded 10 penalties to South Africa's eight, and the brilliant Pollard made them pay, landing eight out of 10 kicks, including one successful penalty from barely past the halfway line. It meant that he finished as the World Cup's leading points scorer on 69, nine ahead of Farrell in second place.
England were simply unable to exert their usual fluency. They were outmuscled by the powerful Springbok pack who won 11 scrums to England's three.
While Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe stole the show with two late tries – Mapimpi taking his test try score count to 10 in 2019 alone – it was once again the brilliant Springbok defence that stood out, illustrating how far they have come under defence coach Jacques Nienaber over the past year.
Overall they made 154 tackles, missing only 14. The outstanding Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert made 13 each, missing just one between them. Kolisi made 12, missing none. It left England's wingers with none of the space they usually enjoy. Indeed, it was the Springboks who made the more metres overall (380 to 173).
While South Africa's celebrations will be a drawn-out affair, England will rue the missed opportunities that has given them a place alongside France as the only nations to have lost three World Cup finals. The Springboks' World Cup titles appear to come every 12 years – 1995, 2007 and now 2019.
For them, it was just meant to be.