Portugal left the World Cup with heads held high and a consolatory bonus point after Romania beat them 14-10 in Toulouse on Tuesday.
It was a game for the purist, one full of passion and commitment from all involved. It was not to be the Portuguese swansong many had hoped for but it was further evidence of their emergence in the world game. So, too, was it a marvellous display of brute strength from Romania, packed full of desire, right to the last.
Ultimately it came down to one last play. Portugal trailed by four points and had the ball on their line. Their scrum creaked under immense pressure but the possession was secured and suddenly images of one last hurrah, an epic try to finish the fairytale, flashed through the minds of thousands. As it was three phases later the ball trickled into touch and Romania raised their arms in victory.
Portuguese players lay strewn, disconsolate in defeat, yet with so much to be proud of, so much to remember from a special journey. The sight of Vasco Uva, the injured captain, embracing his brother and cousin symbolised the unity within their ranks. They may be gone from the World Cup but they will live on in the memory for many a year to come.
For so long it looked as if they would muster the energy from the depths of their bodies to hold on for what would have been a remarkable victory. Romania and their bludgeoning forwards had other ideas, and eventually their muscular approach took its toll. The manner in which they first mauled and then hammered at the Portuguese defence was relentless and hugely effective.
The Oaks signaled their intent from the off, starting at a breakneck speed, but their skills could not quite keep up with their legs. Much of what they created was spoilt by little errors, else Portugal could have been put to the sword early and painlessly. As it was they grew in stature with every thrust they repelled, and slowly they played themselves into the game.
They even afforded the crowd some moments of magic, demonstrating attacking dare to clear their lines rather than simply booting the ball to safety. António Aguilar first danced on his own line and then exploded away with a weaving run much to the delight of a packed out Stade Municipal. For all their early dominance Romania presented Portugal with the simplest of opening tries.
Portuguese forays into Romanian territory were rare, and it was on their first visit to the Oaks' 22 from which they scored. Razvan Mavrodin was a little trigger happy at the line out which resulted in a rather surprised João Uva gaining possession. He surged for the line but was repelled, not so Joaquim Ferreira who forced his way over to a deafening roar.
And so the rearguard effort began. Romania proceeded to thrust time and again into Os Lobos' 22, and each time they were met by an army of red shirts. The defence was not pretty but it was effective, and somehow they held on until half-time, a chance to gather themselves for one last effort.
Frustration mounted in the second half as Romania failed to find their rhythm, demonstrated by Cristian Petre's reckless kick at the head of Ruben Spachuck. Lucky for both parties concerned it missed, but something tells you this will not be the last you hear of the matter. Let it not detract from the events of the final thirty minutes, for the intrigue was only to deepen.
Fresh legs were introduced to the Romanian pack, and how they needed this new lease of life. Sorin Socol and Marius Tincu came to the fore and slowly but surely their influence took its toll. The Portuguese line was under siege by this stage and it was only a matter of time before they cracked.
The Portuguese pack had been primed with a series of telling drives by Romania, and eventually their resolute defence crumbled as Marius Tincu ploughed over the line for a converted try that levelled the game at seven a piece.
The sands of time were trickling away and Portugal were looking jaded, but with eleven minutes to go they were given a fresh lease of life. A penalty, given away by Socol allowed Gonçalo Malheiro to edge his side back in front. Cue the final ten minutes of pressure, the final ten minutes that shattered a Portuguese dream and delighted a Romanian team intent on winning at least one game in France.
Romania reverted to type, laying the platform for the decisive try with a mighty drive to within inches of the line. They came at Portugal like banshees, yet those tired and battered bodies clad in red gave every last ounce to defend their lead, their very dreams depended on it.
The mind was strong but the body was tired and could not manage to hold on as Alexandru Manta was driven over for the winning score. The relief was etched on every Romanian face, the despair equally so on those from Portugal.
So we bid a very fond farewell to Portugal, and in doing so we thank them for what they have given to this World Cup. They came as rank underdogs and leave as heroes to so many. Romania now, for their reward, will trudge into one more battle, against the All Blacks. Fitting then that they took their win here as this is where their World Cup effectively ends too.
Man of the Match: For Romania their forward pack was mighty impressive, none more so than captain Ovidiu Tonita. And in Iulian Dumitras they had a player who with one simple swing of his boot could change defence into attack. But it was the Portuguese who impressed that little bit more. From one to twenty-two they fought for a win that was agonisingly out of their reach. It is a double award here, to João Uva and Diogo Coutinho who were the heartbeat of the team. They worked themselves to a standstill in both attack and defence, fighting for every last scrap of possession and never once faltering in their task.
Moment of the Match: Having withstood so much pressure you could sense the pendulum swing to Romania's favour when Marius Tincu scored. From there on it Portugal were up against it and could not quite turn their dream into reality.
Villin of the Match: In a game that meant so much to so many it is with regret that we must hand this award out. But for his petulant lash out with the boot it goes to Cristian Petre. There was simply no need for it and he will be lucky to escape the citing officer.
Tries: Tincu, Manta
Con: Calafateanu, Dumbrava
Portugal: 15 Pedro Leal, 14 António Aguilar, 13 Federico Sousa, 12 Diogo Mateus, 11 Miguel Portela, 10 Duarte Cardoso Pinto, 9 José Pinto, 8 Tiago Girão, 7 João Uva, 6 Diogo Coutinho, 5 Gonçalo Uva, 4 David Penalva, 3 Ruben Spachuck, 2 Joaquim Ferreira (c), 1 Rui Cordeiro.
Replacements: 16 João Correia, 17 Juan Manuel Muré, 18 Paulo Murinello, 19 Salvador Palha, 20 Luis Pissarra, 21 Gonçalo Malheiro, 22 Pedro Carvalho.
Romania: 15 Iulian Dumitras, 14 Catalin Nicolae, 13 Ionut Dimofte, 12 Romeo Gontineac, 11 Catalin Fercu, 10 Dan Dumbrava, 9 Valentin Calafeteanu, 8 Ovidiu Tonita (c), 7 Alexandru Manta, 6 Alexandru Tudori, 5 Cristian Petre, 4 Cosmin Ratiu, 3 Bogdan Balan, 2 Razvan Mavrodin, 1 Cezar Popescu.
Replacements: 16 Marius Tincu, 17 Paulica Ion, 18 Sorin Socol, 19 Florin Corodeanu, 20 Lucian Sirbu, 21 Florin Vlaicu, 22 Gabriel Brezoianu.
Referee: Paul Honiss
Touch judges: Simon McDowell, Carlo Damasco
Television match official: Kelvin Deaker
Assessor: Tappe Henning
By Marcus Leach