This tournament is truly blessed. After the great explosions of attacking splendour from the likes of Fiji that added a fresh dimension to World Cup rugby, last night's play-off for third place reached heights undreamed of by those who had suffered the misery of four consecutive non-events between 1991 and 2003. Argentina faced down a furious assault from a fractious French side before running them ragged either side of half-time to claim a wonderful victory. One of their tries, by the right wing Federico Martin Aramburu, was as good as anything seen in this competition – or, indeed, in any other.
The first sign that this was a game brimful with meaning came at the opening line-out, when Imanol Harinordoquy – nobody's idea of a pacifist – took issue with Patricio Albacete. A few minutes later, it was the turn of the flankers to enter into the spirit of things, Martin Durand and Thierry Dusautoir falling out at a scrum. In between the arguments, a real game of rugby was threatening to break out. Yannick Nyanga's brilliant running in open field almost created a try for Jean-Baptiste Elissalde; Frédéric Michalak's clever kick to the right corner also went close to bearing fruit.
There was clearly a black-dog hangover from the opening match of the tournament, when the South Americans gatecrashed the French party. They knew the Tricolores would come at them with considerable ferocity, and they weathered the initial storm, reached the end of the first quarter level at 3-3 and then hit their hosts with a flurry of points between the 28th and 31st minutes.
Gonzalo Longo and Alberto Basualdo were responsible for Felipe Contepomi's try on the left, the two forwards driving hard into the French 22 before releasing Agustin Pichot on a clever run that wrong-footed Nyanga. Pichot's scoring pass was perfect. Then, Basualdo sent Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe hammering for the line. He was stopped short, but Omar Hasan used his prop's strength to complete the score.
Argentina were now 17-3 up. Even when the fighting kicked off at the end of the half, they held their ground, the French captain Raphael Ibanez being sent to the sin bin along with the Puma lock Rimas Alvarez Kairelis.
When the masterpiece came, it was stunning to behold. Ignacio Corleto flummoxed the French with a run down the left before finding Manuel Contepomi with an awkward pass. The centre worked a minor miracle to keep the move alive, and as the ball was moved right, Juan Martin Hernandez fired a long pass off his left hand that beggared belief. Alvarez Kairelis took it without breaking stride to send Martin Aramburu in at the corner.
France sent on Sébastien Chabal, the "sacred monster", to put things straight, but no sooner had he thundered on than Horacio Agulla launched the bravest of counter-raids from his own 22. The hosts could do nothing once the scoring pass to Corleto was made. Clement Poitrenaud and Felipe Contepomi swapped late tries to complete proceedings – proceedings that confirmed this as the finest World Cup of them all.
France: C Poitrenaud (Toulouse); A Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne), D Marty (Perpignan), D Skrela (Stade Français), C Dominici (Stade Français); F Michalak (Toulouse), J-B Elissalde (Toulouse); J-B Poux (Toulouse), R Ibanez (Wasps, capt), P De Villers (Stade Français), L Nallet (Castres), J Thion (Biarritz), Y Nyanga (Toulouse), T Dusautoir (Toulouse), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz). Replacements: S Bruno (Sale) for Dusautoir, 40; R Martin for Ibanez, 50; P Mignoni (Clermont Auvergne) for Elissalde, 55; V Clerc (Toulouse) for Rougerie, 60; S Chabal (Sale) for Thion, 61; L Beauxis (Stade Français) for Skrela, 68.
Argentina: I Corleto (Stade Français); F Martin Aramburu (Biarritz), M Contepomi (Newman), F Contepomi (Leinster), H Agulla (Hindu); J M Hernandez (Stade Français), A Pichot (Racing Metro, capt); R Roncero (Stade Français), A Basualdo (Asociacion Alumni), O Hasan (Toulouse), R Alvarez Kairelis (Perpignan), P Albacete (Toulouse), M Durand (Champagnat), J M Fernandez Lobbe (Sale), G Longo (Clermont Auvergne). Replacements: H Semillosa (Hindu) for M Contepomi, 60; J M Leguizamon (London irish) for Durand, 60; E Lozada (San Isidro) for Alvarez Kaireli, 72; F Todeschini (Montpellier) for Corleto, 76; N Fernandez Miranda (Hindu) for Picho, 77; M Ayerza (Leicester) for Roncero, 79; E Guinazu (Agen) for Basualdo, 79.
Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).Reuse content