RWC 2023 FINAL
South Africa delivers the pièce de résistance of Rugby World Cup in historic victory over New Zealand
Belligerent Boks deliver back-to-back world titles in Paris nailbiter as Springboks won their fourth Rugby World Cup title by retaining the title they won in 2019 on a wet and cold night in Saint-Denis.
South Africa 12 (12) New Zealand 11 (6)
The Springboks just don’t know the meaning of giving up. They have forgotten how to lose and on an icy Parisian night, they dug deeper than ever to edge a courageous 14-man New Zealand 12-11 to become the first four-time Rugby World Cup winners.
Handré Pollard scored all his team’s points with four first-half penalties, but it was a smothering defensive effort that won the day.
The indefatigable Pieter-Steph du Toit led the line with a scarcely believable 28 tackles in a match that had everything.
Du Toit was sensational in every facet of the game, carrying, supporting, chasing high kicks and taking lineouts. His display was the singular embodiment of the collective effort that yielded a third-straight one-point playoff win at the 2023 tournament.
How they keep doing it, is anyone’s guess. Even Du Toit couldn’t really find the words. “We’re a team that loves drama I suppose,” he said when receiving the Man of the Match award.
The plan by Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber to win Rugby World Cup 2023 was fulfilled by the narrowest of margins. But no one can say they are not worthy champions because they displayed the character of champions in so many dark moments in this tournament.
A red card for All Black skipper Sam Cane for a high shot on Jesse Kriel in the 29th minute was deserved and shaped the game but with the Boks also earning two yellow cards, it was perhaps not as decisive as it might have been.
At the time Cane was yellow-carded with the nasty hit on Kriel heading to the bunker for review, it looked as if the match might be getting away from the All Blacks. They were on the ropes, but they dug in and caused no end of problems for the Boks in the second half.
The Boks, as they have done many times in the past, failed to put the All Blacks away and the longer the black wall repelled them, the greater the sense of foreboding for Bok fans. They’ve seen this movie before and any failure to bury the men in black when you have the chance, ends in tears.
But this time, because it was these Boks, who play with so much inner strength, fiery hearts, yet cool heads, it ended with tears of joy. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was beautiful.
All Blacks wing Mark Telea was a constant source of energy and danger as he buzzed and fizzed into the heavy Bok artillery while centre Jordie Barrett pulled the strings.
But the Boks were sensational in defence and even the early loss of hooker Bongi Mbonambi to a knee injury, which saw their lineout crumble, they still stayed in the fight.
Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk was everywhere and was brilliant in keeping the tempo of many surprising Bok attacks high, while his kicking game was spot on for the most part.
Lock Eben Etzebeth was a towering figure for an hour while Kwagga Smith, RG Snyman and Willie le Roux were excellent in the final quarter when New Zealand had all the momentum.
The 7-1 bench came off, but not without some problems. Deon Fourie was not supposed to play 79 minutes and Cheslin Kolbe pulled a hamstring with 25 minutes to go but played on.
He was eventually yellow-carded with eight minutes to go, deliberately knocking the ball down as the All Blacks stretched the Boks wide. Kolbe simply couldn’t back his pace.
That levelled the numbers in those final, agonising minutes. New Zealand might have won it, thanks to Kolbe’s indiscretion, but Jordan Barrett pulled the 50-metre plus penalty kick wide. Even with seven minutes to play, it felt like a terminal miss because scoring chances were so limited.
The All Blacks scored the only try of the match in the 58th minute when Beauden Barrett picked up a Telea pass in the corner. It did look marginally forward but it stood. It was the first time, in their fourth World Cup final, that the Boks had conceded a try.
In truth the Boks should have been out of sight in the 10 minutes after halftime. Captain Siya Kolisi failed to pass to an open Kriel on his outside just seconds into the second half.
Kolisi burst through a tackle and Kriel was wide open, but the skipper threw a dummy and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga made a sensational tackle from behind. Danger snuffed out and five points went begging.
Although the Boks were the better team in the first half, it might have ended differently but for a superb corner flag tackle by Kurt-Lee Arendse on a flying Rieko Ioane. That tackle ensured that the Springboks made it through seven halves of rugby in World Cup finals without conceding a try.
Tried to play
In difficult conditions both sides were willing to try and play rugby. There was a heavy reliance on tactical kicking too and the Boks just about shaded that area of the game
The Springboks were the dominant team in the first half aided by New Zealand’s ill-discipline.
First, flank Shannon Frizell was yellow-carded in the second minute for a neck roll on Mbonambi. It was a nasty act and in the process of twisting the Bok hooker off the ball, Mbonambi appeared to have suffered knee ligament damage.
Then, on the half hour, All Black captain Cane ploughed his shoulder in centre Kriel’s face. Referee Wayne Barnes initially missed the incident, as he had the Frizell foul too, but the television match official alerted him.
Cane was yellow-carded and it was referred to the bunker where it came back as red. It was a huge moment in the match at a time Pollard made it 12-3 with halftime approaching.
But the Boks had their own problems. Replacement hooker Fourie was struggling with the wet ball and throwing in, and he lost three lineouts in the first half alone. He lost two more after the break.
Frizell’s neck roll might have cost his side 10 minutes in the sin bin, but it had a huge impact on the Boks set piece. Fourie was excellent in the loose, making one critical turnover. He was also busy on defence but with the lineout breaking down, the All Blacks had a chance.
Kolisi was yellow carded for his own high tackle on Ardie Savea but it wasn’t elevated as initial contact was on the shoulder.
The All Blacks stayed in striking distance when Mo’unga slotted his second penalty after Etzebeth blocked a New Zealand pass when coming back into the defensive line. Barnes must have considered a yellow card for a professional foul in the red zone, but he let it slide.
The Boks rode their luck in the second half and trusted their defence, experience and calmness under pressure to deliver yet again. DM
South Africa – Penalties: Handré Pollard (4).
New Zealand – Try: Beauden Barrett. Penalties: Richie Mo’unga (2).