Paris, Wellington, Cape Town (29/10 – 18)
South Africa has produced another magnificent defensive performance, to win the 2023 World Rugby Cup final. The Springboks beat New Zealand 12-11 in a Saturday thriller at Stade de France, Saint-Denis, thus becoming the first nation to win four Rugby World Cup titles – after their previous triumphs in 1995, 2007, and 2019. Four Handre Pollard penalties gave the Springboks a 12-6 lead in the first half. By that time, New Zealand already lost captain Sam Cane, red-carded for a high tackle on Jesse Kriel in the 32nd minute.
The All Blacks only managed to score two penalties in the first half, via Richie Mo’unga. Beauden Barrett touched down, to bring New Zealand to within a point, just before the hour mark. South Africa held firm under huge pressure, with an impressive defensive display. Over 80 minutes of play, The Springboks made 209 tackles, with an 81% success percentage.
The New Zealand is the one with the most tries throughout the tournament, with 47 in 6 matches before the final. That’s nearly 8 per game on average. The All Blacks made just one valiant try against The Springboks.
“They just know their game. They are strong and experienced. They’ve got the ability to play the game at their pace,” admitted All Blacks coach Ian Foster. “For us, it’s heart-breaking, and I look at the effort of our team. We gave ourselves a really good chance in that second half, especially after the damage that red card created.”
Since day one of the tournament, a masterclass defense has been South Africa’s best weapon. On 10 September, The Springboks took Scotland with an 18-3 first game win; their opponent, humiliated, could not register a single try point. With another shutout on 17 September, Jacques Nienaber’s team destroyed Romania, 76-0, in the second game.
World number one South Africa lost to Ireland by a shameful 8-13 in the third match, on 23 September, only scoring once from many tries. In the last match of the pool stage, on 1 October, while Tonga made three tries, South Africa bested them 49-18.
In the quarter-finals and semifinals, The Springboks eliminated two former champions, France (29-28) and England (16-15), scraping through with the smallest of margins. England did not score a single try in the semifinals. In the final, The Springboks won their third consecutive game by a single point. Those three results show their skill at edging out close encounters.
“I think the main thing was just the strength of the squad,” South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber said. “They’re experienced, they’ve been in a final before, and some of them were playing a third World Cup. So I think the experience just pulled it through. They’re an amazing bunch of guys, all warriors. We’ve come a long way with these players; we’ve planned for this since 2018,” added Nienaber.
“The last three games were really rough. Each one we played like a final,” said South Africa flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, named “Man of the Match” with 28 tackles in the game. “Each one we won by one point, so it was quite tough for us,” he concluded.