South Africa has claimed a record fourth Rugby World Cup crown after seeing off a sensational New Zealand fightback to win Sunday’s final in Paris 12-11 in dramatic fashion.
The match saw four cards, including a red card to New Zealand captain Sam Cane – the first time a player had ever been sent off in a decider.
But New Zealand fought back brilliantly despite playing the entire second half a man with 14 men, threatening a stunning comeback with a gallant performance.
The Springboks didn’t score a point in the second half but defended brilliantly to reign supreme at Stade de France.
It was a third consecutive one-point win for the Springboks in the knockout stages, seeing them win back-to-back titles and stand alone on four World Cup titles.
2003 World Cup winner Matt Dawson declared on BBC Radio 5 Live: “I think we have witnessed the greatest ever rugby side.
“What they have just done in this tournament is simply remarkable. The way they have come through their group and the knockouts – it is remarkable.
“I don’t think it will ever be surpassed and all with the label as current world champions with that target on their back.”
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The Springboks adapted well to the wet and windy conditions in Paris for the decider, but New Zealand were rocked by two first-half yellow cards, first to Shannon Frizell and then to captain Sam Cane.
The latter was subsequently upgraded to a red card due to the high degree of danger in his high tackle.
It marked the first time in World Cup history a player had been sent off in the final, and left the All Blacks with a mountain to climb in the second half after a 12-6 deficit at the break – all the points for South Africa coming through the boot of Handre Pollard.
But New Zealand were boosted just six minutes after the interval when Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi was also handed a yellow card for a high shot.
New Zealand scored the first try of the final when Beaden Barrett crossed the line in the 59th minute following a sustained period of pressure and multiple penalties, seconds after an Aaron Smith try was ruled out.
And the teams finished the match level on 14 men apiece after the FOURTH card of the contest, when South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe was binned in the 72nd minute for a deliberate knock on.
But New Zealand’s Jordie Barrett sent his long-range penalty attempt wide of the posts.
Having not trailed all match, the South African side simply refused to lose and grimly held on for a record fourth title.
Pieter-Steph du Toit made 28 tackles and won a turnover in a simply remarkable individual performance, earning the flanker player of the match honours.
And captain Siya Kolisi became just the second skipper to raise the Webb Ellis Cup twice, after New Zealand legend Richie McCaw in 2011 and 2015.
AS IT HAPPENED
Back rower Shannon Frizell was handed a yellow card inside three minutes by the TMO for foul play, having come around the side in a clean-out to put his entire weight on hooker Bongi Mbonambi’s leg.
The South African was injured in the incident, forcing an early Springboks bench change with Deon Fourie coming on.
South Africa’s fly-half Handre Pollard successfully kicked the penalty to earn a 3-0 lead.
A man down, New Zealand was forced to defend desperately after being pinned back in their own half, with left winger Cheslin Kolbe summing up the Springboks’ physical and aggressive early approach with a pair of exceptional cross-field kicks.
The latter, in the 10th minute, earned a lineout in the Kiwi 22 and finished in a second penalty a couple of minutes later with the All Blacks penalised for not rolling away after a tackle.
Pollard made no mistake with his kick to take a 6-0 lead after 12 minutes, before Frizell returned to the field – his yellow card not being upgraded to red with the officials deeming he had fallen on his opponent’s leg rather than deliberately targeting it.
But New Zealand got on the board soon after Richie Mo’unga slotted the ball between the posts from close range, but South Africa responded with a successful penalty of their own after Ardie Savea was penalised for not rolling away.
South Africa’s physicality and line speed in the opening 20 minutes had caused New Zealand plenty of problems, with their Springboks forward line impressing amid rainy and chilly conditions at the Stade de France.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks – who had won 97 per cent of their attacking lineouts in the run to the final, were having early difficulties from the sideline, losing two such set pieces in the first half an hour.
And in the 29th minute, New Zealand captain and flanker Sam Cane was also sent to the sin bin for a clear high shot on South Africa’s Jesse Kriel – before being upgraded to a red due to the degree of danger in his shot, with his right arm making direct and forceful contact to the head.
South Africa took advantage of the additional man quickly, earning another penalty and converting for a 12-3 lead before the break.
But New Zealand hit back after some nice work in attack from Mark Tele’a, with the All Blacks earning a penalty inside the opposition 22 and making it 12-6 just prior to halftime.
Six minutes after the break, Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi was handed the third card of the match when he saw yellow for a high shot on New Zealand’s Ardie Savea.
Kolisi’s card was not upgraded to a red despite a high degree of danger, due to mitigating factors.
The All Blacks appeared to take advantage when Richie Mo’unga produced a brilliant moment of magic to burst through the Springboks defence and set up Aaron Smith for the first try of the final.
It would have been the first time South Africa had ever conceded a try in a World Cup final.
But there had been a clear knock-on from New Zealand from the lineout prior to the try, with the video referee ensuring the try was ruled out.
New Zealand did however retain the ball after another penalty in that same lineout, and continued their desperate hunt for a first try when they kicked for touch.
After the lineout they pounded on the South African line and earned a second penalty, kicking for touch again for a five-metre lineout.
South Africa’s skipper had returned to the field after his sin bin period ended, but he couldn’t help his side hold off the All Blacks attack as the Kiwis finally crossed the line.
New Zealand earned a penalty advantage from the lineout before eventually moving it to the left side of the field through a long Jordie Barrett pass, with his brother Beauden Barrett finishing the try.
He was brilliantly set up by Mark Tele’a who beat two tackles and managed to quickly give the ball to his fullback when he was finally wrapped up.
Mo’unga couldn’t convert as the All Blacks missed the chance to take a first lead of the match, with the score remaining 12-11 in South Africa’s favour.
But the All Blacks had fought back despite their numerical disadvantage, making inroads from lineouts and turning the territorial battle in their favour with some sensational kicking and free-flowing attack.
The teams began to turn to their substitutes in droves, with scrum-half Aaron Smith taken off for New Zealand as his sensational international career came to an end, replaced by Finlay Christie.
The All Blacks also replaced their entire front row of De Groot, Taylor and Lomax.
South Africa’s attack was struggling to make inroads as the teams entered the final ten minutes, with Cheslin Kolbe missing a surprise field goal attempt from long range – and with a hamstring that needed heavy strapping just minutes earlier.
And the match turned on its head when South Africa winger Kolbe was handed a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on 49 metres from his own line in the 72nd minute, denying the All Blacks a strong breakaway chance down the right sideline.
South Africa had a second drop goal attempt fail when Savea brilliantly charged down the kick from fly-half Handre Pollard in the 75th minute.
But New Zealand couldn’t find a way to break through the superb South African defence as the Springboks held on for victory.
TEAM NEWS from AFP
South Africa recalled Faf de Klerk and sharp-shooting Handre Pollard, who kicked 22 points to help South Africa to a thumping 32-12 victory over England in Japan for World Cup glory four years ago, to the starting XV.
It is a remarkable journey for Pollard, who failed to make the initial 33-man squad through injury, but was called up as a replacement for Malcolm Marx after a 30-minute comeback in an English Premiership Cup match.
Hooker Bongi Mbonambi also starts, having been cleared by World Rugby of having used a racial slur against England’s Tom Curry in last weekend’s semi-final, much to the ire of the English federation.
Nienaber also plumped for seven forwards among the replacements, with just veteran fullback Willie Le Roux representing the backs.
Star winger Cheslin Kolbe is prepped to cover halfback while former sevens specialist Kwagga Smith can also play positions in the backline.
“The 23 we selected for a reason and the reason is we think they can deliver and win us a back-to-back World Cup,” said Nienaber, who also employed the same bench split in a record 35-7 victory over the All Blacks in a pre-tournament war-up.
Foster had no problem with the Boks’ 7-1 bench split, saying: “It’s what I love about the game. People try different tactics.
“They’ve got their way of playing and we’ve got ours. It doesn’t change the way we prepare. Their strategy suits them, ours suits us and it makes it interesting on Saturday night.”
Foster made just one change to his starting XV, Brodie Retallick replacing Sam Whitelock in the second row, while tighthead prop and Nepo Laulala, known for his strong scrummaging, replaces Fletcher Newell on the bench.
All that is left is for the two teams to renew their rivalry at the Stade de France.
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