Paris – Handre Pollard kicked four penalties to help South Africa to a nail-biting 12-11 victory over 14-man New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final on Saturday to claim a record fourth title.
As is so often the case with finals, the match was a tight, edgy encounter at a rain-soaked Stade de France where defence ruled and the All Blacks lost captain Sam Cane to a first-half red card for a high tackle.
But the Springboks prevailed to win a third successive knockout match in this tournament by a point and add to their titles in 1995, 2007 and 2019.
Player of the match Pieter-Steph du Toit said: “The last three games have been quite tough, each one we have played has been a final and each one we have won by one point.
“As a team we like drama. It has helped us through the last few years, it shows the resilience of this team.
“We are honoured to play for the whole of South Africa and the Springboks. When we go back home it will be a warm welcome for us.”
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi added: “Honestly, people who are not from South Africa don’t understand what this means for our country.
On behalf the nation, President @CyrilRamaphosa commends the Springboks on their Rugby World Cup 2023 victory over New Zealand which makes South Africa the first country to win this championship four times. https://t.co/ONeXW7dg3f#StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/aWtrEGRWv2
— Presidency | South Africa 🇿🇦 (@PresidencyZA) October 28, 2023
“It’s not just about the game on the field. Our country goes through such a lot. We are the hope they have.”
The game, with tennis stars Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic among the 80,000 spectators, got off to a dramatic start.
All Black flanker Shannon Frizell was yellow carded by referee Wayne Barnes after just two minutes for an illegal ruck clearout that saw Bok hooker Bongi Mbonambi, the sole specialist number two in the squad, leave the pitch with an injured right knee.
Pollard kicked the penalty as Deon Fourie, a 37-year-old flanker, replaced Mbonambi, who was cleared earlier in the week of using a racial slur against England flanker Tom Curry in the semi-final.
Pollard, who kicked 22 points in South Africa’s final victory over England four years ago in Japan, booted a second penalty after Codie Taylor failed to roll away in a ruck.
The opening quarter was not for the faint-hearted, each side delivering a succession of eye-watering hits as the Boks, whose aggressive defence was led by the outstanding Du Toit, pinned the All Blacks in their own territory.
A late Faf de Klerk hit on Mark Tele’a saw Jordie Barrett kick for the corner and from a series of drives, the Boks infringed and Richie Mo’unga got the All Blacks on the scoreboard with an easy penalty.
Pollard hit straight back after Ardie Savea flopped over a ruck, connecting perfectly to convert a monster 49-metre effort.
All Blacks frustrated
New Zealand’s woes were compounded when Cane was yellow-carded in the 29th minute for a high tackle on Jesse Kriel, later upgraded to red for a high degree of danger with no mitigation, according to the television match official.
Cane became the first player to be shown a red card in a World Cup final and the All Blacks were reduced to 14 men for 46 minutes.
A dejected Cane said afterwards he was “extremely gutted and disappointed”.
“The boys had to play with 14 men for the last 50-odd minutes. I thought the courage that they showed out there was incredible. The whole team are absolute warriors.”
As the game approached half-time, yet another punishing hit by Du Toit, this time on Will Jordan, piled the pressure back on New Zealand and Pollard kicked his fourth penalty.
Mo’unga kicked over a second penalty to make it 12-6 and the All Blacks trudged off without their skipper and in the knowledge that no team has ever come back from behind at half-time to win a final.
Siya Kolisi ran straight to Cheslin Kolbe to embrace him as South Africa won the World Cup
What a man, what a captain, what a player 👏🏽👏🏽🇿🇦🇿🇦🇿🇦🇿🇦🇿🇦#RSAVNZL #StrongerTogether #Springboks #RWCFinal #Gobokke #RWC2023 pic.twitter.com/lnjAXoFGPI
— Reasons (@LFCReasons) October 28, 2023
South Africa then spurned two clear try-scoring chances.
Firstly, Siya Kolisi was guilty of butchering a clear five-pointer seconds into the second period, keeping hold of the ball as the whitewash beckoned despite Cheslin Kolbe racing up inside and Kriel on the flank.
Kurt-Lee Arendse then went close, just failing to gather a Kolbe grubber.
Kolisi was rightly yellow carded for a high tackle on Savea, who led the All Black charge back up the pitch, Mo’unga spilling the ball in a rare attack after Tele’a had taken a towering up-and-under.
Another All Black kick to the corner eventually paid off as the ball was recycled left to Tele’a, who beat three men before offloading, Beauden Barrett scooping up the ball to dot down.
Mo’unga missed the touchline conversion but the game was suddenly a one-point affair.
Kolbe’s ambitious 50-metre drop-goal fell well short as both sides looked for an opening to close down the game.
The winger was shown yellow for a deliberate knock-down of an Anton Lienert-Brown pass which meant the two teams finished with 14 players.
Jordie Barrett, however, pushed the long-range penalty wide as the game entered a nerve-shredding final six minutes.
Another Du Toit hit on Barrett and a perfectly-timed De Klerk tap tackle on Dalton Papali’i in the dying moments were enough to see South Africa bag back-to-back titles and their fourth.