South Africa survive 14-man New Zealand fightback to retain Rugby World Cup crown

The Springboks produced a defensive masterclass in Paris to bag their fourth title.

South Africa survive 14-man New Zealand fightback to retain Rugby World Cup crown
New Zealand v South Africa: Final - Rugby World Cup France 2023
The Springboks produced a defensive masterclass in Paris (Picture: Getty)

South Africa survived a courageous fightback from 14-man New Zealand to retain their Rugby World Cup crown courtesy of a 12-11 victory at the Stade de France on Saturday night.

The All Blacks were given a mountain to climb when captain Sam Cane was sent off for a high tackle in a bruising and pulsating contest but they never let their numerical disadvantage show, though ultimately it was the boot of Handre Pollard – who scored four penalties – that decided the match.

Within just two minutes of kick-off there was a moment that would dramatically alter the final, with New Zealand’s Shannon Frizell adjudged to have fallen onto – but, crucially, not targeted – the leg of Bongi Mbonambi.

The hooker’s knee buckled under the weight of the Kiwi and, after extensive treatment, the South African talisman was forced off in an enormous early blow to the holders.

Frizell was sent to the sin bin and Handre Polland converted the resulting penalty, but South Africa surely would have traded those three points if it meant Mbonambi was still on the pitch.

South Africa only added another three points to the scoreboard by the time Frizell returned, with the two sides then trading penalties, before the contest produced another pivotal moment.

All Blacks skipper Cane was shown a yellow card for a high tackle on centre Jesse Kriel but the TMO adjudged that there was a ‘high degree of danger and no mitigation’ and the punishment was upgraded to a red.

The decision will no doubt be spoken about at length in the days that follow, with Kriel’s late change of direction perhaps enough mitigation to avoid a first-ever red card in a World Cup final, but the 14-man Kiwis responded well to the setback, going close to scoring a try but settling for a penalty to go into the break 12-6 down.

South Africa started the second half well and almost had a try in the corner but Kurt-Lee Arendse didn’t quite manage to claim the ball. The momentum shifted again moments later when Springboks captain Siya Kolisi was penalised for a high challenge and, for 10 minutes at least, the two teams were on an even footing.

New Zealand thought they had scored one of the great World Cup final tries after a spellbinding run from Richie Mo’unga, who escaped a tackle, threw a dummy and turned on the afterburners before offloading to Aaron Smith to cross the whitewash. Unfortunately, it was pulled back for a knock on from the line-out that started the play.

The All Blacks were starting to put the holders under enormous pressure now though, even after Kolisi had returned to the field, and got the try their play merited in the 58th minute – though again there was some element of controversy.

A huge, raking pass out to the flank found Mark Tele’a who drove forward, broke several tackles and offloaded the ball as he hit the deck. Beauden Barrett managed to scoop it up and score, though South Africa were adamant the ball had gone forward.

The Springboks still retained a one-point lead after Richie Mo’unga missed his conversion but they were looking just a little nervous and anxious. Just as New Zealand’s forwards were beginning to tire late on, a deliberate knock-on from Cheslin Kolbe saw him sent to the bin for the final stages.

He looked on anxiously as Jordie Barrett stepped up to take the resulting penalty, but the Kiwi dragged his effort wide and the All Blacks remained one point in arrears.

They would have to build from deep to get the win but South Africa’s defence remained absolutely rock solid amid enormous pressure and wilting legs. A knock on produced one final scrum and again the Springboks held firm to defend their crown and secure a record fourth Rugby World Cup title.

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