In a thrilling and tightly contested Rugby World Cup final, South Africa emerged victorious, fending off New Zealand’s spirited efforts, despite the early loss of their captain to a red card. The Webb Ellis Cup found its way to South African hands for the fourth time in history, as the Springboks displayed an unwavering defensive performance that left New Zealand with a one-man deficit for a substantial part of the match.
Throughout nine prior World Cup finals, only one yellow card had been shown, but this title decider witnessed four, reflecting the heightened scrutiny on foul play in the game. The pivotal moment occurred just before half-time when All Blacks captain Sam Cane received a red card for a high tackle following a bunker review, making him the first player in a final to be sent off.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, the All Blacks admirably adhered to their ball-running strategy and found the match’s sole try through Beauden Barrett, narrowing the scoreline to within a single point near the one-hour mark.
Credit for South Africa’s success in defending their lead goes to man of the match Pieter-Steph du Toit, who, alongside his teammates, withstood the mounting pressure from New Zealand over the final quarter of the game. Handre Pollard’s four first-half penalties proved sufficient to secure another championship for South Africa, building upon their previous victories in 1995, 2007, and 2019.
This win ensured that the Rugby World Cup trophy remained in the southern hemisphere for the fifth consecutive tournament, and Siya Kolisi, the Springboks’ captain, joined the exclusive ranks of two-time cup lifters alongside All Black legend Richie McCaw.
Captain Kolisi, in his reflections on the victory, acknowledged the tenacity displayed by the All Blacks: “There are no ways I can explain it. The All Blacks took us to the end; they took us to a dark place. Credit to my boys too for the fight. I am just grateful we could pull it off. There is so much going wrong in our country, and we are like the last line of defence, and we can show that we can achieve so much together.”
The path to victory was marked by early cards, as the Springboks’ Bongi Mbonambi suffered a clearout by Shannon Frizell that resulted in an injury, leading to a yellow card. Handre Pollard capitalized on the ensuing penalty. Frizell’s yellow card caused anxiety among the New Zealand team as they awaited a potential red card decision.
The Springboks maintained their momentum, with Pollard adding another penalty, while New Zealand’s Richie Mo’unga contributed with a successful penalty attempt. Cane’s red card before half-time left New Zealand with 14 players and increased the Springboks’ lead, as Pollard’s fourth penalty ensured a 12-6 halftime advantage.
In the second half, the Springboks aimed to consolidate their lead, while the All Blacks searched for an opportunity to recover. However, South African captain Kolisi received a yellow card for a high tackle, followed by an overturned try by New Zealand’s Aaron Smith. Beauden Barrett eventually scored a try for New Zealand, but a missed conversion left the Springboks in front.
South Africa, widely known for their “bomb squad” strategy, utilized fresh substitutes to relieve their fatigued forwards. Amid the intense final minutes of the match, South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe was also shown a yellow card, but Jordie Barrett’s subsequent penalty attempt went wide.
New Zealand’s coach, Ian Foster, expressed concerns about the decisions regarding the cards, stating that the game had several issues to address. Cane, the captain who received a red card, voiced his acceptance of the decision but shared his enduring regret: “I am not here to say whether it is right or wrong; it can’t be changed. Unfortunately, it is something I will have to live with forever.”
Despite the contentious card decisions, the South African team emerged triumphant in an unforgettable final, clinching their fourth Rugby World Cup championship in a masterful demonstration of resilience and team spirit.