Boks bask in glow of City of Light after final contested by two best teams on the planet
The Springboks basked in the glow of the City of Light's north after they edged the All Blacks 12-11 in a tense, wet and thoroughly absorbing Rugby World Cup final on Saturday night.
Pyrotechnics lit up this famous stadium after the Springboks were presented the cup for a record fourth time but it was dim by comparison to the flashpoints that helped bend the course of an enthralling final.
Again the margins were tight. The Boks earned one-point wins over France and England in previous rounds but it says much of the back-to-back champions' resolve that they again got to be on the right side of the scoreboard.
Some may be inclined to call it luck, but there is little doubt the Boks are a devilishly difficult team to beat.
“They had three close games in a row and they came out the right side. They must be doing something right,” remarked a proud but disappointed All Blacks coach Ian Foster.
As you'd expect his team proved redoubtable adversaries. They showed great tenacity and resolve after captain Sam Cane was shown a yellow card in the 29th minute, which was upgraded to red in the 34th.
The Boks, though, when he was banished, were already in the ascendancy. In fact, his dismissal, as is often the case in these situations, served to galvanise the All Blacks.
The Boks' defence was put to the test and survived a few close calls, most notably perhaps when Kurt-Lee Arendse hauled in try-bound Rieko Ioane.
For most of the match the Bok defence was like the walls of the Bastille. However, in Mark Tele'a New Zealand have an escape artist who might show notorious prison escapee Ananias Mathe a clean pair of heels. He evaded three Bok defenders before Beauden Barrett pounced on a loose ball to bring the All Blacks within a point and very much into the contest in the 59th minute.
Crucially Jordie Barrett missed the conversion and a later penalty to earn the Boks a reprieve.
Handré Pollard, by contrast, kicked four first-half penalties to end the tournament blemish-free off the kicking tee after making his belated entry.
It was the Bok defence, though, that had to show courage and commitment in the face of the All Blacks onslaught. In that regard Pieter-Steph du Toit was again immense. He reprised his role from the 2019 tournament by this time, going in pursuit of black-clad ball carriers. He made a staggering 28 tackles, most of them shuddering as the All Blacks found the going tough in the wet.
It deservedly earned him the man of the match award.
“He was phenomenal,” said Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber. “Defence is my department and he was exceptional. In the last couple of games he wanted it so desperately, as did the others.
“He put himself in the right positions. I always joke that if there is a white plastic bag that blows across a field he'll probably chase that down as well. The Malmesbury Missile, he was like a machine.”
It was far from plain sailing for the Boks, whose decision to go with a seven/one bench split was put to the test almost from the outset. They lost hooker Bongi Mbonambi very early, which affected the deployment of their bench.
Deon Fourie stepped up but the Bok line-out came under almost immediate strain. In fact, it became a huge concern as the crafty All Blacks continued to deny the Boks a platform from which to launch.
I have coached Deon since he was 20 years old and I always knew he had that dog in him
“If you’d asked me which injuries we wouldn’t like early on, it would be Bongi and Faf [de Klerk]. But that’s the decision we made with the squad we selected. There is always risk involved but we mitigated that,” Nienaber said.
“I don’t know how many line-outs we lost but with Deon Fourie, if there are maybe 16 line-outs in a game, there are 120, 150 rucks in a game, and he makes 20 tackles. Sometimes the line-outs he loses, he makes up for it in other ways.
“At whatever age he is — 37 — to put in a shift like that is special. I have coached Deon since he was 20 years old and I always knew he had that dog in him.”
Perhaps it was a bit of mongrel that made the difference. There will be highly contested talking points galore in the aftermath.
This final brought together two heavyweights who matched each other in a slug fest.
What was undisputed wasn't so much which one won, as the irrefutable fact that the final was contested by the two best teams on the planet.
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