One of the fiercest rivalries in world rugby is rekindled on Saturday as New Zealand and South Africa, the two most successful sides in Rugby World Cup history, meet in the final in Paris.
All Black great Richie McCaw said that big Test matches are decided by two or three key moments, and this has the look of another incredibly tight contest between teams with differing styles but who have already put in some outstanding performances.
New Zealand eased their way into the final with a 44-6 thumping og Argentina, who were unable to deal with the All Blacks’ class.
It was a much tougher route to the showpiece event for South Africa, who produced a second-half comeback to edge out England 16-15.
Fly-half Handre Pollard, brought on in the first-half, kicked the winning penalty in the 78th minute to break the hearts of the English.
|What||New Zealand v South Africa|
|Where||Stade de France, Paris|
|When||20:00, Saturday 28th October|
|How to watch||bet365 Sports Live Streaming & ITV1|
|Odds||New Zealand , Draw 20/1, South Africa 13/10|
The 2023 Rugby World Cup will already be remembered for some outstanding matches and there can be no argument that the finalists deserve their place.
The last time the tournament was in France, South Africa thrashed England 36-0 in the pool stage, came through knockout matches against Fiji and Argentina, before meeting England again in the final and claiming a 15-6 success.
This time both finalists have had to steer their way past some serious tier-one opposition thanks to a lop-sided draw.
South Africa have played four of the other teams in the top six in the world while New Zealand have played two, and all of those games were close-fought.
The Boks overcame Scotland, ranked fifth in the world, 18-3 in their pool opener before losing 13-8 to Ireland. In the knockout stage they beat France 29-28 and England 16-15, and there’s a thread running through those matches that shows this is a team who can grind through games and keep opponents at bay. Even in the narrow loss to Ireland, they missed 11 points from the kicking tee.
New Zealand lost their opening match to France 27-13 but never looked back from there and defeated Ireland 28-24 before a semi-final cruise against Argentina.
Pundits will argue incessantly over whether a tough path to the final is better as it makes a team battle-hardened, or whether it takes too much out of them.
But the Springboks know how to fight and their experience of coming back from 15-6 down to pip England in the semis puts them in a good place and they can edge another success.
Under 4.5 tries - 10/11
Defence wins matches, attack decides by how much. That’s the old adage and it’s one South Africa have lived by.
This is their fourth Rugby World Cup final and they have never conceded a try in any of the previous three, while they also held their line against England in the semis.
They shipped four against France in the quarter-final and their final opponents New Zealand are a team built on a similar attacking ethos.
If any other team can find a way through the Springbok lines it would be the All Blacks, although they almost failed to do so in the last meeting between the teams, won 35-7 by South Africa just two months ago. New Zealand’s only score came with less than 10 minutes to go when the Boks were already out of sight.
Against England in the semis, South Africa played with a notable lack of ambition, happy to keep the ball away from danger areas and make their opponents do all the work while stifling them through their physical strength and solid defence.
The Springboks have a cutting edge should they need it but their formula for success looks set to be used again.
Drop goals have been scarce at this World Cup and neither New Zealand nor South Africa have one on the board, but in a final that is likely to be tight it’s a weapon that both teams must have up their sleeves.
These teams met in the semi-final in 2015 when Dan Carter popped over a pragmatic three-pointer - he did the same in the final against Australia - while England’s Owen Farrell also took the drop-goal option when the Bok defence was proving too tough to break down.
Points could be at a premium, New Zealand have kicking options in fly-half Richie Mo’unga plus Beauden and Jordie Barrett, while Handre Pollard is sure to see plenty of game time for the Boks whether he starts or comes off the bench.
With the World Cup on the line, there is every chance someone could have a pop at goal.