New Zealand will face South Africa in a blockbuster conclusion to the 2023 Rugby World Cup on Sunday which will see one nation crowned greatest of all time.
After eight weeks of competition in France, the final will host the previous two winners of the Cup at 6 am (AEDST).
Rugby presenter Nick McCardle told Central News it would be a tight final and a game for the ages.
“I think it will be an all-time,” he said. “Whoever wins will be the first team in history to win four World Cups.
“Will Jordan is also on eight tries. If he scores a try, he will be the first player to score nine at a World Cup. Whatever happens, history will be made.”
He added the result would come down to the discipline of each side.
“Getting back from the ground to the defensive line as quickly as possible, maul defence, listening to the ref when he says last feet, those little things that are going to make a big difference,” he said. “The team that does the best will win because that’s how tight the final is expected to be.”
— Springboks (@Springboks) October 23, 2023
How they line up
New Zealand stormed into the final after defeating Argentina 44-6 in a drizzly affair. Ranked number 2 going into the final, they last won the William Webb Ellis trophy in 2015 by beating Australia.
In the semi-finals the All-Blacks triumphed over the Pumas in a seven-try to nil affair, the second-biggest margin in Cup semis history.
“New Zealand is perhaps the most efficient team in the world at turning territory into points, and defensively, that is a huge challenge for South Africa,” said McCardle.
The Kiwis have averaged 42.5 points per game this year and have recorded the opening try in 18 out of their last 20 tests.
They have also scored the most points of any team this World Cup, making them an attacking force which the Springboks must work out how to contain.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 22, 2023
If you’re barracking for New Zealand in the final, you must know about Jordie Barrett, who has contributed 43 runs and made 144 metres across his four matches this World Cup.
The 26-year-old centre will debut in his first Rugby World Cup final, alongside five Cup veterans. South Africa meanwhile has a dozen players with World Cup experience.
“Barrett is a big human with excellent skills, and also carries the ball well,” said McCardle.
New Zealand have had a mostly impressive tournament. After their initial 27-13-point defeat to France in the opening match, they racked up comprehensive wins over Nambia 71-3, Italy 96-17 and Uruguay 73-0, before a gritty 28-24 victory against Ireland.
All Blacks will be marginal favorites, but the Boks are the one point kings.
— OomLungu 79502263BG (@WINSTON74502263) October 24, 2023
South Africa, however, may be able to stop the All-Blacks momentum, as these two teams meet for the first time since the world number one rattled New Zealand 35-7 in August.
“I think South Africa will win it largely because of the type of rugby they play,” said McArdle.
“South Africa has such good understanding of their own game, how they want to play and at the same time be able to problem solve when they’re on the run.
“I’ve seen New Zealand put under pressure in the past couple of years and not necessarily work it out on the run.”
The Springboks booked their place in the final for a second consecutive time, aiming to go back-to-back for the first time since the Kiwis in 2011 and 2015.
This final marks South Africa’s fourth appearance in a Rugby World Cup final, and they have never lost at this stage.
In the semis the Springboks struggled to beat England 16-15, and were dominated for much of the game. But more significantly, they stayed in the tie, keeping up with England’s slower pace. After a 69th-minute try by RG Snyman, Handre Pollard slotted a penalty kick from 49 metres out to win the match despite swirling conditions in the Stade de France.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 21, 2023
If you’re a Springboks fan, look out for Bongi Mbonambi.
“He’s such an important player for South Africa because he’s their only specialist hooker,” said McArdle.
“Mbonambi played huge minutes, so you have to respect that; he’s gone the distance over the last couple of games.”
The Springboks have now won 12 out of their last 14 test matches. In the group stages they defeated Scotland 18-3, Romania 76-0 and Tonga 49-18, despite losing 13-8 in a tense match with Ireland.
However, in one of the best games of the tournament, they held out hosts France in the quarter-final to grab a thrilling 29-28 win.
With England, the game finished similarly to that of France, and the question is, will the Springboks be able to maintain their composure in the final minutes?
“South Africa and New Zealand played in the 1995 World Cup final, and no try was scored in that final,” noted McCardle ominously.
“South Africa just wants to lift the trophy; they don’t care if they play attractive rugby, they don’t care whether they score tries. They care about having more points at the end of the game.”
On Saturday Argentina and England play off for third place.
In Australia the Rugby World Cup final is live on Stan Sport and Channel 9 on Sunday morning from 5am.
Main image Dall-e/Canva.