At the Stade de France
Which team ! What a journey! Copiously whistled, the Springboks were perhaps not the favorites of the 80,000 spectators gathered at the Stade de France on Saturday evening. But it is clear that they deserve their title, acquired by beating the All Blacks (12-11). Victorious by a small point difference in their last three matches, they also extricated themselves from a particularly tough group. South Africa is the second team to retain its world crown after its evening opponent (2011, 2015), but above all the first to reach four titles. She is now ahead of the All Blacks and their three titles, while having played two fewer competitions! Manhandled by France, England, then the New Zealanders, the South Africans were able to adapt their strategy to their opponents. Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus, the two strategists at the head of the team, played a series of tactical poker moves with success. They have built a homogeneous collective, wielded the art of bluffing with talent, not hesitating to innovate throughout the World Cup. They were feared and knew how to hold their rank, unlike the Irish or the French. Hat !
It is therefore possible to be world champion without scoring a single try in the final (like in 1995 and 2007, three times out of the Springboks' four coronations...). Nor without registering the slightest point in the second half of said final. Winners of the All Blacks on Saturday (12-11), the South Africans won their three final phase matches by a point difference. Like France in the quarter and England in the half, New Zealand suffered the law of what must be called ultra-pragmatism. Dominant in the first act, the Springboks were able to take the points when necessary thanks to the right foot of Handré Pollard. Opposite, the New Zealanders went into touch much more often on their penalties... for a meager result. Saturday evening, humility triumphed. Rassie Erasmus' men could even have scored other "easy" points, but their multiple drop attempts were unsuccessful (Willemse twice, Pollard, Kolbe). They then resisted the opponent's comeback in the second act, ultimately conceding only five points during their weak moments.
Failing to play flamboyant rugby, the two teams played a competitive game. The gap on the scoreboard has never been more than nine points. The South Africans were accustomed to this, having won their last two matches by a small margin. Authors of a bad start and reduced to 14 after the expulsion of Sam Cane (29th), the All Blacks knew how to keep their backs round so as not to fall behind. Before waking up around the 50th minute, helped by the yellow card inflicted on Siya Kolisi (46th). Coming back to one point after Beauden Barrett's try (58th), they could have won if Richie Mo'unga had converted. Or if Jordie Barrett had passed his long-range penalty six minutes from time (74th). Until the last second, the result of this final was undecided. But in the end, it was the South Africans who won.
Four yellow cards distributed, one of which turns into red. And how much use of video? For the last match of the competition, referee Wayne Barnes will not have trembled before putting his hand in his pocket. Even if it means taking the risk of seeing your decisions weigh a little too much in choosing the winner. Until this evening, only one card had been distributed in the World Cup final. It was in 2015, already against New Zealand. It is a safe bet that once again, arbitration will be singled out. More than Wayne Barnes' performance, it is the consistency since the start of the World Cup that raises questions. That New Zealand captain Sam Cane is excluded after his head-to-head clash with Jesse Kriel, why not. The priority is the health of the players! But so many similar actions have not been whistled in the last six weeks.
By scoring a try this Saturday, the New Zealand winger could have become the best scorer in history in a single edition. But he never got the chance. Worse, he appeared very feverish. Well muzzled by Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse on his wing, the Crusaders player was guilty of some unusual hand errors and almost got caught on his defensive retreats. A disappointing performance after his resounding hat-trick in the semi-final against Argentina (44-6). With eight tries in this 2023 World Cup, Jordan is therefore only the co-holder of the record, tied with his compatriots Jonah Lomu (World Cup 1999), Julian Savea (2015) and the South African Bryan Habana (2007). With 15 attempts, Habana and Lomu are still at the top of the ranking over several cumulative editions.
A gesture to be banned from rugby fields. The Anglo-Saxons call it the “crocodile-roll”. It involves clearing a player from a ruck using their body weight, while wrapping their arm around their torso or neck. Julien Marchand, hooker of the French XV, was a victim during the opening match against the All Blacks and did not play again in the competition. On Saturday evening, it was the heel of the Springboks, Mbongeni Mbonambi, who had to give up his place due to injury after a clearing by Shannon Frizell. The New Zealand third row only received a yellow card after watching video. Clément, especially since his teammate Sam Cane saw red for a gesture that seemed less dangerous.