At last, the climax is upon us … now we wait to see who’ll come out on top

The Springboks and the All Blacks will have the last tango of this Rugby World Cup here on Saturday evening and kickoff cannot come soon enough.


Not only was the tournament too long, but the finals week had more turns and turns than an Alpe d’Huez course, so the wait for the tournament’s grand finale at the Stade de France seemed endless.

In their quest for a record-breaking fourth RWC championship, it could be a date with destiny for longtime rivals the Springboks and the All Blacks. The world’s top two teams will square off in a final dance unlike any other because the rugby gods have spoken.

Over the last two weekends, the Boks have come dangerously close to two victories.

Their late altercation with England was described as energy-sapping, while their high-kicking can-can against France proved to be

much about their ability to troubleshoot as it did about their can-do spirit.

Given how they were dominated by England for large parts of the semifinal last week, the Boks may well have to overcome fatigue.

Can they win the Webb Ellis Cup with what’s left?

The All Blacks may have taken a beating from Ireland in the quarterfinals, but they are nothing more than ferns dripping with fresh morning dew in comparison to the beleaguered Boks who have experienced conflicts both on and off the field.

The Boks will have to use all of their remaining resources, so they must dig deep.

World Cup winning captain John Smit argued that they can do it again because they did it two weekends in a row.

Smit, a television pundit here, said, “They find a way.”

Victor (Matfield) and I thought the match against France was over when we arrived at the field with 20 minutes remaining.

Against England it looked even more done. We said to each other with 20 to go we need to go down to the field because the previous week when we did so things turned around.

“They found a way again in a game in which they were never in it. That is the sign of a championship group,” said Smit.

He believes the muscle memory from the last two weekends and indeed from their most recent experience in a RWC final will stand them in good stead.

“This team has definitely improved as a group since 2019. Having won in 2019 it obviously put them under pressure to go back-to-back. But they got better and better and they’ve solidified more as a group.

“We’ve seen probably a group that has walked the hardest road to a World Cup final ever,” said Smit about the Boks who by final whistle on Saturday would have played all the other teams ranked in the top six.

The Boks may also take inspiration from their most recent encounter, a 35-7 victory over New Zealand on the eve of the RWC.

Although it seems like a long time ago, the Boks assembled seven forwards and one back on their bench, just like they did when they played in London for the first time.

There have been numerous fictitious bomb threats in and around France this week.

But in recent weeks, the Bomb Squad’s strength has been evident to all.

During a week when selecting a team almost felt like a duty, the Boks selected a lineup that features players from their historic victory at Twickenham on the bench.

Once more, a seven/one bench, but with fewer gasps.

Willie le Roux will be in such hulking company there is little chance of him being mistaken for Snow White.

The Bok bench, however, does not come sans risk, but it’s a gamble they are prepared to accept.

Head coach Jacques Nienaber would have run the numbers involving the potential peril. This week he spoke a lot about mitigating risk, but a seven/one bench split does go a long way to boxing yourself into a corner.

In fact, it is from the corner that the All Blacks emerged to resurrect their RWC ambitions after a torrid few weeks before and at the start of the tournament.

Much, however, has passed here under the 37 bridges of the Seine since they came unstuck in the RWC opener.

The improvements they’ve made, especially at the breakdown, have given them another gear in attack.

No, his name is not Rico, but Will Jordan and he will break the RWC try-scoring record for one tournament should he dot down against the defending champions.

The Boks, however, have a history of shutting down All Black wings who come with a reputation.

Jordan’s matchup with Cheslin Kolbe will be keenly observed, but perhaps more compelling and significant in the overall scheme of things is the one between scrumhalves Aaron Smith and Faf de Klerk.

Expect them to bark and snap at each other’s heels.

The All Blacks also owe much of their restoration to their defiant defence. They were near demonic in that department against Ireland and the Boks will likely face a similar door slamming exercise.

Don’t expect Ardie Savea, Sam Cane and Co to disappear quietly into the night.

The tighter the margins at the Stade de France, the greater the scope for post-match fallout.

Given what has transpired for much of this week it is perhaps a twist of irony that the match officials are all English.

Wayne Barnes may very well be the best ref in town but he is human.

If you are to take a cynical view of Barnes you’d have to ask does his memory go back a year, or 16? Both Nienaber and opposite number Ian Foster would have thoroughly studied his ways.

WATCH | Springboks’ World Cup final squad announcement
Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber is announcing his squad for the 2023 Rugby World Cup final.
SPORT1 day ago
Whatever the result, it will be the final whistle for Nienaber as it is for Foster, who will make way for a break-dancing successor.

They are both desperate to waltz to the exit.


New Zealand — Beauden Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Mark Telea; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (captain), Shannon Frizell; Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick; Tyrel Lomax, Codie Taylor, Ethan de Groot.

Substitutes: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Tamaiti Williams, Nepo Laulala, Samuel Whitelock, Dalton Papali’i, Finlay Christie, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown.

South Africa — Damian Willemse; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe; Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain); Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff.

Substitutes: Deon Fourie, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Jean Kleyn, RG Snyman, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese; Willie le Roux.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Assistant referees: Karl Dickson, Matthew Carley (both England)

TMO: Tom Foley

Kickoff: 9pm

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