Rugby’s most thrilling rivalry will take centre stage in World Cup final

England, Argentina, France, Ireland, Wales and Fiji might disagree, but the World Cup has landed the dream final.

France versus New Zealand would have been the game to ignite the imagination of the hosts and give the local market the ending their massive support and commitment to the tournament deserved, but the All Blacks playing

the Springboks in a World Cup final is an opportunity to showcase the greatest rivalry in sports and to present the sport’s most appealing image to an international audience.

The international game is full of historical, legendary rivalries. England and France have a long history of warring against one another on the battlefield, predating rugby by many years. As such, their matchups are always fiery.

Wales and Ireland have developed a fierce rivalry over the past century, and tension is frequently present during their Six Nations matches.

All Blacks vs. Springboks is unmatched in terms of intensity, history, quality, and impact, though.

All Blacks Springboks haka

There is a brutality to their rugby that no two other teams can consistently match. They play with a certain ferocity, speed and energy and it is probably fair to say when these two meet, that they tend to produce the sort of rugby that highlights all that is good about the sport.

They bring the best out of each other – the best out of the sport. Rarely, if ever, do these two produce a dud.

There’s plenty made about their contrasting styles: New Zealand’s love of playing fast, wide, ball-in-hand, high-tempo rugby compared to South Africa’s more direct and confrontational approach built around set-piece power and kicking accuracy.

To some extent that is broadly true, that they do see the game through a different lens. But it’s also not quite as defined as some make out and if we look at Tests between these two since 2018, the only thing that has been consistent has been that the games have been free-flowing, high scoring, brutal, creative, breathless and wildly entertaining.

These two have been going at each other for 102 years now and have played 105 tests against each other.

The respect they have for one another is deep and enduring. The respect they have for the rivalry they have built is equally deep and enduring.

The All Blacks, having won 62 to the Springboks’ 39 (there have been four draws) have the edge statistically, but the current playing groups wouldn’t feel like there is anything between the two teams.

Since 2018, they have played each other 10 times and the All Blacks have won five, South Africa four and there’s been a solitary draw.

In these last 10 encounters, both sides have averaged 25 points per test, and other than their last encounter, which the Springboks won by a record 35-7 margin at Twickenham two weeks before the World Cup, the games tend to go down to the wire.

The respect they have for one another is deep and enduring. The respect they have for the rivalry they have built is equally deep and enduring and as South Africa’s assistant coach, Deon Davids said the day after his team secured a place in the final: “As a kid, we grew up listening to the radio on the battles between the All Blacks and South Africa, listening to the stories of the heroes from both teams over the years.

“It has been part of our rugby history, the Springboks and the All Blacks, and every time we play each other it is always a special battle, and I don’t think this one will be different.

“I think it will maybe go to a different level in terms of the competition between the players – excellent talent in both teams.”


His views were shared by his opposite number at the All Blacks, assistant coach Jason Ryan, who said the following day: “The history is a big part of it. It is not a secret that we love going to South Africa.

“It has been a big part of the All Blacks. It is just a special place to tour and they bring a special part of their game and that makes it a great rivalry and to be doing it in a World Cup final.

“That is when you want to be playing, coaching and setting yourself up for a gold medal and the history is going to be pretty special.”

Just how much this tournament, the game of rugby, needs an exhilarating final can’t be exaggerated. The French TV audiences for this tournament have been huge and no doubt too, the global data when it is finalised, will also show strong growth.

But what’s also true is that the international game will struggle to keep this new audience if it throws up a final that looks anything like the semi-final between South Africa and England.

The physicality was there, the commitment and passion of both teams undeniable, but strategically it was two teams desperate to play without the ball.

That was a contest that became gripping in the last 10 minutes, but only in the dramatic sense because the game was so close and the stakes so high.

It was, for the first 70 minutes, lacking in spectacle because it lacked variation, and it got nowhere near showcasing all the magical things about the sport.

Though there was no denying the teams’ physicality, dedication, and passion, from a strategic standpoint it was clear that both teams were desperate to play without the ball and grind out a win.

“Stylistically, there’s never been a bigger gap between England and the best in the world,” Jonathan Liew wrote in The Guardian. On Saturday night, England gave up 93% of their possession and was inside the South Africa 22 for 73 seconds.

“They barely beat the record they set against Samoa, recording the slowest ruck speed of the entire tournament.”

“A team played an entire match without registering a single line break for the first time this World Cup.”

Kurt-Lee Arendse


There was almost nothing to see for the neutral, but none of that really mattered to those with a stake in the outcome. It’s improbable that a casual or novice rugby fan would have watched that match and developed a deep passion for the game.

If you pit New Zealand against South Africa, though, they might become lifelong fans. That is the strength of their rivalry and their capacity to create exciting rugby that captivates the interest of die-hard supporters as well as casual fans and the uninitiated.

The more important question, which was beginning to be asked before this competition, is how South Africa and New Zealand can make the most of their rivalry in the contemporary era.

These two play each other twice a year, with South Africa hosting two Test matches one year and New Zealand hosting two the following, according to the current Rugby Championship schedule.

They used to host one in each year before, but last year was the first and only time this format was used. It obviously sparked discussions about whether there was any chance to experiment with it a little more.

The more important question, which was beginning to be asked before this tournament, is how South Africa and New Zealand can make the most of their rivalry in the contemporary era.

Could New Zealand’s two-week visit to South Africa be extended, and could there be something close to an

And when the Boks are in New Zealand, the opposite happens. NZR chief executive Mark Robinson told Stuff in September, “We’ve been open with all the Sanzaar parties that that’s something that we’re looking at, and how we can consider that sort of format for the future.”

Though those discussions are still in their early stages, it is evident that both unions are interested in it.

“There’s a lot of work to be done there, but that’s definitely part of the conversation right now—for it to be a more, you know, traditional type of tour.”

The World Cup final might be the first of many occasions in the ensuing ten years that this intense rivalry is displayed as the best illustration of how captivating rugby

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