Nine ‘OUTSTANDING’ moments that took our breath away in 2023

2023 was a brilliant year of rugby loaded with history, drama and everything in between as it always is in a Rugby World Cup season.

Planet Rugby looks more closely at the moments that left us speechless before the year comes to an end.

With a fourth Rugby World Cup victory, the Springboks

The Springboks did not compete in the previous two World Cups, thus it is amazing that South Africa managed to become the first team in history to win the international showcase four times.

Their run for the title adds even more unbelievable magnitude to the already astounding feat. All five of the other teams in the top six world rankings were opponents of the Springboks during the competition.

Split with Duhan van der Merwe, Springboks and Johnny Sexton.

When it came time for the play-offs, the team’s never-say-die mentality and extensive experience were evident as they won all three of their knockout matches, with a single point separating the winners versus France, England, and New Zealand.

One of the most brilliant tactical displays in World Cup history was demonstrated by their victory in 2023.

Springboks deploy 7-1 bench to hand All Blacks record defeat

The All Blacks and Springboks took part in a much-awaited pre-World Cup match at Twickenham, which acted as their last training session before the competition started.

As expected from the creative brain trust of the South Africans, Willie le Roux pulled up hurt during the warm-up, and the team used a 7-1 split on the bench. Not even the sight of all the Springboks forward replacements taking to the field at once shocked the rugby world more than the decision itself.

It was a magnificent day for South Africa, as they took the game to New Zealand thanks to their ruthless up-front style and fluid backline. This was the heaviest loss in All Blacks history, ending with a final score of 35-7.

Springboks inflict heaviest ever defeat on New Zealand with 35-7 win |  Reuters

Rugby World Cup quarter-final drama

The uneven drama had its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages were some tantalizing quarterfinal matchups, which began with a tough contest between Wales and Argentina that was finally won by the astuteness of seasoned player Nicolas Sanchez.

But one of the best matches of the year was the second quarter-final, which featured a rematch of one of the greatest rugby rivalries of modern times between Ireland and New Zealand. Every side matched the other pound for pound during the whole match, which was fought blow for blow. After a thrilling first half, the All Blacks led 18–17. Both teams were unable to break away in the second half, with Jordie Barrett’s boot providing the New Zealanders with a point of support. The Irish attack with the red clock followed. The All Blacks launched assault after attack until, after an incredible 37 phases, seasoned Sam Whitelock found his opportunity and forced a penalty at the breakdown, demonstrating his class to secure the victory for his team.

Brilliant Argentina down Wales to Advance to World Cup Semi Finals -  Americas Rugby News

The next day began with a fascinating match between Fiji and England, made all the more compelling by the fact that the Red Rose had previously lost to the same opponents in the tournament’s lead-up. In this game, Owen Farrell performed admirably, kicking five penalties, a conversion, and a drop goal with precision. The skipper also did a good job of controlling the game for the most part, as England appeared to be coasting into the semi-final until a furious Fijians late charge nearly stole the match.

Then, in what was arguably the most exciting match of them all, hosts France and the Springboks faced off in a match that included it all, including an incredible six tries in the first half, four of which came in the opening thirty minutes of play. Cheslin Kolbe’s charge down of Thomas Ramos’ conversion try, which proved to be one of the moments that clinched the game for the Boks, caused mayhem during that time. Another was when, in the final seconds of the match, Handre “Iceman” Pollard stepped up to convert a long-range penalty to give his team the lead. Actually, this encounter cannot be described in any way other than chaos.

Fiji World Cup run

One of the most novel features of the competition was witnessing the Flying Fijians, who won over a lot of fans with their flashy brand of rugby, advance to the quarterfinals.

Rugby World Cup 2023: England beat Fiji in quarter-final to progress to  semi-finals

During this competition, Fiji’s use of more controlled, disciplined, and tactically sound elements in their game under head coach Simon Raiwalui was noteworthy. They used these elements to win their first match against Australia in 69 years. It wasn’t through some flowing free-flowing tries, but rather a savvy performance that turned scrum dominance and breakdown into points through penalties.

The Fijians’ remarkable performance would allow them to go home with their heads held high even if the tournament would conclude in the quarterfinals.

Portugal claim first World Cup win

Portugal, with their thrilling style and unwavering determination to keep going no matter what, became a true fan favorite, surpassing even Fiji in the hearts of the supporters. Eventually, this paid off as they defeated Fiji in their first World Cup victory.

The victory followed closely on the heels of their thrilling but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to defeat Georgia, which resulted in a tie. Following the match, captain Tomas Appleton reminded everyone that the team’s goal was to win, not only to play, and they demonstrated this against Fiji, who they were unable to defeat that day.

Portugal's Surprising World Cup Victory Over Fiji

The Fijian manager Raiwalui shown his class by giving the Portuguese players some gear to commemorate their historic victory after the game because they had put up a fantastic performance deserving of victory.

Duhan van der Merwe wonder try

An attempt that will be remembered as one of the best in the history of the game. The Scotland winger Van der Merwe chose to put his ears back after receiving the ball from a teammate within his own half. After defying five defenders to score a try that would go down in history, he beat one tackler, found himself in space, skinned another, and caught the next off guard before bringing out the massive fend and more pace to come. Because of his efforts, the Scottish player was named World Rugby Men’s Try of the Year.

Ireland v France

Ireland was in excellent form and appeared to be headed for a Grand Slam, but they were up against their toughest test to date when France came to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin for an unforgettable match.

Six Nations 2023: Ireland v France build-up - Andy Farrell's plan to win -  BBC Sport

Hugo Keenan, James and Lowe, and Andrew Porter scored three tries in the first half to help the hosts get off to a great start, although Damian Penaud’s try and Thomas Ramos’ boot helped Les Bleus barely hang on.

The Irish managed to hold on during a much more cautious second period as both teams attempted to avoid making mistakes, even after Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Beirne were lost to injuries early in the game. In the closing ten minutes, Garry Ringrose’s goal put the game to bed, rewarding persistence and accuracy.

In what turned out to be an incredible Six Nations season, Ireland went on to win the Grand Slam.

Munster away run into the URC title

For the Irish province, which took its time to get up steam, life under Graham Rowntree began slowly. The team’s performance in the first part of the season was lackluster, and it took a remarkable victory over South Africa ‘A’ in November of last year to get things going.

Munster beat Stormers to end 12-year wait for URC title

Later in the season, Munster started racking up some stellar victories, such as their thrilling road victory over the Stormers at the conclusion, which became them the first team to defeat the squad in Cape Town in more than 20 encounters.

Munster started the playoffs with a beautiful 5-14 quarterfinal victory against an excellent Glasgow Warriors team, setting up a trip to Leinster in the semi-finals. Despite this, their log position meant they would have to travel for all of the play-off games. This was a fantastic performance that ended with a Jack Crowley drop goal that reminded me of Ronan O’Gara.

The United Rugby Championship was miraculously won by Munster in spectacular fashion after the match returned to Cape Town, where the hosts could not keep up with the overwhelming momentum.

How captains and friends Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton have spurred each  other on for eight years

Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell create history

Two rugby veterans broke two prestigious records to round off an incredible year for the sport. They were honored for their long-term, consistent efforts.

In a match against Tonga in the World Cup pool stages, Sexton overtook the legendary O’Gara as Ireland’s all-time leading scorer of points. The fly-half’s exceptional skill and dedication to Irish rugby are demonstrated by the record.

As everything was going on, Farrell surpassed Jonny Wilkinson in the rankings to become his nation’s all-time leading scorer. The Englishman has accomplished an amazing feat, having sacrificed everything for the jersey since his debut. In Test history, Farrell leads the only person with more points—the illustrious Dan Carter.

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