Rugby World Cup 2023: South Africa beat New Zealand – how Springboks went back-to-back

Scrum-half Faf de Klerk tearfully celebrates with South Africa team-mate Damian Willemse
Scrum-half Faf de Klerk tearfully celebrates winning the Rugby World Cup with South Africa team-mate Damian Willemse

When the margins are so small, the possibilities seem so many.

Where did South Africa find the edge to overcome New Zealand? Where exactly was the source of that single but decisive point?

New Zealand missed a penalty and a conversion. Both were difficult kicks, but Handre Pollard – South Africa’s sharp-shooting fly-half – landed everything off the tee.

When hooker Bongi Mbonambi went off injured inside two minutes, South Africa’s bet on a forward-heavy bench was a tweaked muscle or strained ligament away from backfiring. But another injury never came.

All Blacks skipper Sam Cane went high on Jesse Kriel and was shown red. Twenty minutes later, his South Africa counterpart Siya Kolisi was a few millimetres lower on Ardie Savea and saw yellow.

The margins are miniscule.

But, as drained South African bodies dropped to the turf at the final whistle, it felt like there was one big difference.

New Zealand wanted the win, South Africa needed it.

It is impossible to prove, but it also felt so easy to see. South Africa played with a desire bordering on desperation. It was almost mind over matter. Bodies hurled into the fray, because the brain is filled with not just a dream of winning, but a mortal fear of losing.

It was in the way that a full-pelt Kurt-Lee Arendse, 5ft 9in tall and barely 13 stone, dragged a tryline-bound Rieko Ioane into touch in the first half.

It was in the way his fellow wing Cheslin Kolbe, even smaller in stature, hoisted Will Jordan onto his shoulder and carried him back upfield.

South Africa wing Kurt-Lee Arendse hoists Will Jordan off the ground in a tackle
Cheslin Kolbe hoisting Will Jordan off the ground was emblematic of South Africa’s desire

It was in an intense huddle before the second half kicked off. It was in Willie le Roux’s 50m sprint to issue his pack a pre-scrum pep talk in the 74th minute. Maybe most of all, it was in Pieter-Steph du Toit’s astonishing 28 tackles.

The South Africa flanker will loom large in the nightmares of Jordie Barrett, who, it felt, was on the end of about half that tally.

Afterwards Kolisi, the Springboks’ skipper and spirit incarnate, spoke about distinctive mood music that accompanies his team’s matches.

“What brings us together is our country. What brings us together is the Springboks and South Africa,” he said.

“There is not a lot of things going right in our country and we have the privilege to be able to do what we love and inspire people in life, not just sports people.

“For me not to give my 100 per cent on the field would be cheating all those people and that’s what the coaches always remind us of. The motivations for us, we don’t have to look far.

“I can’t explain it to you, you need to come and see South Africa to understand. Once we come together nothing can stop us, not just in sport but also in life.”

We may not understand it, but we can see it.

After the Springboks’ one-point wins over France and England in the previous two rounds, videos of South African children – barely old enough to remember the Boks’ 2019 World Cup win – never mind Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar’s handshake in 1995, appeared online.

They represented all shades of the nation, but each was clad in Springbok colours and totally, tearfully invested in the team that reflected their country back to them. external-link

This time, after the win over New Zealand, there were screams of delight on hospital wards,external-link songs under statues of Mandela external-linkand streets brought to a standstillexternal-link as another high-wire win was serenaded to the heavens.

For a country that suffers rolling blackouts and unrest, this team tells a different story. Amid the dents left in the opposition, it makes a positive, powerful and proud impression on the rest of the world.

They may not play the most attractive rugby, but for South Africans waking up on Sunday morning there will be nothing more beautiful than victory.

After Japan 2019, Rassie Erasmus – then head coach and who remains the mastermind behind their success – said he could not take on a job with another nation because he would not know what to say to them before a final.

At the Stade de France, he and Jacques Nienaber found the words once more to inspire a team to inspire a nation.

In the other dressing room New Zealand were left with a thousand would-of, should-of, could-ofs. Cane’s red card will be top of the list.

There may have been no malice in his clash, but clumsiness carries a high price in modern rugby and avoiding paying is a skill in itself.

The All Blacks aren’t the only ones arguing over the past in the bar either.

France and England also found their knockout matches pulled away from under them by the opposition’s sheer will to win.

It has happened too often to be luck or coincidence.

Each time, it was South Africa; their common dominator and an exceptional champion.

Source: BBC News

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