South Africa emerged triumphant in the Rugby World Cup final with a nail-biting 12-11 victory over a 14-man New Zealand, as Handre Pollard’s four successful penalties contributed significantly to their record fourth title win.
The final at the rain-soaked Stade de France was a closely fought and tense affair, with defense being of high priorit, as the early red card for All Blacks captain Sam Cane, attributed to a high tackle, heightened the intensity of the event.
The match, graced by the presence of tennis icons Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic along with 80,065 spectators, commenced with a captivating and dramatic start.
Referee Wayne Barnes issued a yellow card to All Black flanker Shannon Frizell within the first two minutes for an unauthorized ruck clearout, resulting in Bok hooker Bongi Mbonambi exiting the pitch with a right knee injury, leaving the squad with only one specialized number two.
With Deon Fourie filling in for Mbonambi, who was cleared of allegations earlier in the week concerning a racial slur directed at Tom Curry, Pollard’s penalty kick sealed the deal.
Leveraging his previous 22-point contribution in South Africa’s win over England in Japan, Pollard extended the lead with a second penalty kick, prompted by Codie Taylor’s failure to roll away during a ruck.
The beginning of the match was marked by intense action, as each team unleashed a barrage of intense hits. The Boks, spearheaded by the exceptional Pieter-Steph du Toit, maintained a dominant defensive stance, restricting the All Blacks to their own territory.
Faf de Klerk’s late hit on Mark Tele’a prompted Jordie Barrett to opt for the corner. A series of drives followed, resulting in an infringement by the Boks, which allowed Richie Mo’unga to easily score the All Blacks’ first points through a penalty.
Without hesitation, Pollard swiftly countered Ardie Savea’s ruck maneuver, executing a flawless conversion from a staggering 49-meter distance.
The challenges mounted for New Zealand as Cane earned a yellow card in the 29th minute for a high tackle on Jesse Kriel, which was subsequently escalated to a red card for its considerable risk, with no supporting circumstances, as confirmed by the television match official.
With Cane’s red card, the World Cup final saw its first player dismissal, leaving the All Blacks to compete with 14 men for 46 minutes of the match.
Two unmistakable try-scoring opportunities were wasted by South Africa.
Another powerful collision from Du Toit, directed at Will Jordan, raised the stakes for New Zealand, prompting Pollard to secure his fourth successful penalty kick.
With Mo’unga securing a second penalty, the score reached 12-6 at halftime, leaving the All Blacks to head back to the changing rooms, acknowledging the historical fact that no team had ever overcome a halftime deficit to claim victory in a final.
Firstly, Siya Kolisi was guilty of butchering a clear five-pointer just seconds into the second period, keeping hold of the ball as the whitewash beckoned despite Cheslin Kolbe racing up inside and Kriel on the flank.
Kurt-Lee Arendse then went close, just failing to gather a clever Kolbe grubber as the Boks dominated possession.
Kolisi was rightly yellow carded for a high tackle on Savea, who led the All Black charge back up the pitch, Mo’unga spilling the ball in a rare attack after Tele’a had soared to take a towering up-and-under.
Another All Black kick to the corner eventually paid off as the ball was recycled left to Tele’a, who beat three men before offloading, Beauden Barrett scooping up the ball to dot down.
Mo’unga missed the touchline conversion but the game was suddenly a one-point affair.
One of four increasingly desperate attempts by the Boks, Kolbe’s ambitious 50-meter drop-goal fell notably short, with both teams aiming to find an opportunity to manage the tempo of the game.
Following a deliberate knock-down of an Anton Lienert-Brown pass, the winger was shown a yellow card, leading to both teams concluding the game with 14 players.
Jordie Barrett’s long-range penalty attempt drifted wide as the game entered its nerve-racking final six minutes, amplifying the intensity.
Du Toit’s crucial hit on Barrett and De Klerk’s expertly timed tap tackle on Dalton Papali’i in the final moments solidified South Africa’s consecutive title win, marking their fourth championship victory, in addition to their earlier triumphs in 1995, 2007, and 2019.