New Zealand 11 South Africa 12
By Liam Napier at Stade de France
Dashed dreams for the courageous All Blacks.
A record fourth global title for the Springboks by the barest of margins after a controversy and card-filled World Cup final.
One point separates heartbreak and ecstasy at Stade de France as the ultimate redemption fell out of reach for the All Blacks.
As they have throughout their journey to this pinnacle juncture the All Blacks dug to the depths of adversity after battling for 42 minutes with one less player on the field following Sam Cane’s red card and Shannon Frizell’s yellow – both in the first half.
Ian Foster’s men never stopped believing. They pushed forward and constantly chased victory to hold the Springboks scoreless in the second half.
In the end, though, they could not land the final definitive blow to steal the Webb Ellis Cup.
A rumble in the Paris rain gave way to a gripping second-half epic as the All Blacks refused to surrender. They embraced ambition and intent but finishing eluded them.
The devastating defeat marks the end of an era for departing legends Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, and Dane Coles as well as Nepo Laulala, Shannon Frizell and Leicester Fainga’anuku – all of whom now leave the All Blacks.
Ian Foster and his coaching team, including Joe Schmidt, Greg Feek and Scott McLeod, conclude their tenures with silver medals too.
Questions and what-if moments will long linger.
Cheslin Kolbe’s yellow card for an intentional knockdown with eight minutes remaining left the Springboks wing inconsolable. Kolbe handed Jordie Barrett a 50-metre penalty on the angle to push the All Blacks in front for the first time in the match but the strike sailed agonisingly to the left of the posts.
Kolbe couldn’t watch the closing stages as Damian McKenzie attempted to spark the All Blacks’ last-ditch counter-attack but the Boks held on.
Sam Cane’s red card will haunt the All Blacks after they dominated the second half. Had they retained their full contingent, they could have prevailed.
While unfortunate, in the current climate, there is no debating Cane’s dismissal. In a sloppy rather than malicious tackle, Cane made direct shoulder-to-head contact with Jesse Kriel. From the moment referee Wayne Barnes flashed the yellow, it was inevitable that would be upgraded to red.
From the 28th minute on, that forced the All Blacks to battle without their captain and sacrifice by moving Jordie Barrett to the side of the scrum in the second half.
Controversy, however, surrounds a similar incident involving Springboks captain Siya Kolisi.
With the All Blacks firmly on the backfoot, Kolisi turned the contest five minutes into the second spell with a tackle on Ardie Savea. Kolisi’s head clattered into Savea’s to earn him a yellow card that, in the quest for consistency, should have resulted in two captains being sent off in a World Cup final.
Somehow, on review, the TMO found mitigation that did not upgrade Kolisi to a red.
With Kolisi off the field, the All Blacks pressed forward in a high-stakes drama-filled period. They turned down two shots at goal to kick for the corner – only to squander those crucial chances with errors.
Richie Mo’unga produced a piece of superb individual brilliance with a majestic 40-metre skip to the outside that sent Aaron Smith over and had the All Blacks coaching box on their feet. Before Mo’unga could convert, though, the try was ruled out for Boks lock Eben Etzebeth forcing an illegal mistake at the lineout.
When Kolisi returned, a chorus of boos rang out, but the All Blacks kept coming.
Eventually, finally, they had their reward with Mark Tele’a showcasing his elusive qualities to break free and pop a desperate pass for Beauden Barrett to score the game’s only try.
The Boks, though, ultimately clung to their one-point lead.
Like Santa and the Grinch, the contrast in styles could not have been starker.
While the All Blacks attacked with everything they had, South Africa repeatedly attempted long-range drop kicks, scrummed, mauled and kicked for territory.
South Africa’s fourth world title – and back-to-back after their 2019 triumph – was earned the hard way with three successive knockout wins by one point. France, England and the All Blacks are left to rue matches that slipped away.
While it will never win any beauty contests the Boks once again proved their style is built for World Cup success.
The All Blacks will rue their first half discipline and inaccuracy.
After four World Cup yellow cards and one red prior to this match, the All Blacks were well aware of the need to avoid similar instances. They didn’t achieve that.
Frizell’s yellow card in the second minute for a ruck infringement – that ended South African hooker Bongi Mbonambi’s night due to a knee injury - cost the All Blacks six points but, the greater impact came in forcing them to tighten up and play into the Boks hands.
One man short, the All Blacks lacked the confidence to attack. They instead trucked it up close to the ruck, charging into the heart of the Boks defence, and kicked to avoid being camped in their half. When they should have been testing South Africa’s legs by chasing the width and playing with speed, the All Blacks felt they had to revert into a conservative shell.
The All Blacks had limited chances to strike in the first half. Jordie Barrett’s chip didn’t bounce favourably for Ardie Savea and, in the best chance of the first half, Kurt-Lee Arendse pulled off a try-saving on Rieko Ioane in the corner. The All Blacks’ World Cup leading lineout faltered on two costly occasions and handling also let them down,
Etzebeth was fortunate to escape a cynical yellow card for lazy running that interfered with a pass while the All Blacks attacked South Africa’s line.
Otherwise, though, the All Blacks were largely under the pump.
Springboks loose forward Pieter-Steph Du Toit was a man possessed, crunching Richie Mo’unga and everything in his sight all night. In Cane’s absence, Ardie Savea stood tall.
Fine margins often define World Cup finals. This one will be remembered for the same knife-edge drama.
A successful kick here, a lower tackle there, and the result could be different.
The Springboks, though, reign supreme for another four years.
All Blacks v South Africa score World Cup final:
All Blacks: Beauden Barrett try, Richie Mo’unga penalty 2
Springboks: Handre Pollard penalty 4
Liam Napier has been a sports journalist since 2010, and his work has taken him to World Cups in rugby, netball and cricket, boxing world title fights and Commonwealth Games.