A first-ever Rugby World Cup final red card proved pivotal as New Zealand captain Sam Cane’s dismissal enabled Handre Pollard to kick South Africa to a 12-11 win and record fourth title.
Pollard – who missed the start of the World Cup due to injury before being called up late – kicked four penalties, with Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi possibly lucky to avoid red himself for a head-on-head tackle on Ardie Savea, and Cheslin Kolbe sin-binned late on for a deliberate knock-on.
New Zealand scored their points through two Richie Mo’unga penalties and a Beauden Barrett try – with Aaron Smith having a further score ruled out – and refused to give up despite being down to 14 from the 29th minute, but they could not take their chances to ever lead in the contest, as Jordie Barrett missed a long-range penalty late on.
New Zealand – Tries: B Barrett (58). Pens: Mo’unga (17, 38).
South Africa – Pens: Pollard (3, 13, 19, 34).
Cane’s red card came due to a high tackle which made contact with the head of South Africa centre Jesse Kriel, with World Rugby’s foul play review bunker feeding back the act had a high degree of danger, with no obvious mitigation.
James Cole outlines how South Africa won their record fourth Rugby World Cup title after overcoming New Zealand who were reduced to 14 men after captain Sam Cane’s red card.
The All Blacks were reduced to 14 players less than three minutes in, when Frizell was rightfully penalised by TMO Tom Foley for falling onto the standing leg of South Africa hooker Bongi Mbonami at a ruck, causing a knee injury in the process.
Pollard kicked the first points of the final after that incident, before much of the early proceedings were dominated by kicking out of hand, despite South Africa facing 14 players.
Pollard struck for 6-0 when the All Blacks were penalised at the breakdown, and only the bounce of the ball denied Ardie Savea a try in response down the other end off a Jordie Barrett chip kick. New Zealand had been playing on penalty advantage, allowing Mo’unga to kick over for 6-3.
On 20 minutes, a harsh breakdown penalty against Savea saw a Pollard strike from distance creep just over the bar.
Eben Etzebeth soon knocked on in the carry just outside his 22, but it was a scrum New Zealand would not get to attack from as, after a review, Cane was dismissed for his high tackle on Kriel.
Six minutes from the end of the half, Pollard stretched the lead out to two scores, but New Zealand’s 14 reacted heartily before the break, with Frizell and Rieko Ioane both going close to tries – the latter after an attack had been disrupted by a clearly offside Etzebeth, who was very fortunate not to be sin-binned.
Mo’unga kicked over that penalty to leave things 12-6 at the break, but New Zealand facing an extremely tough ask.
Five minutes into the second period, the numbers could have been evened up when Kolisi collided with the head of Savea, but though he was sin-binned, the bunker fed back that a change in dynamics of the situation was just enough to spare a red card.
From then on, New Zealand largely dictated play, belying the fact they had a player less, and turned down shots at the posts in search of a try.
After Smith’s score was ruled out for an earlier Savea knock-on, the All Blacks then got the try their pressure deserved when Mark Telea danced through and offloaded for Barrett to scoop up and score in the corner. Mo’unga critically missed the difficult conversion, though.
Kolbe’s yellow card for a deliberate knock-on with seven minutes to play handed New Zealand one final chance, but Jordie Barrett’s long-range penalty drifted wide, and a last-gasp attack saw the ball lost by Savea.
Cane: I’m gutted and disappointed; the courage the boys showed was incredible
New Zealand captain Sam Cane told ITV Sport post-match…
“Obviously I’m extremely gutted and disappointed, first of all at the fact the boys had to play with 14 men for 50-odd minutes.
“But I thought the courage they showed tonight was incredible. The whole team are absolute warriors and it’s tough.
“I’d like to say well done to South Africa…they’ve been a fantastic team and had a heck of a run to the final.
“Time and time again, they find a way to win, so well done South Africa.”
Du Toit: We’re honoured to play for all of South Africa | Kolisi: We have a job to inspire
South Africa back row Pieter-Steph du Toit said post-match…
“The last three games have been quite tough. Each one we’ve played as a final and each one was by one point, so it was tough for us and we’re happy with the win.
“For all of South Africa, we’re honoured to be able to play for you guys and play for the Springboks. I know when we go back home it’s going to be a warm welcome for us.”
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi said post-match…
“What happened at the last World Cup, we were kind of hoping because we were trying to get the name of the Springboks back. But now, people were expecting us.
“There is so much going wrong in our country, we are basically the last line of defence, there are so many people who come from where I come from who are hope-less.
“There is so much division in the country, but we show people that it is possible for people from different backgrounds to work together – not just on the rugby field but in life in general.
“I’ve got a job to make sure I give everything I can to the jersey, to make sure I inspire the next generation that they can get opportunities like this.”
The victory means South Africa clinch Rugby World Cup glory for a record fourth time, after previous titles in 1995, 2007 and 2019. They end their campaign having finished second in Pool B after defeat to Ireland and wins over Scotland, Romania and Tonga, before beating hosts France 29-28 in the quarter-finals and England 16-15 in the semi-finals.
The defeat means New Zealand finish as runners-up at a Rugby World Cup for the second time in their history, after the 1995 World Cup in South Africa – which they also lost to the Springboks. They end their campaign having finished second in Pool A after defeat to hosts France and wins over Namibia, Italy and Uruguay, before beating Ireland 28-24 in the quarter-finals and Argentina 44-6 in the semi-finals.