The Springboks and All Blacks have each won three World Cup titles and Saturday’s World Cup finalists have enjoyed a remarkable revival of their 100-plus year rivalry since Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber took charge of the South Africans in 2018, writes Mark Keohane.
This is the final every rugby purist wanted … a first ever World Cup final showdown on neutral ground between these two foes.
What a place to do it, in Paris, the city of love.
If you love rugby, you just have to love the script to Saturday’s final. The All Blacks won the World Cup at their first attempt in 1987 and the Boks, in international sporting isolation for the 1987 and 1991 World Cups, won the title at their first attempt when hosting in 1995.
Since then it has been hit and miss at World Cups for rugby’s two powerhouses.
They met in the third and fourth play-off in the 1999 World Cup, but that match in Cardiff could have been a Sunday social such was the lack of desire for all the players to be involved. No one wants this game, other than the broadcaster.
The Boks won a messy affair and Breyton Paulse was the only try-scorer of the night. I was at that game and my overriding memory is that the locals put on a great night of revelry which exceeded anything on the rugby field.
In 2003, the All Blacks smashed a sub-standard Bok team 29-9 in the quarter-final in Melbourne, and then the two teams had to wait until 2015 to meet again at a World Cup. What a thrilling match it was, with the world champion All Blacks winning the semi-final 20-18 at Twickenham. The All Blacks outscored the Boks two tries to nil and Dan Carter was supreme. They would beat Australia a week later in the final and the Boks would take the bronze medal against Argentina.
The World Cup draw put the two giants of world rugby in the same pool in 2019 and the All Blacks edged the Boks 23-13 in a fantastic opening match. The New Zealanders couldn’t sustain their tournament form, losing to England in the semi-final and the Boks went onto trump Japan, Wales and England in the play-offs.
Now the two biggest teams in the history of international rugby and World Cups in the professional age will once again go to war at Paris’s Stade de France.
It is going to be colossal, with nothing separating these two teams since the Boks won 36-24 in Wellington in 2018.
Erasmus and Nienaber’s Boks have won four Tests, drawn one and lost five. Both teams have scored 30-plus points on four occasions. The Boks have scored 24 tries and conceded 27 and they win the 10-Test series on average by less than a point, with South Africa’s 24.7 playing New Zealand’s 24.
Nienaber, post the Boks’s 16-15 win against England, said it would need 30-plus points to beat the All Blacks and win the Boks a record fourth World Cup title. Recent history between the two teams and head coaches suggests 25 would do the business.
This is soccer’s equivalent of Germany versus Brazil; a contrast in styles but no contrast in World Cup success.
These are rugby’s two super powers and it makes for the most appropriate World Cup final since the two met in Johannesburg in 1995. That day the Boks won 15-12 over 100 minutes, with the match tied 9-all after 80 minutes. New Zealand’s Andrew Mehrtens missed a drop goal in the 80th minute and South Africa’s Joel Stransky nailed a drop goal in extra time.
The two teams have met five times at the World Cup, four of the matches at neutral grounds. With the exception of the Melbourne blow out in 2003, the World Cup scores have been 15-12 (Boks in 1995), 22-18 (Boks in 1999), 20-18 All Blacks (in 2015) and 23-13 (All Blacks in 2019).
What a week of anticipation between two rugby nations with a respect that speaks to the reverence of this wonderful rivalry, especially since 2018.