Sports writer Aiman Fariz Zaqwan Bin Akmal Hizam says New Zealand was just short.
After a grueling two-month-long tournament, the 2023 Rugby World Cup came to an exhilarating conclusion over the weekend, featuring both the bronze medal match and the grand final.
England went head to head with Argentina for the second time in this year’s tournament on Oct. 27, a full 48 days after England’s initial 27-10 victory over the team in Group A. The spotlight of the match belonged to Owen Farrell, who showcased his prowess by converting four kicks from the tee in the first half and two more in the second, amassing a total of 16 crucial points. Ultimately, England repeated its earlier success, prevailing over Argentina with a score of 26-23, securing the bronze medal.
On Saturday, Oct. 28, rugby enthusiasts witnessed the highly anticipated clash between New Zealand’s All Blacks and South Africa’s Springboks in the grand final. Many fans dubbed this encounter as “the greatest matchup in the history of the Rugby World Cup.” These two teams, recognized as the leading powers in World Rugby, brought the highest stakes to Stade de France, each with the mission of reclaiming the Rugby World Cup trophy, also known as the Webb Ellis Cup, for the fourth time. New Zealand last lifted the trophy back in 2015, and it was eager to regain its title, while South Africa clinched the previous edition in Japan in 2019 and was determined to defend its championship title.
Before the kick-off, fans were treated to a spirited New Zealand war dance known as “Haka.” New Zealand then got the ball rolling with a kick-off. Two minutes into the match, the All Blacks were down to 14 men after Shannon Frizell was shown a yellow card for a neck roll on Springboks hooker Mbonambi, an incident which left the front rower injured and removed from the game. As a consequence, South Africa was awarded a penalty kick, which Handre Pollard effortlessly converted, allowing South Africa to take an early 0-3 lead. After seven minutes, a television match official review decided that the yellow card would remain and no red card would be shown, allowing Frizell to return to the game.
In the 12th minute, another foul from New Zealand, this time by Codie Taylor, gave South Africa its second penalty. Pollard made no mistake as he converted the kick and doubled South Africa’s lead 0-6. Four minutes later, New Zealand was awarded a penalty and Richie Mo’unga converted the kick to put the All Blacks on the scoreboard. A foul by Ardie Savea just two minutes later gave the Springboks another penalty kick. Pollard showed his prowess as he converted the 49 meters kick and extended South Africa’s lead to 3-9.
In the 28th minute, New Zealand found itself once again reduced to 14 players, this time due to a dangerous tackle by Sam Cane. His shoulder made contact with the head of Jesse Kriel, and the incident prompted referee Wayne Barnes to issue a yellow card and send Cane to the sin bin. However, unlike Frizzell, the All Blacks’ captain did not make a return to the field.
The foul play review officer determined that Cane’s tackle involved a direct shoulder-to-head impact with significant force and lacked sufficient mitigating factors to maintain a yellow card status. Barnes then overturned his yellow card to a red card, marking the first-ever red card issued in a Rugby World Cup final. This decision left Cane and his team in a state of shock, as New Zealand had to continue playing with only 14 men until the final whistle. With just seven minutes to close the first half, another foul by New Zealand gave South Africa its fourth penalty kick, this time just five meters from the scoring line. Handre Pollard exhibited remarkable composure and successfully converted the kick, further widening South Africa’s lead to 3-12. Late into the first half, a foul by the Springboks awarded the All Blacks’ second penalty of the match. Mo’unga made no mistake to converting the kick, narrowing the score margin. As the first half drew to a conclusion, New Zealand found itself trailing 6-12 to South Africa.
South Africa restarted the second half with a drop kick, setting the stage for an intense second period. In the 58th minute, a beautiful sequence of passes orchestrated by New Zealand’s backlines rounded off with full-back Beauden Barrett, who finished the movement with a sliding attempt into the Springboks’ try zone, marking his first try of the tournament. This try added five crucial points to New Zealand’s score, narrowing the score gap to just one point. The responsibility of converting the following kick fell upon Mo’unga, but unfortunately, his kick veered wide, squandering New Zealand’s opportunity to seize the lead. The score remained 11-12 in favor of South Africa until the final whistle, and the Springboks clinched their fourth World Cup title.