It was a Giants final. The largest, strongest and most historic. The last black headband for Scott Barrett, the indestructible ball carrier. Those unreal arms of Etzbeth's son, of immense power. A legendary duel between the fantasy of Clash of the Titans and the bad taste of Expendables. South Africa vs New Zealand. It is perhaps the most emblematic poster of rugby that will never be opened, between the two best teams in the world, who faced each other on Saturday night for the 106th time since 1921, and the sixth time in a World Cup.
In a Stade de France troubled by the harsh refereeing of the southern hemisphere, South Africa won this encounter without scoring a try, 12-11, and walked away with the Webb Ellis Cup for the fourth time in their history. We can debate for hours, complaining long after the quarter-final match that we still haven't digested, but the facts are there and they are stubborn: South Africa are the best team ever.
After being booed – once again – by the French crowd over the South African musical score, after the presentation of the legendary Webb Ellis Cup in a tacky Louis Vuitton trunk, and after a sequin mika party as bizarre as the sequin mika party before at a rugby match, Marseille's match was preceded by a pride-filled Hakka team The All Blacks, which raised no eyebrows among any South Africans.
The story of the boxes
As expected, there was immediate talk of a fight. After a strong blow from Eben Etzeth, it was New Zealand third-row player Shannon Fritzl who was punished with a yellow card that could be described as serious by English referee Wayne Barnes, for unfair play with hooker Bongi Mbonambi. Handry Pollard's penalty kick was converted and the Springboks quickly led 3 to 0. Aside from the sweetness of the opening ceremony, the carefreeness of the end of summer, and the odd laugh made by a funnyman with his hand on his head, the conditions are not terrible. – 14 degrees Celsius, rain showers and winds – but it enhances the complaining and reduces the poetry of the match, so here we are before the semi-final rematch between South Africa and England. Kicking games, here you go. Then hopefully in the cage.
In this game, South Africa is the strongest. The danger zone is often found, where shivers run through the stands with every ball kicked. And if the Springboks then barely regain control, the green waves will inevitably fall on clumsy All Blacks boosters like Aaron Smith who can't find his touch. In the process, Cheslin Kolbe fires a cross from the right flank. Logically, South Africa gets another penalty and goes 6-0 up in the 13th minute. Also with the foot, once again, Jordie Barrett sends Arde Savea almost into orbit into the South African goal. But football, which has no sense of history, decides otherwise. Richie Mo'unga plants New Zealand's first points. By a narrow margin, his South African counterpart put his team ahead by six points.
In any case. For a few minutes, it wasn't the same lemonade. Now kicking has become inaccurate, and South Africa's kicks no longer allow them to penetrate the All Blacks who, for their part, are unable to take a clean touch. Three failures in a row is a headache. We think of the case of Jesse Creel, who was injured after a violent contact from the shoulder directly to the head from Sam Keane, who received a yellow card… which would logically turn into red. This is the disastrous scenario for New Zealand, now deprived of its captain and 14 until the end of the match. The New Zealanders played only a quarter of an hour in this final on par.
The jubilation of the South African crowd left the Stade de France, which had chosen its side, stunned. On the field, the All Blacks play with honor between their teeth. Rico Ioane is about to shoot a corner kick but lets the ball escape. Wayne Barnes returns to the advantage after a mistake by Eben Itzith, who is more rogue than clumsy. At the end of the first half, South Africa leads 12 to 6.
All black with pride
From the start of the competition, South Africa's machine seemed to be running on diesel, as they started their matches difficult against the big teams – Ireland, France and England – but they were partially crushed in the second half, thanks in part to their bench and to the genius of adaptability of their staff. Coach Jack Nienaber was delighted after a grueling semi-final against a brave but limited England side “A group where there is not much difference between the starting players and the substitutes. When we assemble the bench, people focus on the number of strikers but the important thing is the group and its quality. […] “We don't have an A team or a B team. We don't work that way.”.
In contrast, the dreaded New Zealand did not look at all plausible before the competition. A historic defeat rate (30%) for several months and humiliating defeats against Argentina at home and especially against the same South African national team at Twickenham. The All Blacks memorial has also been shaken in its home country, where rugby remains the main sport but where the number of licensees declines when the national team experiences extraordinary turmoil. But since the opening defeat to France, the All Blacks have produced a string of impressive performances and hold the record for points (325), tries (48) and conversions (35) before kick-off.
We can then hope for a real shock. And 46 seconds into the second half, the receiver lit another black candle that set New Zealand's goal line on fire. Free warning. Then Kurt Lee Arendse forgot to flatten. Heroes Siya Kolisi were in turn punished with a yellow card after a head-to-head clash, and now the two teams are at 14, deprived of their respective captains.
New Zealand pays in vain. Even the flash of opener Richie Mo'unga, who cuts through the entire South African defense before serving on his friend Aaron Smith. The Stade de France explodes. But it says nothing will happen tonight for the All Blacks. The video calls out Wayne Barnes. The penalty kick was committed after a throw-in at the start of play. South African pints caress the sky. Captain Colossi returns under the leadership of the Bronca and the French fans confirm that it is perhaps the worst in the history of the World Cup.
Cheslin colby thermometer
South Africans are disturbed and physically affected, with their heads under water. The New Zealand storm never ends and it stands to reason that Beauden Barrett would score his first try of the competition. From 12 to 11. It makes you wonder who will play at 14. The match gets chaotic. In the media gallery, we appreciate that it is “Sausage Gallery”. A good analysis clearly reflects the reality on the ground. Time flies, and as usual, South Africa will give us a close match until the end. Which will finally be played 14v14. Cheslin Kolbe comes out with a yellow card and the screen shows seven minutes to play. Jordie Barrett misses the winning penalty 45 meters out to the right. The conclusion of this duel couldn't be more tense. In a game that is not always technically fair, the facts of the game are multiplied and it becomes impossible to know which side the coin will fall on. The defeat will be harsh.
The All Blacks start again from 22 metres. 80 meters and four minutes remaining. Blocked, hit away. South Africa is lost and mixed. Giant screens show Cheslin Colby's plight with his head in his hands. In complete chaos, in the exhaustion of a long World Cup final, in an endless match. The latest brawl is South Africa. In 23 seconds, the Springboks will leave their mark on history. The world order has been overturned. They won't be great, but it's never about that. In the end, these are the ones we will remember.
Seven seconds. Paid. Melee spinning. whistle. Cheslin Colby raised his head. South Africa are world champions.