South Africa made history at the weekend by winning a record fourth men’s Rugby World Cup after beating New Zealand in the final.
The tournament in France has finally reached its conclusion, more than seven weeks since it began, with the Springboks coming out on top 12-11 in a cagey final in Paris. The reigning champions secured a second consecutive title as their resolute defence saw them win all three of their knockout stage matches by just one point.
Following yet another incredible tournament, we’ve taken a look at South Africa’s winning journey, as well as all the key moments in France.
South Africa’s Rugby World Cup dominance continues
In a repeat of the 1995 final, South Africa came up against New Zealand on Saturday and raced into a 9-3 lead thanks to the flawless kicking of Handre Pollard. Things went from bad to worse for the Kiwis when captain Sam Kane was sent off for a high tackle on 27 minutes.
Despite their precarious position, New Zealand held firm and cut the lead to 12-11 following a try from Beauden Barrett, which was the first try South Africa have ever conceded in four World Cup finals.
But a missed penalty from Jordie Barrett meant the score remained the same and the holders clung on to retain their crown. South Africa have now won all four finals they’ve been in and their repeat success is down to the consistency of their key players.
Pieter-Steph du Toit led by example as he was awarded player of the match in the final after making a match-high 28 tackles. The 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year played the most minutes for South Africa at the tournament and was a key cog in their defensive stability.
Despite not making the initial squad, Pollard came in to replace the injured Malcolm Marx during the pool stage. The fly-half didn’t miss a single kick in the four games he played in, scoring 33 points from seven penalties and six conversions.
While South Africa proved they can never be written off, they weren’t among the pre-tournament favourites and only finished second in their pool following a defeat to Ireland.
And they won all of their knockout stage matches by a solitary point, coming from behind to end France’s 18-match winning run at home before Pollard’s late penalty broke English hearts in the semi-final.
England defy expectations despite semi-final heartbreak
The defeat to South Africa in the final four is still raw and there won’t be many England fans that will take solace in finishing third after coming so close in the semis. But after poor preparation and relatively low expectations heading into the tournament, Steve Borthwick’s side objectively did remarkably well.
They won all four of their matches in the pool stage before a professional performance saw off Fiji in the quarter-finals. They looked to have avenged the 2019 final against South Africa as four Owen Farrell penalties put them in the ascendancy.
But Pollard’s penalty in the 78th minute turned the game on its head and despite late pressure, they couldn’t quite find a way through. A 26-23 win over Argentina secured third place and Borthwick will be quietly pleased with his side’s performance.
Farrell finished the tournament as the highest points scorer on 75 thanks to 15 penalties, 12 conversions and two drop goals. The England captain faced criticism throughout the tournament but he stepped up when it mattered to silence his critics.
As England enter a new era under Borthwick, there’s plenty to be positive about and they’ll be confident of repeating the highs of their World Cup campaign when the Six Nations rolls back around in the spring.
France fail to make home advantage count
Ahead of the tournament, all eyes were on hosts France who were fancied as the overwhelming favourites to go all the way.
But odds mean nothing once the players cross the white line and Fabien Galthié’s side blew their best chance in years at claiming a first Rugby World Cup. The hosts enjoyed a 100% record in the pool stage but couldn’t continue that momentum as they narrowly lost out to South Africa in the quarter-finals.
Elsewhere, it was a tournament to forget for Australia, who failed to reach the knockout stage for the first time in their history. They missed out to Fiji, as well as Wales, who topped their pool but lost out to Argentina in the knockouts.
Ireland’s World Cup hoodoo continued as they once again failed to progress past the quarter-finals. A strong pool stage saw them win all four of their matches, including against eventual champions South Africa, but they narrowly lost to New Zealand. Meanwhile, Scotland were in the same pool but suffered an early exit as they finished third.