After seven weeks of breathtaking rugby, Sports Editor Oisin Gaffey analyses how South Africa won their fourth World Cup, and how Ireland fell at the Quarter Final Hurdle yet again.
South Africa became just the second ever men’s rugby team to win back-to-back World Cups as they defeated The All Blacks 12-11 in Paris on October 28th, etching their name into the history books as they won their fourth World Cup.
South Africa’s Road to The Final
South Africa were placed in Pool B when the draw was made for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, with Ireland, Scotland, Tonga and Romania for company. This was the hardest pool in World Cup history, as it contained three of the top five teams in the world.
This was the hardest pool in World Cup history, as it contained three of the top five teams in the world.
The Springboks kicked off their title defence with a comfortable 18-3 win over fifth-in-the-world Scotland in the opening weekend of the tournament, and were never threatened, before then cruising to a 76-0 win over Romania the following weekend.
The highlight of the pool stages came in the third week of the competition, where Ireland played South Africa in Paris, as the number one team in the world (Ireland) faced a Springbok team that is built for World Cups. Thanks to a Mack Hansen try and the boots of Johnny Sexton and Jack Crowley, Ireland edged South Africa 13-8 on the night, though the Boks missed a series of kicks that would have been worth 12 points.
The Springboks went on to face France in the Quarter Finals, a game that has been deemed by many as the best game of rugby ever. The two sides traded scores in an electric opening 40 minutes and could only be separated by the finest of margins. A late penalty kick from Handre Pollard coupled with a gruelling defensive performance was enough for the Boks to win this game by a singular point, as they sent the home team packing.
The Springboks went on to face France in the Quarter Finals, a game that has been deemed by many as the best game of rugby ever.
Facing England in the Semi-Finals, many expected this game to be a walk in the park for South Africa, myself included. England, to their credit, employed a strong kicking game and relied on converting penalties to stay alive in this contest. With 15 minutes to play, England led 15-6, but as a neutral watching the game, you knew that South Africa would come up with some magic to turn the tide.
They did just that, as Munster’s RG Snyman used all of his 6ft7 frame to power over the whitewash from close range. Handre Pollard converted, and then stepped up to take yet another late penalty following a dominant South African scrum. Pollard converted to send his team into successive World Cup Finals.
Rugby World Cup Final
The final itself will go down in history as one of the most physically exhausting and dramatic games of all time. Inside just three minutes, New Zealand’s Shannon Frizell was shown a yellow card for an illegal clearout on Springbok Hooker Bongi Mbonambi. Mbonambi was forced to leave the pitch for a second time in a World Cup final, following his early substitution in 2019.
The final itself will go down in history as one of the most physically exhausting and dramatic games of all time.
The Springboks scored four penalties inside the opening 35 minutes through the boot of Handre Pollard, but would not score for the remainder of the game.
To add to the drama, All Black captain Sam Cane received a Red Card in the 28th minute following a high tackle on Jesse Kriel. The disappointment and sadness on Cane’s face was eminent, though there was no doubt that this was the correct decision.
New Zealand responded well to this setback, Richie Mo’unga converting two penalties and Beauden Barrett scoring a try in the 58th minute to cut the deficit to just one point. A missed conversion, and a missed late penalty from Jordie Barrett meant that the Springboks were able to hold out for the win, despite not scoring a single point for over 40 minutes. Pieter Steph du Toit was rightfully awarded Player of the Match, having made 28 tackles throughout the game, including six on Jordie Barrett alone.
Ireland at The World Cup
This was arguably Ireland’s best ever chance at winning a World Cup, or at least at breaking the Quarter Final Curse. This was a golden generation of Irish players, who now say goodbye to generational talents Keith Earls and Johnny Sexton, with others such as Peter O’Mahony, Bundee Aki and Cian Healy a doubt for the next World Cup in four years time.
This was arguably Ireland’s best ever chance at winning a World Cup.
Pool B was the hardest pool in World Cup history, containing three of the World’s top five teams. As such, Ireland were effectively forced to play their first choice team in all of their matches, leading to levels of fatigue that would be their undoing in the final minutes against New Zealand in the Quarter Finals.
Ireland’s performance against the All Blacks simply wasn’t good enough, and was unlike anything we have seen from them over the past 14 months. A poor opening 20 minutes gave New Zealand the ascendancy, with Ireland leaving it too late to come back. The All Blacks were ferocious, Sam Cane in particular having an exceptional game, alongside his back-row partner Ardie Savea.
The Quarter Final against New Zealand was worthy of a World Cup Final, but at the end of the day, Ireland still haven’t been able to break their Quarter Final curse.
World Rugby Awards
24 Hours after the conclusion of the World Cup Final, the World Rugby Awards were announced. 5 Irish men featured in the Men’s 15’s Dream team of the year; Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Caelan Doris, Bundee Aki and Gary Ringrose. Alongside them were five French players, four All Blacks and just one South African, in the form of Eben Etzebeth.
5 Irish men featured in the Men’s 15’s Dream team of the year.
This sparked outrage amongst Springbok fans on social media, as they felt they should have had more representation. After all, they had just won back-to-back World Cups the night before.
New Zealand’s Ardie Savea won the men’s World Player of the year, beating Etzebeth, Bundee Aki and Antoine Dupont to the prestigious award.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell won Coach of the Year, and despite crashing out at the Quarter Finals, it's hard to argue against this award. Farrell’s Ireland suffered just one defeat in 2023, their last loss prior to this coming in July 2022.
7 English players featured in the Women’s 15’s Dream Team of the Year, with Marlie Packer also awarded Women’s Player of the Year 2023.
Ireland’s greatest ever team failed to break the elusive Quarter Final Curse, but were faced with a tough schedule. South Africa proved themselves as one of the greatest ever World Cup teams, as they refused to give up, and repeatedly stepped up when it mattered most.
The Farrell era continues, and we go again. Can Ireland break the curse in Australia in 2027?