The two three-time champions and the current top two men’s sides in the world, according to the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, meet in the final of Rugby World Cup 2023.
Difficult though it may be to believe, New Zealand opened their Rugby World Cup challenge with a 27-13 defeat against France at Stade de France. Some 50 days and 47 matches later, they return to contest the final.
Head coach Ian Foster has made only two changes to the team that beat Argentina 44-6, with Brodie Retallick replacing Samuel Whitelock in the second-row, and Nepo Laulala replacing Fletcher Newell on the bench, while the All Blacks’ starting backline is identical to the one that lost 35-7 to the Springboks at Twickenham in August.
Defending champions South Africa also recovered from a pool phase defeat – against another pre-tournament favourite, Ireland – to book their place in the showpiece match with two one-point victories over France and then England in the knockout phase.
Head coach Jacques Nienaber has made five changes to his match-day squad from the one-point semi-final victory over England, with two in the starting XV and three in a 7-1 split bench.
In total, 10 players in the starting XV also started the Rugby World Cup 2019 – Mbongeni Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen, Faf de Klerk, Handré Pollard, Damian de Allende and Cheslin Kolbe. Steven Kitshoff and Franco Mostert, who were on the bench in 2019, start this time. Willie Le Roux, who started four years ago, is the only replacement back this time. RG Snyman is again on the bench.
FIXTURE: New Zealand v South Africa
GROUND: Stade de France (80,023)
KICK-OFF: 21:00 local time (GMT+2)
The Rugby World Cup final is test number 106 in the 102-year history of what is arguably international rugby’s greatest rivalry. The All Blacks lead the win count 62-39, with four drawn games, but could not win a test series in South Africa before 1966.
What match could be more memorable than the final of Rugby World Cup 1995 at Ellis Park? When the Springboks shackled Jonah Lomu, Joel Stransky landed the winning drop goal deep into injury time, and Nelson Mandela, in a South Africa jersey with a number six on the back, handed the Cup to Francois Pienaar?
KEY TALKING POINT
It’s the final, between the tournament’s two most successful sides. Both New Zealand and South Africa have three titles to their name. But who will become the first four-time champions?
Will Jordan v Cheslin Kolbe. A pair of electrifying wingers go head to head for rugby’s biggest prize. Jordan, with 31 tries in 30 tests and on a four-game scoring streak in France, has the men’s Rugby World Cup individual tournament scoring record in sight – but if ever there’s a big-game player in the modern game, it’s Kolbe.
South Africa’s starting XV boasts a combined 987 caps. The back three of Kolbe (30 caps), Kurt-Lee Arendse (14) and Damian Willemse (38) are the only players in the run-on side that have fewer than 50 caps.
For the record, New Zealand’s starting XV has 981 caps’ experience. They have four centurions in the match-day team, just as they did in the 2015 final.
Wayne Barnes (England). The 44-year-old takes charge of his first World Cup final, in his 111th match in the middle - and his 27th RWC game. Karl Dickson and Matthew Carley are assistant referees, with Tom Foley the TMO.
NEW ZEALAND Beauden Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Mark Tele’a; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Ethan de Groot, Codie Taylor, Tyrel Lomax; Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett; Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane (captain), Ardie Savea
Replacements: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Tamaiti Williams, Nepo Laulala, Samuel Whitelock, Dalton Papali’i, Finlay Christie, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown
SOUTH AFRICA Damian Willemse; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe; Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Steven Kitshoff, Mbongeni Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe; Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert; Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Duane Vermeulen
Replacements: Deon Fourie, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Jean Kleyn, RG Snyman, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese, Willie Le Roux