By Sophie Little
For many fans, 2023 was going to be the year when the Web Ellis Cup was brought back to the Northern Hemisphere, something which has not been done since England won it in 2003. However, it was not to be. After seven enthralling weeks of rugby, South Africa managed a record fourth Rugby World Cup title after an incredibly tight final against New Zealand in Paris. This now means that South Africa have won half of the eight World Cups which they have played in.
New Zealand deserve a lot of respect, they fought hard, with only 14 men for over half of the game after their captain Sam Cane was shown a red in the 29th minute for a high tackle against Jesse Kriel. However, while the All Blacks seemed willing, the Spingboks’ desperate passion was unbeatable. They were playing for something bigger than themselves, to unite their country once more, and everyone could see it.
It was in the way that Willie le Roux sprinted 50m to give his pack a pep talk before a scrum in the 74thminute. It was in Handre Pollard’s golden boot which never missed, whereas the All Blacks left five points on the field. It was in the way Cheslin Kolbe, standing at 5ft 7in and 75 kg, heaved All Black winger Will Jordan up onto his shoulder, leading to an incredibly important turnover. It was in Pieter-Steph du Toit’s mind-blowing 28 tackles. While at times their defence may have seemed chaotic, especially towards the end of the game, there was always a sense of trust. Trust in themselves and trust in their teammates to do what needed to be done to seal a victory.
It clearly meant a lot. The Springboks won their quarter-final, semi-final and final by one point. Some may say this was a coincidence, or even suggest that they were lucky. I would say it was their sheer will to win. Captain Siya Kolisi reiterated multiple times that people who are not South African cannot understand the importance of this victory to their country, but we can certainly try. South Africa is a troubled country at the moment, with rolling blackouts, economic instability and the World’s highest unemployment rate. However, as many players repeated, this victory was a sign of hope and unity.
The South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a public holiday for the 15th of December “in celebration of the Springboks’ momentous achievement.” However, people were not waiting, and there were signs of jubilation in hospital wards and under statues of Nelson Mandela. Streets were brought to a standstill as the country celebrated. It is hard to find a nation with more belief, and the Springboks, especially Kolisi, represent more than just the sport. If you haven’t already, I implore you to watch Kolisi’s emotional interviews where he talks of the importance of inspiring the next generation in South Africa, and what the sport means to him. It is impossible to dislike him when you hear what he represents.
No matter who you supported, this tournament has been one to remember. Chile scored their first World Cup try. Portugal played their way into people’s hearts and had the world celebrating with them in their emotional win. The game is clearly growing and the gap between Tier One and Tier Two nations is closing. Yes, there may be concerns over refereeing decisions, and questions as to the future of the sport, but I personally am excited to see what will come from the growing group of competitive countries.
While many fans were disappointed that tournament favourites Ireland and France could not go the whole way, I see South Africa as deserving champions and am in awe of what they have done for their country.
Image: GovernmentZA via Flickr