South Africa: Rugby World Cup Final Too Close to Call

On Thursday, the team for the Rugby World Cup final against the same opponents was announced with the same 7/1 split on the bench. Ironically, the only back is the now fit again, Willie le Roux.

It seemed like unforgivable hubris in August, yet the result of the sold-out game at Twickenham was a record win for the Springboks over the old enemy.

It was a performance that instantly declared the defending champions as a force to be reckoned with.

Nothing has changed in the ensuing two months, except that the two finalists have played six further test matches. During those games, the All Blacks looked so vulnerable against France that it was immediately assumed they would not get past the quarterfinals.

When the Springboks lost to Ireland in Pool play, it put them on a collision course quarterfinal with tournament hosts, France. It was immediately assumed that it would be a bridge too far for the brave Boks.

Instead, New Zealand beat Ireland, South Africa beat France and so, here we are, with a repeat of the 1995 final.

The Bok coaching team will have pondered long and hard over squad and tactics. The wet weather forecast for Paris on Saturday probably settled things.

Siya Kolisi’s men will keep the ball close, ask the starting pack to empty the tank and then send on the mighty bomb squad that utterly demoralised the same opponents at Twickenham.

Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard won’t be asked to do much passing and that’s the reason that Cobus Reinach and Manie Libbok, the starting halfbacks in the semi-final against England, have dropped out of the squad.

The All Blacks can win a fast and open game; their rugby psyche is set up for exactly that. The Springboks have selected a team to stop the ball going wide, quickly.

That, too, is the game that has been played by the Boks for more than a century.

It is a meeting of opposites on a neutral field with the greatest prize of all at stake. In 1995, it was settled by Joel Stransky’s drop goal in extra time. Something similar can be expected on Saturday.