I typed ‘greatest sporting rivalries’ into Doctor Google the other day, and of the first ten lists that came up, 8 of them included the All Blacks against the Springbok in their Top10. Even the shamelessly American sites, with their infatuation and preoccupation with only themselves, included the ABs v Bokke in their Top10. And so if you need to be told, if you didn’t already know, be assured that when South Africa meet New Zealand on the rugby field for the 106th time this coming weekend, it’s recognised around the world as close to the absolute peak of competitive rivalries to be found anywhere at all. It doesn’t get bigger, not just in rugby, but across the globe.
While I lament I won’t see our own dearest wobbly Wallabies grace the Stade de France for a 9pm kick-off on Saturday night (French local – 6am Sunday in Sydney), I’m comforted in knowing that the two sides who’ll go on to rip the very flesh from each others hides after Wayne Barnes blows the first whistle are well acknowledged as representing the pinnacle of competitiveness within our sport.
Are they the two sides who deserve to be in the RWC23 Final? Yes and no. Yes in that, self-evidently, they won when it counted, so there they are. They brought fantastic squads to the Big Show and turned on the blasters as they needed to. And no, because neither side’s trip to the final was perfect.
The All Blacks got here via Pool A. After going down to hosts France 27-13 in the curtain-raiser, they then skewered Namibia 71-3, devoured Italy 96-17 and eviscerated Uruguay 73-0. It wasn’t until the quarter finals that they were seriously tested again, this time by Ireland in one of the greatest matches I have ever seen. And were it not for Jordie Barrett getting his legs under Ronan Kelleher to deny a try, and then for poor Caelan Doris to fumble the drop-out, it may have Irish eyes a-smiling instead of the ABs progressing 28-24. The resulting semi-final was against the Michael Cheika inspired Argentina. And it must be said the ABs fairly blew the Pumas apart by 7 tries to not much in a 44-6 demolition job, and in doing so booked their ticket to the Big Show.
The Bokke got here by via Pool B, despatching a pesky Scotland 18-3, chowing down on Romania 76-0, stumbling and losing to Ireland 13-8, before weathering Tonga 49-18. That saw them into the quarter finals wherein, courtesy of a controversial Cheslin Kolbe charge-down of a conversion attempt, they KOd the hosts France by 29-28 in a match for the ages. That saw them then take on and take out a remarkable England side last weekend by 16-15 in the semi-final. I say it was remarkable as, despite many rightfully lamenting the beyond pedestrian pace of the match, the Borthwick-inspired Englishmen, with their woefully incomplete squad, somehow made it not just to that semi, but damn near pinched the bikkies as well, as it wasn’t until the 78th minute that Handre ‘Ice Man’ Pollard broke English hearts by slotting a 50 metre penalty goal and so secured the Bokke progression to the Big Dance.
Interestingly, along the way, each disposed of the others recent nemesis. Ireland had defeated the ABs twice on the trot prior to the Bill, while the French had pinched the baguettes from the Bokke in their recent tête-à-tête last November. But in a mutual favour exchange, just as the Frogs had downed the ABs and the Paddies paddled the Bokke in the pools, each took to the others recent foe in the semis and did the business the other couldn’t. As heartless as it sounds, when the metal hit the meat and the winner took the spoils, the Paddies and the Frogs were at the wrong end of the stick.
Thus we have the two major southern powerhouses facing off for global supremacy. So much for northern powerhouse eh Clive?
History & Form Guide: Just for something completely different, I did a bit of research. And it surprised me to find that while the Bokke made their debut in 1891, and the ABs in 1893, the two didn’t meet until 13 August 1921 in Dunedin, with the home side taking the spoils 13-5. Since then there’ve been 105 clashes betwixt the two, with the ABs winning 62 (59%), the Bokke 39 (37%) and 4 draws. But admittedly that isn’t really a reliable form guide given it is over a 102 year stretch.
In trying to find some form, I then looked to series wins against the other and found it was 5 series each with 2 drawn. Ok, no joy there. What about World Cup history? Well, we all know each team are the only sides having 3 stripes on their right sleeve, including when the Bokke hid behind Suzie the waitress and Matt Damon to grab their 15-12 win over the ABs in their epic 1995 World Cup Final. But overall it’s 5 RWC matches played for a 3-2 lead to the ABs. No clear distinction there. So, let’s consider their last 10 matches wherein it was 5 wins to the ABs, 4 to the Bokke and 1 draw. Right, nothing really there. Finally, in desperation for a bit of a form guide, I looked to their meetings in 2022-23 to date, and found that a decisive 2-all as well. Bloody hell, there’s less than one of my old grandad’s cigarette papers between these two!
Frankly, the only bit of form I can find comes from their last meeting, when on Friday, 25 August this year, the Bokke fairly belted the ABs from one end of Twickenham to the other, in front of over 80,000 gob-smacked Englishmen, to the tune of 35-7. Bear in mind that was a score that was the heaviest defeat of the All Blacks in all of New Zealand’s storied history.
So let’s just say they are closely matched, with the ABs having the marginal benefit of the stats over the years, but with their last meeting being decidedly a Bokke Day Out.
Match ups to watch: There are massive match ups to watch all over the park in this fixture, as the largely running and fast-paced rugby of New Zealand meets the kick and setpiece asphyxiation game of South Africa. If ever there were two diametrically opposed methodologies of playing the same game, these guys are it. But just to point out three of the more delicious confrontations to watch:
- Cody Taylor and Mbongeni ‘Bongi’ Mbonambi. Taylor is a no nonsense, reliable hooker. But he gives away a few penalties, as noted against Ireland where his cheese for sandbagging a driving maul nearly ended the ABs tournament where it not for Jordie Barrett’s gymnastics. Against him, the cunning linguist known as ‘Bongi’ may in fact be lucky to be on the field at all after his choice words to England’s Tom Curry last weekend. And bearing in mind the Bokke are without arguably one of the world’s very best players, let alone hookers, in Malcolm ‘Karl’ Marx, and playing with hooker-cum-breakaway Deon ‘Neon’ Fourie as the no16 instead, the Bokke may be exposed a bit by the workload and pressure that Bongi has carried this far into the tourney.
- Scott Barrett and Eben Etzebeth. Both these lads are workhorses. Both these sides rely on their guile, graft and physicality. But both sides are also exposed by these lads hot and not so rational heads at times. So while both can be heroes, both can also be cheese eating villains, depending the day. Which will be which may well have significant impact on this match.
- Handre Pollard and Richie Mo’unga. Richie is a no10 who does his best work with ball in hand. But he tends to do so while running from deep rather than flat. So while he’s good, damn good actually, he is susceptible to a tight 3 or 4 man rushing banana defence with a blitzer. And that’s a defence the Bokke specialise in. Comparatively, ‘Cool Hand’ Pollard plays a vastly more bread and butter distributor’s game. He’s nowhere near the creative attacking threat of Mo’. But that said, with artillery like de Allende and Jesse Kriel outside him and the likes of Pieter-Steph du Toit inside, Pollard doesn’t have to be. But his calm head and unerring kick, from hand or tee, is both the bane and envy of the rugby world ; go back and watch his 78th min penalty to beat the butchers last weekend to reinforce that the guy is ice cold under pressure.
Further to that, we should acknowledge their combination match ups. Frankly we could talk about them all, but to stop this article rivalling the King James bible, I’ll pick 3 only:
- Front Rows: The Bokke will bring Kitshoff, Bongi, Malherbe, Ox Nche, Nyakane and Fourie. My God, that’s just awesome! Against that, the ABs will bring DeGroot, Taylor, Lomax, Williams, Newell and Taukei’aho; they’re no slouches either. But for me, the Bokke clearly have the advantage up front, especially at scrum time, and the ever calm and self-reflective Rassie Erasmus will look to use it. And bear in mind, each will still leave out talent like Koch and Coles.
- Locks: The ABs are running Barrett, Retallick and Whitelock. Comparatively the Bokke are bringing Etzebeth, Mostert and Snyman. Despite the physical impressiveness of the Bokke, I think the ABs will have better impact from their l provided ‘Cheese’ Barrett keeps himself on the field, especially with Greybeard Whitelock coming off the bench for one last hurrah.
- Centres: de Allende and Kriel up against Barrett and Ioane. If the Bokke choose to run, I think de Allende and Kriel are the more damaging. And certainly defensively, Kriel is a better 13 than Ioane. So I give this match up to the Bokke, but only if they actually use them.
The other player: it’s been raining all week in Paris and isn’t tipped to stop. That means more scrums and set piece and so favouring the Bokke.
Nutta’s Fearless Prediction (aka ‘The Kiss of Death’): If the match were on an open, dry and fast track, I’d back the ABs. But it isn’t, it’ll be cool and wet, the ball will be soap, and the match, unless referee Barnes pulls a rabbit from a hat in the 2nd half, will be played at a veritable snail’s pace. So it’s the Bokke match to lose more than it’s the ABs to win, I fear.
For the ABs, it’s their ability to go from zero to flat out from the opening kick, their freakish ability to score both sides of half-time, and to bide their time to then suddenly unleash tsunamis of point-scoring from anywhere on field, that’s as worthy of accolade as it is devastating to cop (as we have all too often). Not just as one of those guys who are the other half of ANZAC, but as a lover of open and entertaining sport, my heart wants the ABs to win as champions of breathless, running rugby.
But given the rain, given the advantages the Bokke have up front and through the centres, and given the Bokke belted the Beejeezus out of the ABs last time out, I have to tip the Bokke. For the ABs to win, they not only need to play quick, but they have to be allowed to play quick by both the ref and the Bokke. And I can’t see that happening. Further, I expect the Bokke to do what they do really well: play to the setpiece for penalties, grind you into the dirt, smash into your quarter using centres and backrowers the size of small trucks, and then unleash blindingly fast wingers out wide. These guys are the masters of big game, kick and scrum pressure, and they’ll bring all the big guns to Paris.
My heart says ABs, but my brain says Bokke to grind them down by 3s to win by less than 7pts.
That’s a wrap for the preview folks. See you back here on Sunday morning for live chat and match review!
Bonjour mes amis! I’ve turned the telly on and there is some sort of modern day Plastic Bertrand warbling away with lots of sparks and stuff. I get Paddy Boy was from Belgium, but it’s still a bit harsh for me this early. Anyway, it is what it is I guess. I’ll get some tea and peanut butter toast and we’ll get it on!
Note: it’s not raining! Oh no. It’s raining. A lot.
Team sheets look unchanged, Aaron Smith is leading his last h and Wayne Barnes looks impatient to get this show on the road. The crowd is pumped, the ground is soft, let’s get this on!
H1: Ref Barnes blows time on and it’s NZ to kick off, nudging straight downfield and Bokke15 Willemse takes and clears to touch straight away. It’s a no nonsense Kiwi lineout and we settle into midfield kick and lineout exchanges until a fumble in the wet sets the first scrum for the ABs. But meantime, possible disaster in the background for SA with no2 Bongi on the ground in clear knee trouble. The replay shows Blackno6 Frizzell ‘doing a Swain’ – something Kiwis find beyond despicable if I recall – and collapsing Bongi’s knee. Frizzell cops a cheese while Bongi gets replaced (no, ‘tactical replacement’ apparently which means he can return later) and no16 Deon Fourie trots on. Pollard shoots for penalty and scrapes it through off the post. 3-0 Bokke at 3min.
From the restart we are back to midfield highball exchanges with the occasional pig-pod runner or one-off hit up. With a few slips and stumbles, we finally see another scrum, fed by NZ at 7min, inside their quarter on their right side of the field. NZ wins their ball, but they were clearly under heavy pressure from the Bokke machine even with Fourie in the mix instead of Bongi.
And we’re back to highball tennis…
The outcome is a Saffa lineout inside the Kiwi quarter. Etzebeth takes it cleanly and the Bokke go to a familiar drive. They took 5m and went to crash runners. Saffa dominating the contacts and the territory as they grind forward and eventually win a penalty on the Kiwi 5m line. Pollard takes the kick option again from 10m left-wide of the posts and it’s 6-0 Saffa at 12min as Frizzell returns to the fray.
From the restart exchanges, Saffa no9 Tyrian De Klerk takes Black11 Talea in a blatant off the ball tackle and that penalty allows the Kiwis to push to a lineout hard on the Saffa quarter line. A clean Barrett win and we set for midfield crash runners deep in Saffa quarter. Frizzell is a man possessed for NZ on his return from the cheese spell. Saffa no16 Fourie is called offside and Kiwi captain Cane opts for the shot at goal. Mo’Unga steps up, 10m left of uprights, and slots it cleanly. 6-3 Saffa at 17min.
Restart, kick-exchanges, and it’s a penalty to Saffa for Black8 Ardie Savea not releasing the tackled player on halfway but wide to Saffa left. This sees Pollard take a 3pt shot at 18min. Successful. 9-3 Saffa on 19min. Be aware, any Kiwi mistake in their half and it’s a 3pt strike.
Midfield meanderings sees the Kiwis pressure Bokke14 Kolbe into touch and nab a lineout throw on the Saffa 22m at 24min. But NZ fluff their lines and Saffa relieve the pressure. That was a real missed opportunity there. The Kiwis have missed or fluffed 3 lineouts so far whereas it has been a major weapon of theirs all tourney. The Saffas are clearly aware of its prowess and are pressuring the Kiwi lineout hard.
28min and around the Saffa quarter line sees Black7 Captain Cane sample NZ’s 2nd cheese for the evening via a shoulder to the face of Saffa 13 Jesse Kriel. This could go to red on review. And so the Saffa push upfield on penalty kick, but Kiwi Barrett steals the lineout and we’re back to midfield bashing running until an over-shot Kiwi kick goes dead and gifts Saffa a scrum just inside the Kiwi half. A lovely Saffa backline choreography sees the Saffa push the play right into NZ 5m corner, but reliable lineout work and clearance sees the pressure relieved. But it sets up a period of heavy Saffa pressure inside the Kiwi quarter until NZ surrender a penalty 5m off the tryline. Pollard nominates to kick for goal whilst word comes that Captain Cane is upgraded to a red! Pollard slots the 3pts at 34min and it’s 12-3 Saffa with the Kiwis at 14 men for the duration.
From the restart, kick exchanges gave Kiwis a lineout in Saffa half and a strong drive with determined midfield runners see the Kiwis knocking on the Saffa quarter late in the half. Half breaks by Frizzell and Talea push the play deep towards the Bokke line until the Saffas predictably give up a penalty (Etzebeth lazy runner back onside) and Mo’unga opts to take the 3pts from 10m right of uprights. 12-6 to Saffa at 38min. Frankly, Etzebeth lucky to stay on-field after that effort.
Late in the half we see big hits and fumbles creating an attacking lineout for Bokke, but it comes to nowt and Barnes blows oranges at 12-6 to Bokke.
BTW – Captain Cane is the first player in RWC history to be red carded in a final and no team in World Cup history has come from behind to win. So things are stacked against the Kiwis now. But Fourie is not the hooker that Bongi is, so the Saffa lineout is vulnerable to being pressured and exploited by the ABs.
H2: Pollard kicks off for the Saffa deep left to NZ and we’re back into it. Then suddenly a seemingly nondescript midfield kick exchange goes horribly wrong for NZ when Jordie Barrett fumbles and Bokke6 Siya Kolisi broke away downfield, hard attacking the Kiwi line. But somehow the try was held up by Barrett senior and the pressure folds to a drop out. The kick exchanges lead to a Saffa scrum feed around halfway that then saw Saffa no14 Kolbe on the end of a great backline movement and turning Black15 Beauden Barrett inside out, but the try fluffed in the last second. So 45min ticks over with the Kiwi pinned on their try line under huge pressure. But the TMO voice kills the moment and Saffa captain Kolesi sees cheese for a head contact on Black8 Ardie Savea. This allows the Kiwi to penalty kick up towards halfway.
50min ticks over and we see Black2 Taylor show some lovely heels down the right touchline and push deep into Saffa territory. A predictable tackle penalty from the Bokke sees a penalty to the ABs and they push to a lineout on the Saffa 5m line. Here’s the chance! Cody finds Frizell in the lineout and the ABs are punching the Saffa line hard. But on a quick switchback, ABs try machine Will Jordan fumbles and spoils the chance. Scrum to Bokke 10m out as word comes that Kolesi cheese will stay a cheese as the replacements start to roll for both sides.
Things are getting boring until from a midfield lineout at 54min, a series of midfield rucks allows Black10 Mo’Unga to get an outside angle on Bokke12 De Allende and scoot wide left to then feed Black9 Smith on his inside and score a great try down the far left touch. However the celebrations die in the mouth as the TMO calls back the play for a knock-on at the previous lineout. Play returns to a penalty from the lineout and the ABs push the kick deep into Bokke territory for an ABs throw on the Bokke 10m as Sam Whitelock rolls out for the ABs. Taylor to Barrett lineout is clean and the ABs grind forward. Another penalty, another Kiwi lineout as Kolesi returns for the Bokke, and the AB throw is on the Saffa 5m. Retallick wins the lineout and the maul heaves to and fro. Smith clears and the ABs are pounding the Saffa line under advantage from ref Barnes for another Bokke lineout indiscretion. The ball swings wide left and fumbles and bumbles sees Black15 Beauden Barrett scoot over for a try at 58min. Mo’Unga’s shot from wide left misses. 12-11 Saffa at 59min.
The restart signals a supercharging of proceedings and the midfield running and crash tackling from both sides is just breathtaking in ferocity.
A Bokke fed midfield scrum at 62min sees the most unusual of things – Bokke losing the feed – and the ABs are back pounding on the Saffa quarter line. But ferocious Bokke defence kills the opportunity and play pushes back to the ABs quarter for an AB lineout at 65min. Interestingly, we now notice that Bokke breakdown sniper Kwagga Smith has entered the fray.
Play stayed encamped around halfway for the next period with heavy hits and heavy conditions not allowing either side to build any phases or pressure and sending each side to their kick and territory game. Then, out of the to & fro mire at around 72min, some Barrett to Barrett work, from a fumbled Bokke raid saw the ABs push into the Saffa half. A TMO intervention saw Bokke11 Kolbe take a cheese for a deliberate knock-down wide right on about halfway. Black12 Jordy B took the shot, from wide right at 73min but it slides left and the Bokke breathe again. The score stays 12-11 as 74min ticks up and Damien McKenzie enters the fray for Richie Mo’unga..
From the drop-out, an AB forward pass gives the Bokke scrum ball in the ABs half and clean ball sees Bokke13 Kreil push deeper into AB territory. A poor drop-goal shot by Pollard gives the ABs the ball back, but the Bokke are camped in AB territory and the clock is ticking away.
From an AB lineout deep in their own quarter, fast hands and fast feet see the ABs push ball in-hand up to halfway. Some frenetic play to and fro gives the ABs half chances but nothing can be capitalised on and the Saffas cling on grimly as Cheslin Kolbe on the cheese seat can’t watch, with head in hands. A cruel AB knock-on in scrambling play sees a 79min scrum awarded to the Bokke and it looks like the Green Machine of the Bokke is about to win their 4th World Cup title – the first side to ever do so. A huge 8man shove from the ABs sees Barnes call a scrum reset as the clock ticks over 80min. The Bokke only need to win the hit of the scrum, efficiently clear and the title is theirs. The scrum is messy, the ABs fight to the death, but the Bokke win the ball and in the resulting semi-maul they keep control long enough for referee Barnes to blow time. The Bokke take the match, winning their 3rd knockout match in this World Cup by 1pt, and in doing so become the first nation in RWC history to win their 4th world cup title.
Final score 12-11 Bokke. And at 08:35am Sydney time, Bokke Captain Siya Kolisi lifted the mug on-high.
The Game Changer
For me, Bokke2 Bongi being replaced by Bokke16 Fourie was potentially terminal for the Saffa lineout and scrum power. Their major weapons were suddenly potentially nullified. But ultimately, the TMO was the game-changer. The TMO-led yellow cards to Black6 Frizzell, Bokke6 cKolisi and Bokke11 Kolbe were all crucial. But the red card to Black7 Captain Cane at 28min was massive. I’m not saying the TMO was wrong as the protocols as they stand seemed to have been applied correctly. But ultimately, being forced to play for 50min with 14 men, alongside two missed penalties and a missed conversion, was just too much to ask of even the mighty All Blacks in a RWC Final.
The Man of the Match/Standout Player
Vermeulen and Etzebeth were enormous for the Bokke, while all three Barretts and Taylor were absolue workhorses for the ABs. But for me, Pieter-Steph du Toit was the standout with a bucket of dominating tackles all too often snuffing out any AB creativity. And officialdom agreed in awarding him the RWC23 Final MOTM award.
The Details: Oranges: 12-6 Bokke. Final Score: 12-11 Bokke.
Tries: B.Barrett (58min)
Conversions: Mo’Unga (miss 59min)
Penalties: Mo’Unga (16min, 38min. Miss: 58min) J.Barrett (miss 73min) Cards: Yellow-Frizzell (2min) Red-Cane (28min)
Penalties: Pollard (3min, 12min, 19min, 34min) Cards: Yellow – Kolesi (45min) & Kolbe (72min)