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Rugby World Cup Finals

The 2023 Rugby World Cup final has been won by South Africa after they beat New Zealand 11-12 in an enthralling match at the Stade de France. A tense battle saw New Zealand reduced to 14-men early on as captain Sam Cane saw his yellow card upgraded to a red in the first half. The boot of Handre Pollard saw them over the line despite a late Beauden Barrett try.  Handre Pollard, who wasn’t named in the Springboks’ initial Rugby World Cup squad, scored all of South Africa’s points to retain their RWC title in Paris with an 12-11 win over New Zealand.

Both sides suffered an early blow in Paris as a dangerous clear out at the ruck from Shannon Frizell not only saw him awarded a yellow card, but additionally saw Mbongeni Mbonambi leave the field after only 90 seconds. Mbonambi returned to the sidelines later in the match to warm up with the other substitutes. Pollard stepped up to put South Africa ahead with the subsequent penalty and the Springboks had an early 3-0 lead. The Leicester Tigers fly-half put boot to ball 10 minutes later to give South Africa a six-point advantage.

With Frizell back on the pitch from his yellow card New Zealand looked threatening in attack. Barrett sent the ball skyward for Ardie Savea, but the ball bounced kindly for full-back Damian Willemse. New Zealand then had their own shot at goal after a high tackle and Richie Mo'unga moved the All Blacks to within three points with 17 minutes on the clock. Pollard swiftly replied with another penalty to make the score 9-3 to South Africa after the first 20 minutes.

New Zealand Sam Cane was shown a yellow card after his shoulder made head contact with Jesse Kriel before half an hour had passed. The decision was sent for an off-field review, and minutes later Cane became the first male player to be shown a red card in a RWC final as the card was upgraded to a red.

Pollard added three more as New Zealand were penalized at the breakdown in the 34th minute, the kick that would win them the match. It took a red card and a nine-point deficit for the All Blacks to throw caution to the wind and to nearly pull off the improbable. It was in the seconds after they had seemingly lost to South Africa that the All Blacks finally started to play like they really believed they could beat them. Before the stroke of half-time Mo'unga added three points to New Zealand’s scoreline to take them into the break down 6-12.

South Africa came out of the blocks rapidly in the second half and an early passage of possession saw Kurt-Lee Arendse almost get over the line successfully had it not been for his foot being in touch. The Springboks then lost their captain Siya Kolisi due to a yellow card as he was the next player who made head contact in a tackle, but his card was not upgraded and he returned to the pitch 10 minutes later.

Aaron Smith looked to have got the first try after just over 10 minutes of the second half, but a knock-on in the build-up meant New Zealand had to wait a little longer. Within minutes the score was delivered by Beauden Barrett who gathered a loose ball from Mark Tele'a that had gone backwards by the smallest of margins to dive over the line and pull New Zealand to within a point. Mo'unga missed the conversion and missed the opportunity to go ahead, trailing by one, which didn’t change until the final whistle.  In the final minutes, Cheslin Kolbe was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on. Jordie Barrett stepped up to take his first kick of the match, another that would have put New Zealand ahead, but the long-range effort missed the target despite having the length needed.

South Africa held on despite a tense final few minutes and became the first men’s team to win four RWC titles, and only the second to have retained their title from the RWC before. They have never been beaten in a RWC final, and continue to be the only team who have beaten the All Blacks at that stage, now for the second time., holding the cup for another 4 years

- Shreyan Gorantala

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