Cape Town – Three World Cup finals for South Africa. Three victories. And this one, I venture with unapologetic sureness, the best yet.
Underdogs with the bookies - something acknowledged by plenty of ardent Springbok supporters - Siya Kolisi’s amazing, truly ambassadorial group of warriors didn’t just see off England at Yokohama International Stadium on Saturday: they more profoundly blitzed them.
Clinching it by a handsome margin of 32-12, these players under their master tactician Rassie Erasmus showed exactly what it takes to win the Webb Ellis Cup: they reserved their very best qualities and resolve for last.
That was true both in the context of their tournament as a whole, but also in terms of how they increasingly turned screws on their shell-shocked, eventually ideas-starved foes the longer the contest – one of the better RWC finals, into the bargain – wore on.
Foundations set on a consistently awe-inspiring scrummage, but with several pleasing other dimensions on the night, too, the Boks seldom looked like surrendering ascendancy as they became the first champions to do so while having surrendered a pool match – the All Black defeat at the very same venue that seems such a distant memory.
It was also crafted despite the harrowing setback of two starting tight forwards, Bongi Mbonambi and Lood de Jager, having to leave the park simultaneously through injury in the 21st minute.
“Off the charts,” said an unusually faltering-voiced Schalk Burger, a star of the last SA triumph at RWC in 2007, back in the SuperSport studio in reverent summary of the 2019 achievement.
These ratings should reflect that …
Willie le Roux: 8
Much maligned in recent weeks, and often not without some reason. But in the showpiece the 30-year-old campaigner showed the value of experience – his best RWC game came right here. Early break would have sent his confidence soaring … and there was, so gladdeningly, no “Wonky Willie” in this match under the high ball.
Cheslin Kolbe: 8
Somehow, the least physically gifted outside back on the field still managed to make firm, smothering tackles on English marauders occasionally near twice his size -- that courage fuels all around him. One knock-on, and leaked a breakdown penalty, but so deserved his own, trademark wriggle-from-heavy-traffic try near the death.
Lukhanyo Am: 8
Guilty of a knock-on in one budding short-side attack … but that was pretty much the extent of any shortcomings. Made a stirring break from deep in first half, and was also the calm, collected final architect of Makazole Mapimpi’s try. Always willing to get hands dirty over the ball.
Damian de Allende: 8.5
One of the Bok stars of the tournament … including commanding showing in the final. His strength on his feet was constantly apparent, and there was just never going to be any enemy traffic gliding past his key “twelve” channel.
Makazole Mapimpi: 8.5
The ace poacher (now 14 tries from as many Tests) can claim credit as first Bok try scorer in any of their trio of World Cup finals; typically clean gallop and finish for it. He also took a nice half-gap early on, and competed spiritedly and often enough dominantly in the air.
Handre Pollard: 7.5
The pivot is cool and street-smart enough to know that a shaky, personal first quarter can be overcome. So it transpired, as he gained in authority despite a few lapses or flashes of ill-luck (like a loss of his footing on a dart and concession of a turnover penalty). But after an early miss, his place-kicking proficiency came wonderfully to the fore – a precious asset in a final. One shrewd cross-kick, as well.
Faf de Klerk: 8.5
Absolute terrier, from start to his own finish in 77th minute, when Erasmus, in a further demonstration of his sharp player management, gave Herschel Jantjies a deserved taste of the final. The roaming, scrambling and gutsy tackling De Klerk did on defence cannot be understated for importance. Box kicks generally accurate, and he showed his wider repertoire of No 9 skills as well.
Duane Vermeulen: 9
The crusty eighth-man has always relished (and routinely bossed, too) his direct tussles with England behemoth Billy Vunipola … ditto this red-letter day. Assured under a few high balls, brawny at the breakdown, and made some of the fiercest carries imaginable, bouncing defenders back ad nauseum. Painful-shoulder stoppage at one point? Pah … he only lifted his constructive aggression further.
Pieter-Steph du Toit: 8.5
Eddie Jones had done his homework on a known Bok dangerman: the big blind-sider was not allowed a lot of room on the carry: not initially, anyway. But Du Toit got more and more prominent with his crunching hits – and one powerful maul thwart – as the final developed.
Siya Kolisi: 8
The Bok captain of quiet, unflappable authority … and now guaranteed a spot in Bok folklore. Kolisi had made around a dozen tackles, many of them firm ‘uns at under-the-cosh moments, before being substituted for Flo Louw’s fresh legs in the final quarter.
Lood de Jager: 7.5
The lanky No 5 lock was warming to his task nicely in a broadly no-nonsense Bok tight five when his shoulder injury occurred in a committed, defensive contact situation.
Eben Etzebeth: 8
A flashpoint back home bubbled for him throughout RWC, but if it’s been distracting he’s been at pains not to show it. Helped keep in check last week’s England pack dynamo Maro Itoje, earned a lineout steal, counter-rucked with conviction and produced one subtle offload to De Allende in tight space.
Frans Malherbe: 8.5
The barrelling tighthead has been a revelation in the critical knockout phase … and was another to crank his game even further in the final. Rock solid as scrum anchor, and some of his defending near the Bok line when the Vunipolas and others thundered with ball in hand was top-drawer stuff.
Bongi Mbonambi: 7.5
A shift cruelly cut short, yet even in just over a quarter of the first half the little terrier at hooker was beavering away with conviction, including one big clean-out to aid briefly isolated team-mate Etzebeth.
Tendai Mtawarira: 8
The Beast bellowed out the anthem with special gusto; a sign of things to come. Playing in his 117th Test match (fans will be praying there’s more in the tank yet), his ruthless, unerring potency at the set-piece was inspiring.
Franco Mostert: 8
It was a case of “off with the tracksuit” some 30-40 minutes or so before the big-hearted second-rower would ordinarily have expected: and the popular former Lions grafter simply responded to the demands with customary zeal. Mostert loves to hit a ruck, make yardage, tackles … the World Cup final was no different at all.
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