The Betway ambassador reflects on an absorbing final to cap off a Rugby World Cup he thinks will help bring new fans to the sport.
The Rugby World Cup final was always going to be close given the way the rest of the tournament has gone, but it was a really absorbing, edge-of-the seat kind of game.
I don’t think you can have any argument in terms of the team that won the competition. It was just another masterclass from South Africa. As a unit, they looked very comfortable in defence. They didn’t allow New Zealand any penetration through their line at all.
Even during the moments when they were down on numbers, you had guys like Faf de Klerk, Cheslin Kolbe or Pieter-Steph du Toit coming out of the line and making really good decisions to stop the attack and not allow Richie Mo’unga or Beauden Barrett any time on the ball.
New Zealand came back into it and had a little bit more territory and possession, but you just never felt like they were dominating the game. They were relying on something special from a creative player like Mark Telea to beat three or four defenders.
South Africa’s defensive mindset, the level of aggression and relentless pressure of their line speed, is really something to admire, and you always felt they could go up a gear if needs be.
New Zealand missed a couple of kicks and, if one of them goes over, it’s potentially a different game, but there just seems to be an unbelievable belief in that South Africa team that, when the chips are down, they can just go and score when they really need to.
They had Pollard to go for the posts if required, like you saw against England and, against France with 15 minutes to go, they had the opportunity to kick for the posts and claw it back to within three points but backed themselves to score the try and got it.
They were one of the favourites from the start and credit to their players and coaches and the decisions that they made around selection. With the strengths on their bench, being able to come through and manage those tough games – winning all their last three by a single point – is a mark of the quality side that they are.
Referees got the big decisions right
The yellow and red cards obviously had a big influence on the game, but both were the right decision.
There was no late change of movement from Jesse Kriel, so the picture didn’t change for Sam Cane. You need to be seen to get your body height down and dip and Cane was always upright. With Siya Kolisi, his back is nearly parallel to the ground, so he’s made the effort to get into the correct tackling position.
There was a big directive from World Rugby coming into the tournament around head contact and people were wondering which way it was going to go, but there’s not been many talking points around cards, which has been great.
What’s pleasing from my point of view is that the referee and TMO are in constant communication. He’s always in the referee’s ear, so there’s no cause for to stop the play, deliberate over decisions and frustrate viewers.
It’s been a fantastic tournament
I think it’s been a great tournament in terms of attracting new fans to the sport. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a World Cup where the four quarter-finals were as intense and closely contested.
It would have been nice to see France as hosts go a bit further while, from a supporter’s perspective, I obviously wanted Ireland to be there at the end, but it’s a mark of the quality that it came down to such fine margins between the top sides.
It was also great to see some of the second-tier nations progress. Fiji knocking out Australia was a highlight, and Portugal for me are a team that stand out for putting in some really good performances.
Allowing these other nations to play together more often has been hugely beneficial, and the more game time they get against bigger and better opposition will make world rugby a more attractive game.
Already looking forward to 2027
There was a lot of hope that either France or Ireland might break that Southern Hemisphere dominance, but it’s another four-year cycle and a lot can happen in four years. England are the only Northern Hemisphere team to win it and they won it in Australia, so who knows?
Australia aren’t the force they once were but what happens to them with a new coach will be interesting to see. England were written off before the tournament but are in the early stages under Steve Borthwick and coming so close to reaching a World Cup final will give them a big boost of confidence going forward.
Hopefully in four years’ time you’ve got another raft of countries competing for quarter-finals and semi-finals.