The 2023 Rugby World Cup has been an exciting display of world-class rugby, with teams from all over the globe vying for the sport’s greatest prize – the Webb Ellis Cup. As the competition approaches its conclusion, the anticipation and excitement for the finals has reached a fever pitch. New Zealand meet reigning champions South Africa in the championship match, while Argentina and England compete for bronze.
Bronze Final – Friday, 27 October 20:00 – Stade de France, Saint-Denis:
Despite being a consolation fixture, both teams will be eager to finish on a high. Whilst England narrowly lost out on the championship match, the bronze final provides an opportunity for redemption and to showcase their rugby capacity against an Argentinian side that has a point to prove following their brutal semi-final defeat to New Zealand.
The 2023 Rugby World Cup has been a rollercoaster for Los Pumas, with exciting highs and humbling lows. Starting with a defeat to a 14-man England, Argentina potentially never recovered from some half-hearted performances. However, it was in the last round, in their semi-final encounter against New Zealand, that they suffered the biggest setback. In that big loss to the All Blacks, Argentina learned important lessons and now find themselves fuelled by a burning motivation to prove themselves once more. Their nation is expecting a performance that will put the semi-final loss behind them, recognising that this match is about more than simply earning bronze, but recovering their pride. In order to do so, Los Pumas need to showcase their electrifying backline and the prowess of star players like Mateo Carreras, which has been dormant in most of their fixtures in the tournament. But the forwards too must put in a shift to claim the bronze versus England. Marcos Kremer will need to replicate his defensive expertise, currently holding the distinction of being the leading tackler in the tournament with an astounding 74 tackles. Julian Montoya, el capitán, must also bring his leadership and grit to the forward pack to ensure Argentina maintain their physicality and intensity. Los Pumas’ ability to dominate the breakdown and set pieces, through Kremer and Montoya, alongside the dangerous backline, will be pivotal in their quest for bronze.
One to watch: Mateo Carreras
Coming into the 2023 tournament, not in high regard, England has unquestionably restored some pride. The gut-wrenching defeat to Handre Pollard’s right boot in the semi-final against South Africa put a brutal end to English World Cup hopes, but the story is not over for Owen Farrell’s boys. A bronze medal here would be a defiant symbol of what this group has achieved in the face of much criticism from the media and fans. So, what does England need to do to beat Argentina? Well, after beating Los Pumas in a group fixture, there should be plenty of ideas in camp. To follow on from the best England performance in four years will be tough, but capitalising on the form of players like backrower Ben Earl and props Dan Cole and Joe Marler to name but a few, would be a good start. Again, it’s likely England will target the set-piece to build off, but fans are admittedly keen to see some exciting back-play to create some tries. The match also probably marks the changing of the guard for much of the squad, with players like Courtney Lawes ruling out international test match return. Does this mean one last run out for the veterans or a young team to start the new era? Steve Borthwick will no doubt lean on his experienced players and captain Farrell, but it would be great to see some flashes of the next in line throughout or towards the end of the game. The favourites for bronze, England will look to do the double over Los Pumas, but a great campaign could be overshadowed by an Argentinian upset.
One to watch: Owen Farrell
Final – Saturday, 28 October 20:00 – Stade de France, Saint-Denis:
The 2023 Rugby World Cup final will feature the two most dominant teams in the sport’s history, New Zealand and South Africa. The stakes are extremely high, and the rugby world is anticipating an all-southern-hemisphere blockbuster confrontation. This match is not just about the 2023 title but also about rugby supremacy, with both teams holding three world titles respectively, and both looking to make history by claiming their fourth.
Putting up a dominant display in the semi-final against Argentina, the All Blacks will be facing a huge improvement in opposition in the final. The semi-final marked a continuation of high scoring for the Kiwis, who are not short of try-scoring players from 1 to 23 in the matchday squad. Looking forward, however, the South Africans present the most physical team they have faced so far, so top-tier performances from the pack led by the in-form Ardie Savea, and captain Sam Cane will be crucial. Winger Will Jordan’s hat-trick in the semi-final, and status as the leading try scorer in the competition with 8, will not go unnoticed by the Boks, who will look to contain the threat. Jordan is also one score away from becoming the record try-scorer at a single World Cup. But what will the game plan be for the All Blacks? Will they look to match up to the Springbok physical challenge like the Irish and English previously, or will they continue to play their flowing-back rugby, built off set-piece control and gain-line success from the pack? Coach Ian Foster could go either way and with no shortness of experience, could have some tricks up his sleeve to exploit the South Africans. The All Blacks clearly didn’t take well to the downplaying of their side this World Cup despite their historical success in tournaments, but the 2023 campaign has most definitely put the light back onto the southern hemisphere. For their fourth World Cup trophy, New Zealand will need to dispose of the Bok forwards’ power and immense defence, doing what France and England could not. But the template for success against South Africa is out there, with the Irish victory in the group stage, the French try, and the English first-half dominance. New Zealand will be well-versed and equipped for this final and the South Africans will be weary.
One to watch: Ardie Savea
Having got to the final off the back of two one-point victories over France and England respectively, the Springboks’ fans will hope to avoid another heart-raiser. But having faced adversity in being down in both knock-out game fixtures, South Africa has shown heart and determination for victory. Hooker Bongi Mbonambi may be under scrutiny for some comments during the win over England, but he did undoubtedly depict the Bok pride and message with his call to arms: “This is for South Africa”. With all of South Africa behind them, the Boks look unbeatable with a team ethos that propelled them to the 2019 trophy and that has got them to a successive final in 2023. It is hard to pinpoint just one player that is responsible for South African success, with replacements playing as an important role as the starters – Handre Pollard’s composure and kicking, and Ox Nche’s scrummaging. But ironically, we must be careful not to overshadow the role of the starters for the Boks, as they continue to provide a platform of physicality and discipline to build test-match wins through Cheslin Kolbe’s clinicality and Siya Kolisi’s leadership. The bookies have given the All Blacks a narrow edge in the odds, and there’s no doubt Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus and Head Coach Jacques Nienaber will be highlighting that in the team meetings. Once again finding themselves in the Rugby World Cup Final, the Springboks will look to continue their run which has included every other team in the top six of the current world rankings. South Africa is also on the cusp of joining New Zealand as the only team to win back-to-back World Cups. Richie McCaw is currently the only captain to lead their team to back-to-back tournament victories, but Kolisi has the opportunity to join him. The Boks won’t be concerning themselves with these records before the game, however. This promises to be a clash of the titans.
One to watch: Handre Pollard
ITV’s coverage of the tournament’s final matches begins at 19:30 on Friday and 19:00 on Saturday.