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Good luck in the final against the All Blacks

By Ben Smith
The players of New Zealand perform the Haka prior to kick-off ahead of the Rugby World Cup France 2023 semi-final match between Argentina and New Zealand at Stade de France on October 20, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by World Rugby - Handout/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Either the Springboks or All Blacks will claim a record fourth Rugby World Cup title in Paris on Saturday night, but this time the context is different.


Some would say it shows nothing has changed in terms of the world order, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As the All Blacks know very well from history, the best team doesn’t always win the title and in 2023 that will be the case.

For the first time in Rugby World Cup history the two nations with the highest win rates over the last four years were bundled out before the semi-finals in Ireland and France.

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That was always possible but at the same time was less probable. It took two incredible performances from South Africa and New Zealand to do it.

Whilst both deserve to be in the final, the bigger picture now is that international rugby has far more competitiveness at the top end which is a positive.

The quarter-finals were a grand showing of how good the game can be when played by the top four. In 2024 France and Ireland will still be formidable.

The All Blacks will be far weaker and will perhaps be rebuilding for the first time ever. As Springboks can play overseas, it remains to be seen how many will retire from the international game.


For the All Blacks, who are no longer the undisputed winning machine they once were, having three genuine rivals to their supremacy has been a different experience.

Should they defeat the Springboks in the final, this would genuinely be the greatest World Cup victory in their history. But at the same time, it does not suddenly restore their former status. Those two things can be true at the same time.

What would make this one the greatest is the uncertainty surrounding the run and that they came in as the third or fourth best side. Expectations were set very low after their performances through the four year period.

They have never entered a World Cup with two nations clearly above them. They still haven’t beat France under Ian Foster and still sport a losing record against Ireland even after the quarter-final win. The record is square with South Africa with three wins each.


The Springboks winning the title going back-to-back would be a significant achievement. This would also be the Springboks’ greatest World Cup victory.

Never before have they had as tough a run. They would have defeated four of the other top five opponents losing only to Ireland.

They would become the second nation to repeat after New Zealand in 2015. But the difference between those sides is stark. South Africa has not achieved anything near what the All Blacks did from 2011-2015 and comparisons are not possible.

How much is left in the tank for South Africa, both in terms of energy and luck.

We’ve seen the tears from the players after each knock-out victory and the outpouring of emotion from the coaches after each rollercoaster result, which was on the brink multiple times.

Will Eben Etzebeth get away with a one-hand bat down with no intent to catch the ball a metre from his own line to prevent a certain try?

Will Kurt-Lee Arendse get away with batting the ball dead with one-hand in the in-goal with no intent to ground it?

Will Deon Fourie escape with not rolling away from the ruck and obstructing the ball with a minute left in the game?

It all comes down to interpretation and with another set of more experienced eyes those situations could be seen very differently.

How many times can you mount comebacks in the final 15 minutes to win in the most dramatic fashion?

Down 25-19 against France with 15 minutes remaining the probability of South Africa winning based on all historical data was as low as 18 per cent. Against England it was similar.

No one expected South Africa to win convincingly against France. That was always going to be a titanic battle. But against England they were expected to win handsomely and it took a great escape down 15-6 with 15 minutes remaining.

But at some point the luck runs out and you can’t escape your average over the long run.

If South Africa loses the final, they would end up three from five against the tier one opponents during this World Cup.

At 60 per cent, this is roughly where they have been for the last three years. In 2021 and 2022 they finished 8-5 at a 61.5 per cent winning rate.

Good luck in the final against the All Blacks.

Hopefully for the Springboks case it hasn’t run out or you will end up where you’ve always been.


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Petrus78 256 days ago

So funny and satisfying reading Ben's insightful articles from time to time…..not much to say these days Ben…..what's up buddy….cat got your tung…..😆

Gerald 266 days ago

Ben, calling Ben, are you there. So looking forward to your next article.

PaPaRumple 267 days ago

Ben do us all a big favour and take a nice long bath with your toaster this evening.

AlexH 270 days ago

Amazing how editors allow journalistic bias to consistently seep into Ben Smith’s articles. Wonder if it has anything to do with the ownership of Rugbypass? World Rugby would never…

That said, at least there are some sane and respectful comments ~ <10% probably, but I like seeing there are still those out there that appreciate the rivalry. Go Bokke, best of luck to ABs.

Michael 270 days ago

I agree that Ben's articles are weak. But I can't get how thinskinned the south Africans are and how easily they get offended when often there's nothing to be offended by.

Dave 270 days ago

Jesus Ben is dumb - newsflash Einstein: you don’t have to have any intention to catch the ball if you knock it backwards. Aren't you supposed to be a rugby journalist?

ruckaa 270 days ago

Is this guy for real when larkum ,gregan,finnegin ,campese, eales ,kefu, great players who all beat the ABs in the last moments of the game GREAT TEAMS DO THAT FOOL it took us years to beat them shit they were good . Im backing the ABs hard ,but cant listen to this moaning mummy mummy ,weasil word inuendo , coulda been , shoulda been , have some grace man the expected winner won period let the bone go dog . you probably know suzie s number ,right

Francois 270 days ago

The Boks will be fine, Benjamina.
Just fine.

Coach 270 days ago

Seriously, this guy is chasing me away from this site. Did he even play rugby?

Bob Marler 270 days ago

I absolutely love how people think they see things on a screen that a ref on the field, TMOs, cameras don’t see or pick up. Everyone thinks they’re Clive Woodward. Instead of listening to (and being like) Nigel Owens.


Id like to know which Kant doesn’t check Ben’s articles before they go out. They’re piss poor and only makes this site look desperate for content.

And lastly, the anti springbok vibe is plain ridiculous. Please find me one article that vilifies, bad mouths or just plain incites against another team as much as there are articles like this about the boks?

What’s the deal here Rugbypoes? Is it just a clickbait play or are you just journalistically incompetent?

I wonder if I’ll lose my Master Fan badge now.

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