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Ranking the top five performances from the Springboks in 2023

By Ben Smith
South Africa's flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit (C) and South Africa's fly-half Handre Pollard celebrate after victory during the France 2023 Rugby World Cup quarter-final match between France and South Africa at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, on October 15, 2023. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

The Springboks became the second team in history to win the Rugby World Cup back-to-back in 2023 with a 12-11 win over New Zealand in the final.


In doing so they became the second-most successful Rugby World Cup side with four titles behind the Black Ferns with six.

However, the performance in the final wasn’t South Africa’s best of the year as they just squeaked past a 14-man opposition.

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Here are the top five performances of 2023 by the Springboks ranked.

5. Springboks 12-11 All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup final, Stade de France Paris

The Rugby World Cup final only makes the list only because it was the final. The story from this game is that the All Blacks should’ve won, which means that the Boks nearly blew it, despite having a one man advantage for most of the match.

As far as performances go, it wasn’t peak-Springboks. They were essentially gift-wrapped the final when Sam Cane’s yellow card was upgraded to red and they held on by just a point.

After losing Bongi Mbonambi early the All Blacks read hooker Deon Fourie like an open book exam. Most lineouts were picked off as the All Blacks enjoyed complete dominance in the second half.


The only reason the Springboks are world champs again is because Richie Mo’unga and Jordie Barrett missed kicks at goal, something that was completely out of the Springboks control.

It could be said that the defence of the Boks got them the win, and it did, but factoring in the one man advantage they enjoyed it is less impressive than it sounds. They actually lost 8-3 on the scoreboard once Cane was sent off.

As a team performance, it didn’t reach any great heights, but the individual performance of Pieter-Steph du Toit was phenomenal, at the level of his 2019 play.

If it wasn’t a World Cup final, this performance wouldn’t be on the list.

4. Springboks 18-3 Scotland

South Africa’s pool stage win over makes the list as Scotland came into the World Cup as top five ranked side.


They finished third in the Six Nations, losing only to France and Ireland, the top two ranked sides at the time. Scotland have been strong over the last few seasons and their attack has flourished with weapons out wide like Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham. They had dispatched Wales 35-7 in February on the back of sublime Finn Russell performance.

Unfortunately for Scotland, the Springboks threw Russell off his game and the Scotland No 10 had a rough outing as they only put up three points.

Defensively, it was an impressive outing against a quality opponent in what was a crunch match. Limiting a top five Test side to just three points is a significant showing.

It was a much more complete performance than the semi-final win over England by 16-15, which failed to make the list.

3. Springboks 43-12 Wallabies at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

The first game played by the Springboks in 2023 was perhaps their finest attacking showing of the year. With Mannie Libbok at flyhalf, they used width often to go after an undercooked Wallabies side. Despite Marika Koroibete scoring the first try, it was all one way traffic as young gun Kurt-Lee Arendse bagged a hat-trick.

The Springboks used variations in and around the rolling maul to target weak Wallaby defenders and it worked a treat. The maul bagged two penalty tries as well. Andre Esterhuizen had a barnstorming game, Marco van Staden looked like World Player of the Year.

The first Test under Eddie Jones was a nightmare for the Wallabies, but it was as clinical as it gets for South Africa in their only game at home in 2023.


2. Springboks 35-7 All Blacks at Twickenham, London

This record victory in the warm-up fixture was a dominant showing, but again, having a one man advantage and even two at one stage, diminishes the result somewhat. The Springboks were great in an unfair fight.

Once Scott Barrett was red carded in the first half for two yellow card offences, the All Blacks were going to struggle up front with a bench full of kids at Test match level. They had already lost the starting tighthead prop to injury very early.

The Boks loaded 7-1 bench went to work and demolished a 6-man and 7-man pack full of spring chickens. The maul & scrum was dominant and the undermanned All Blacks had no answer.

If it was 15-on-15 in a game that counted for something, then this performance would be No 1 on the list. As it was, it was an excellent performance against a weakened opponent in a meaningless one-off fixture.

1. Springboks 29-28 France in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final, Stade de France Paris

The best performance of the year for the Springboks has to the quarter-final where they rallied late to knock France out of their home World Cup.

Despite some lucky breaks going the Springboks way, the hand of Etzebeth, the illegal batting of the ball dead by Arendse, the Kolbe charge down later to be deemed offside, the two sides produced one of the best games of all-time.

The explosive first half saw three tries each in a stunning start. The Springboks are a dangerous counter-attacking side if you let them, and France obliged.

Arendse capitalised on a loose high ball to score, similarly Damian de Allende did the same one phase after recovering another spilt high ball. Jesse Kriel provided for Cheslin Kolbe with a grubber kick after a poor pass and knock-on by France.

The first three Springbok tries were all conjured from French errors. France only have themselves to blame for failing to manage those situations.

The play of the game came with the chips down for South Africa, down by six at 25-19 with a quarter of the game to go.

At that point in the game France had an 83 per cent chance of winning the contest based on all historical data.

South Africa gambled on coming up with a try instead of trying to cut the gap to three, which is very un-Springbok like. Eben Etzebeth crashed over from close range after sustained pressure to take back the lead.

A clutch play from Faf de Klerk and RG Snyman to rip the ball away on France’s last chance sealed a great win.



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