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World Cup winners question crucial All Blacks decision against South Africa

By Josh Raisey
Ardie Savea of New Zealand looks on with team mates during the Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

In a match that finished with a 12-11 scoreline, the World Cup final came down to fine margins and crucial moments- a successful pass here or an accurate kick there and the All Blacks could have come away victorious, or equally South Africa could have won more comfortably.

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As far as crucial moments go, they do not get any bigger than the All Blacks’ decision to kick to the corner in the 51st minute. Trailling 12-6 at the time, but critically with 14 players against 14 as Siya Kolisi was yellow carded, New Zealand decided to turn down a likely three points from Richie Mo’unga for a potential five or seven. A few phases later and Will Jordan was knocking the ball on and the Springboks had repelled the All Blacks.

On such moments are matches won and loss, and as a result they are much discussed once the final whistle blows. Former World Cup winners Conrad Smith and Jean de Villiers, and former England wing Ugo Monye went over that decision on the Official Rugby World Cup 2023 Podcast, and questioned whether it was the right call, albeit with the luxury of hindsight.

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Jacques Nienaber and Siya Kolisi speak about the Malmesbury Missile and his Man of the Match performance in the World Cup Final

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Jacques Nienaber and Siya Kolisi speak about the Malmesbury Missile and his Man of the Match performance in the World Cup Final

While it did not turn out to be the correct call, the former All Black Smith said that there are no right or wrong decisions, and moments like that are one of the “beautiful parts” of rugby.

“As a spectator, I don’t like drilling onto those decisions, but I would love to ask that,” the Smith said about understanding the reasoning behind the decision to kick for the corner.

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“I had Thierry Dusatoir and Matt Giteau next to me and I was really confused. Part of me thought, maybe they knew Siya was only goint to get a yellow, so they had ten minutes to capitalise on 14 on 14. But, as far as I could see, I just thought ‘take those three, man. You’re in a final.’

Monye countered by quoting England fly-half George Ford, who talked about the feel of a game that players have that coaches and fans do not have. “George Ford said to me,” he said. ‘Coaches in the stands, they see things that we don’t see on the pitch as players, but players feel different things that coaches never feel.’ So that was a feel decision, and you never want to take the feel away from players.”

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Smith agreed with Monye, and added that there’s never a right decision. He said: “Look, and Jean you’re been the same, I’ve been captain and there are those moments in a game that I love. They’re beautiful parts of the game because there are no right decisions. You’ll go for the line and score and they’ll be like ‘that was it,’ or then you’ll go and miss the lineout and they’re like ‘you should have taken the three points.’ There’s never a right decision, but they took the punt there and I just questioned it, but you can do that with every decision in the game.”

Former Springboks captain de Villiers was a man of few words in this discussion, but added: “I thought it was the right decision… for us.”

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