The World Cup final, marred by a red card to Sam Cane and won in the slenderest margin by South Africa received mixed reviews from the world’s media.
“South Africa limped and panicked and drove their way to victory and retained the Webb Ellis Cup in a match that was ferociously competitive and a contest, but never remotely approaching greatness or indeed, not much beyond mediocrity”,” wrote Stephen Jones in the Times, who also took a potshot at the South African coaching staff led by Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber.
“Of course it was exciting at the end but it was still a shambles and we had the sending-off of the New Zealand captain Sam Cane – and Siya Kolisi, the South African captain, was fortunate not to join him as a spectator.
“There was an outside chance for New Zealand when Cheslin Kolbe was sent to the bin for a deliberate knock-on and Barrett took aim from a whopping 50 metres including the angle, but like an earlier conversion, the kick went wide and the panicked Springboks were able to keep territory in the closing stages.
“They gave glimpses during the long run into the tournament that they would be a new and attractive side while retaining some of their own bold power but in the end, they did it by strapping, very little in the way of flair, and an awful lot in the way of good fortune.
“And frankly, too, there will be large sections of the rugby world who will not be dancing in the streets. Some of their behaviours in the coaching box and in the aftermath of games has been a disgrace but they really will have to take a good look at themselves and someone in authority is going to have to impose some discipline.”
Oliver Brown, in the UK Telegraph focussed on Cane and his reaction to the 29th minute red card offence.
“You could see the magnitude of the moment in Sam Cane’s haunted expression. A decision from the bunker to upgrade a yellow card for his high tackle on Jesse Kriel to red did not just mean his team’s chances against South Africa were grievously damaged,” Brown wrote.
“It also bestowed on him the ghastly distinction of being the first player to be sent off in a men’s World Cup final. For an All Black, the feeling of humiliation was searing. But for the captain? Almost beyond endurance.
“In the 3½ years since he was given the honour of leading this side, Cane has struggled to escape the shadow of his predecessor, a man who inspired back-to-back World Cup triumphs. “You’re just a shit Richie McCaw,” as Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony memorably told him in a fit of pique.
“Not in his grisliest nightmares, though, could he have envisaged a fate worse than this. As referee Wayne Barnes brandished the red, Cane buried his head in his hands, rubbing his eyes in the manner of a man willing himself to wake up.
“And yet the horror was still there, stark and unvarnished. For Cane, infamy was sealed: he was only the 11th All Black to be shown a red card in the team’s 120 years of existence, and it was all happening on the loftiest stage of all.
“Few could dispute that the dishonour was deserved, based on the video evidence. He had maintained far too upright a posture as he slammed into Kriel, with no detectable bend in the tackle. The consequence? He consigned his team-mates to playing the world’s No 1 side for 51 minutes with 14 men.”
Robert Kitson, writing in the The Guardian, described the game as an “epic, see-sawing contest.”
“It will also be remembered as a tale of two captains. When Siya Kolisi, South Africa’s first black rugby captain, hoisted the Webb Ellis Cup aloft in Japan four years ago, it was one of the sport’s most memorable images and now, for every Springboks supporter, there is a glorious sense of deja vu. For his All Blacks counterpart, Sam Cane, it was to prove the darkest of nights,” he wrote.
Gavin Mairs, in the Telegraph, described it as “the greatest World Cup final won by unquestionably the greatest rugby side.
“South Africa, the defending champions, who conquered the British and Irish Lions since lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in Yokohama four years ago, have now been world champions four of the eight World Cups they have contested.
“In a final for the ages, they were pushed right to the wire by a New Zealand side who had to play all but 18 minutes with 14 men, after their captain Sam Cane was shown a red card in the first half following a yellow card for his back-row teammate Shannon Frizell.
“The All Blacks, themselves going for a fourth World Cup title, came agonisingly close, with Jodie Barrett’s late, long-range penalty drifting just wide of the posts. Barrett has been utterly immense in attempting to inspire what would have been a historic comeback, which included a second-half try by his brother Beauden.
“But ultimately South Africa, who lost their only hooker Bongi Mbonambi as early as the third minute, were worthy champions, establishing a lead with four penalties by Handre Pollard, a player who was not even originally selected for the World Cup squad because of injury.”
Nik Simon, writing in the Daily Mail, wrote the “tension was so high that the Webb Ellis Cup could have been squeezed and compressed into gold bullion. A flawed but compelling final that Cheslin Kolbe watched through his finger tips as South Africa, remarkably, became the first nation to be crowned [men’s] champions four times.
“It is maximum intensity. Eviscerating physicality. A superheavyweight fight that went right to the end of the 12th round. It was beautifully ugly. Painfully compelling. High stakes rugby that ended with 14 against 14 after a red card for Sam Cane and a yellow card for Kolbe.”
Gregor Paul, in the NZ Herald, described it as a mad, memorable final.
“If the final was about being brave to the core, fighting to the bitter end against all the odds, then the champions would have been New Zealand,” Paul wrote.
“But South Africa are champions, worthy ones too, because they had what it took to score more points and resist the tenacity of an All Blacks team that couldn’t quite match their courage with the finesse and accuracy that was required to sneak the win.
“What ultimately made it a classic final, if a little frantic and wild, was that South Africa’s defensive resolve was just as defiant as New Zealand’s refusal to buckle when they had to play for so long with a numerical disadvantage.
“It ended up being the sort of mad, memorable final that everyone wanted and one that will eat away at the All Blacks for years to come.”
Also in NZ Herald, Liam Napier added: “Dashed dreams for the courageous All Blacks. A record fourth global title for the Springboks by the barest of margins after a controversy and card filled World Cup final.
“One point separates heartbreak and ecstasy at Stade de France as the ultimate redemption fell out of reach for the All Blacks.
“As they have throughout their journey to this pinnacle juncture the All Blacks dug to the depths of adversity after battling for 42 minutes with 14 men following Sam Cane’s red card and Shannon Frizell’s yellow – both in the first half.
“Ian Foster’s men never stopped believing. They pushed forward and constantly chased victory to hold the Springboks scoreless in the second half.
“In the end, though, they could not land the final definitive blow to steal the Webb Ellis Cup.
“A rumble in the Paris rain gave way to a gripping second half epic as the All Blacks refused to surrender. They embraced ambition and intent but finishing eluded them.
“The devastating defeat marks the end of an era for departing legends Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, and Dane Coles as well as Nepo Laulala, Shannon Frizell and Leicester Fainga’anuku – all of whom now leave the All Blacks.”