South Africa, The Unequalled World Champion and A Potential Rugby Killer

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Cape Town, Wellington, London (9/11 – 27)

South Africa has become the unequalled rugby world champion after winning the World Cup for a record fourth time on 28 October 2023. Before the 2023 edition, The Springboks won the Rugby World Cup in 1995, 2007, and 2019. Their closest rival is New Zealand, who has won the title on three occasions (1987, 2011, and 2015). Australia has two titles (1991 and 1999) and England has one (2003).

There are some interesting statistics about The Springboks’ success as the only team to have won the Rugby World Cup four times. South Africa has a 100% winning record in World Cup finals. They bested New Zealand twice (15-12 in 1995 and 12-11 in 2023) and England twice (15-6 in 2007 and 32-12 in 2019).

South Africa has won those finals despite only scoring two tries in total. Both of those tries came in the 32-12 win over England in 2019. The other 22 points for South Africa in the 2019 final came from two conversions (4) and six penalties (18).

In 1995, all of their points in the 15-12 win over New Zealand came from penalties (9) and drop goals (6). In 2007, The Springboks scored 15 points in the final against England only with five penalties. In their most recent triumph in 2023, four penalties from Handre Pollard ensured the narrow victory over New Zealand.

On the other side of the play, South Africa also does not allow their opponents to score many tries in the final. Beauden Barrett’s score in Paris on 28 October 2023 was the first time the Springboks had conceded a try in a World Cup final. Defense and set-pieces basically are South Africa’s main weapons.

“South Africa plays a certain style,” said former New Zealand player, Jeff Wilson. “Ultimately, when it comes down to it, defenses are still winning in the big games. Defenses are standing out, the set-piece is still the be-all and end-all. When push comes to shove, South Africa went to the front eight and just kept going. That’s how they win games and allows them to dominate in areas.”

South Africa could inspire other teams to do the same. The problem is that could as well be the killer of an entertaining rugby. Worth noting that New Zealand is arguably the most entertaining team in the last two World Cups because they always made the most tries.

The All Blacks always fell short in those two tournaments. A try in rugby is the primary way for teams to score points when playing the game. The strategies and maneuvers to execute a try are the main treat for fans.

When it is more and more difficult to score a try, potentially that would make rugby not fun to watch anymore. Fans will be seeing more kicks and one-pass carries with little action.

Another former New Zealand player, John Kirwan, says that the Springboks are boring to watch and insists that the governing body needs to enforce some changes. “I was bored during their game because it was stop-start. Now, the game needs to change. It’s an anaerobic game; we need to be an aerobic game,” Kirwan said.