Potentially one of the greatest rugby matches since that 19th century day when a schoolboy picked up a soccer ball and ran with it at Rugby School in the English Midlands, is to be staged at the Stade de France in Paris on Saturday.

Clashing in their bids to be the first nation to win the Webb Ellis Trophy four times, are the mixed-race All Blacks of New Zealand and the likewise Springboks of South Africa, both teams fired up as never before. The Springboks are defending the championship they won beating England by a whisker in the 2019 final.

Anybody who confidently predicts the result should be locked up. With one exception. Somebody wrote last weekend that the 2023 semi-final between South Africa and England might be settled with a single kick. And so it was. The match had just that extraordinary happening as well as other dramas to savour. The kick, awarded during the overtime of 80 plus minutes, was taken by fly-half Handre Pollard to give his team three points and a 16-15 margin. It was a full 50 metres long plus the height of the England cross-bar. It flew with the accuracy and depth of a rifle shot. Until that penalty South Africa had been trailing throughout to a marginally superior England.

 Pollard said afterwards “that was fun,” the all-time understatement in sport. In contrast, the rest of the rugby world, from London to Auckland, was fending off heart attacks as he ran to strike the ball.

 England had minutes previously failed in a frenzied muscle war to cross the South African try-line, inches away, missing the easy chance of a simple winning drop kick –  a tactic which they had featured successfully in previous matches.

There had been so many lofted long and high kicks, maybe too many, used repeatedly in some preliminary one-sided matches. Just as they had been in the semi-final between surprises Argentina and the high-rolling New Zealanders, the South Americans inevitably collapsing to defeat, by 44-6.

The final is much more likely to be a balanced, bruising and classical encounter, with hopefully not too many fruitless kicks, even though they do provide plenty of dramatic displays of courage.

Both these countries are aiming to be the modern World Cup champions for a fourth time. But that statistic takes second place in our anticipation to the polished yet also raw skills of the 30 players and to the many millions of supporters who seek bragging rights for the next four years, to be fought for all over again in Australia.

 An international survey of predicting sports writers suggested 53 percent for a South African victory and 47 percent for New Zealand, such is the close balance of opinion.

 The All-Blacks’ “Haka” tribal warrior display will get it all going. The Boks will be ready, as will rugby enthusiasts world-wide.


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