PARIS (AP) — There was just seven seconds left on the clock, and one massive scrum to play to decide the winner of the Rugby World Cup between South Africa and New Zealand.
The Springboks led by a point and needed to withdraw a last furious push from the All Blacks.
The two lines of forwards locked horns, and South Africa won the scrum, making sure it would keep the ball from the ruck, prompting referee Wayne Barnes to call an end to a nerve-racking and gritty final.
Definitely not the most spectacular of the two teams on the field, South Africa claimed a record fourth Rugby World Cup after a phenomenal defensive effort.
The Springboks won 12-11. Another win by the skin of their teeth. Like they did it in the semifinals against England and France in the quarterfinals, progressing each time by the slimmest one-point margin.
Even when they played at 15 against 14 for 50 minutes they struggled, relying on their excellent kicking game and resilience.
“They are an amazing bunch of guys, they are all warriors,” said South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber.
South Africa defended its title thanks to Handre Pollard's four penalties, which had given his team a 12-6 half-time lead. The Springboks did not score a point in the second-half, pushed back by unrelentless charges from the All Blacks, who desperately tried to add another try after Beauden Barrett had revived a nation's hopes they could turnaround the match.
After the final whistle at the Stade de France, there was one statistic standing out. The Springboks had managed 209 tackles — with a success rate of 81%. South Africa also won seven turnovers to just one from New Zealand.
Flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit was responsible for 28 of South Africa's tackles and was named the man of the match.
“I guess as a team we like drama," Du Toit said. "We have had drama for the last few years. It helped us a lot as a team to get through the drama and cope with it and it shows the resilience of the team and the whole of South Africa.”
Nienaber said Du Toit "was outstanding. Defensively, which is my department, he was absolutely outstanding. Well done to him on his man of the match.”
Du Toit was so good that despite all his efforts and fatigue he stayed on until the end, even though Nienaber has put seven power-packed forward replacements on his bench.
The 7-1 split proved to be a successful gamble and Nienaber was happy to have plenty of muscles and power left in store in the last 30 minutes.
“The main thing is they’re a squad. They have been in a World Cup final before, some of them have played their third World Cup now. I think the experience pulled them through,” said Nienaber.
But the move could have backfired when Mbongeni Mbonambi, the only specialist hooker in the squad, got injured early on and had to be replaced in the fourth minute by Deon Fourie.
The Springboks were not as dominant as usual in the scrum and had some issues on the lineouts. But the tight five was rock-solid defensively.
“We lost our hooker in the early part of the game and we had to adjust to that,” said South Africa captain Siya Kolisi. “Credit to my boys too for the fight. I am just grateful we could pull it off.”
AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby