This is it. After weeks of high intensity rugby filled with shocks and surprises throughout, we are now ready to crown a Rugby World Cup Champion. Let’s take a look at the final, as well as the Bronze Final which takes place on Friday night.
Bronze Final Preview
We may as well begin with the game that kicks off the final weekend of the tournament. The Bronze Final will take place on Friday and it is a repeat of a game we have already seen in the tournament as England take on Argentina.
How do England look?
Steve Borthwick’s side came incredibly close to upsetting the reigning world champions in the semi-finals last week. England were close to a huge upset but fell by a single point. They will still want to finish the tournament with a win and beat Argentina for the second time in this tournament.
The team might be a bit distracted at the moment. The racism allegations made by Tom Curry to Bongi Mbonambi have taken over the news recently and drawn some attention away from this game. The England camp also announced that Courtney Lawes will retire from international rugby after the tournament.
Ben Youngs is also retiring, but he is in the team for Friday while Lawes is absent. There are a huge number of changes to the England team from last week, with Theo Dan, Ellis Genge and Will Stuart all starting in the front row. Sam Underhill get’s his first England start in more than a year.
Henry Arundell get’s just his second appearance of the tournament, while Freddie Steward moves onto the wing to make space for Marcus Smith. Tom Curry does still start despite the controversy around him this week. Jamie George, Danny Care and George Ford could all be making their final England World Cup appearance this weekend.
How do Argentina look?
For Argentina, they will have been massively disappointed that they did not put up any sort of fight against the All Blacks. New Zealand controlled the game from the first minute and the game finished up 44-6 to the All Blacks.
Los Pumas still have the opportunity on Friday to match their best ever performance at a Rugby World Cup by beating England on Friday. Head coach Michael Cheika has made far fewer changes than Steve Borthwick, making just three changes to the team that lost to New Zealand last year.
Tomas Lavanini, Gonzalo Bertranou and Santiago Chocobares all drop out of the team for Pedro Rubiolo, Tomas Cubelli and Jeronimo de la Fuente. It is also going to be a big weekend for a few of Argentina’s legends.
Agustin Creevy, Nicolas Sanchez and Tomas Cubelli are all going to be playing their final game at the Rugby World Cup. So it is a monumental Friday night game. Despite the changes, both team’s will be desperate to win.
Prediction for England vs Argentina
Considering the one-sided nature of the game between the two sides not that long ago, I think the result will be the same for England. They are coming off the back of a better performance, although the final result will probably take a lot out of them.
The game will certainly be closer than in the group stage, but Steve Borthwicks team are still the team I think will finish third at the tournament.
Previewing the Final
The weekend is building up to Saturday at 8PM when South Africa will look to defend their Rugby World Cup title against three-time champions New Zealand. Both teams will be looking for the opportunity to become four-time Rugby World Cup champions. It is going to be a ferocious game, with both teams stacked with superstar talent.
It is going to be a spectacular game. There is so much on the line for both teams and so we will see an incredibly physical game and likely a tight one at the same time.
How did New Zealand get here?
The All Blacks are back in the Rugby World Cup Final for the first time in eight years, which is considered a drought for the All Blacks. They started their tournament with New Zealand’s first ever loss in the pool stage of a Rugby World Cup.
That opening day loss to France seemed to really spur New Zealand on. The loss was not a massively close game and so New Zealand needed to rebound. Well they did that by smashing Namibia. But Italy was thought to be a much tougher game for New Zealand.
Well they defeated Italy 96-17, scoring some ridiculous tries throughout the game. After another massive win over Uruguay, New Zealand had booked their place in the knockout stages. Many predicted this is where their tournament would end as New Zealand faced the number one ranked team in the world Ireland.
The game was incredibly close and physical throughout. But the All Blacks were able to get some revenge against the team that beat them in a series in New Zealand in 2022. The All Blacks were phenomenal and a pair of missed kicks was not enough to slow the All Blacks down.
They had a much easier affair in the semi-final, despite going down 3-0 after five minutes. They responded by scoring three tries in the first half and four more in the second half. Will Jordan bagged himself a hattrick as New Zealand showed that they are on top form at the moment.
What will probably scare the Springboks even more is that New Zealand were near enough perfect in defence, allowing the star-studded Argentinian squad to score just six points against them.
So the All-Blacks head into this game with a lot of confidence and have been very impressive in this tournament. They could have let that loss to France end their tournament, but the All Blacks have bounced back in spectacular fashion.
How did South Africa get here?
The reigning champions had a similarly difficult test to get to this position. They faced an incredibly difficult test in Scotland to begin the tournament but were able to overpower the Scots. After a thrashing of Romania, the Springboks faced number one team in the world Ireland.
In a closely fought game, South Africa were defeated 13-8. They needed a win against Tonga to secure their place in the quarterfinals and that is exactly what South Africa did. Finishing second meant South Africa had arguably the hardest quarter-final of them all as they faced hosts France.
In a spectacular game that ebbed back and forth, Handre Pollard’s 69th minute penalty turned out to be the winner as South Africa upset the hosts in front of the French fans. While there was a lot of controversy around the refereeing in the game, it was still incredibly close and South Africa were able to edge it at the end.
They were given a repeat of the 2019 Rugby World Cup final in the semi-final against England. The Springboks were expected to smash England, but the game was incredibly close and tense throughout. Handre Pollard delivered the killer blow with a 78th minute penalty to give South Africa their second one-point win in a row.
So the Springboks come to this game with less convincing results that their opposition. But what is important is that the reigning world champions are still consistently finding a way to win. They will hope that they can do the same this Saturday.
New Zealand Team News
New Zealand head coach Ian Foster has made just one change to the New Zealand team which beat Argentina last week. Brodie Retallick comes in to replace his old mate Sam Whitelock who drops to the bench.
There is one further change on the bench, with Nepo Laulala preferred to Fletcher Newell in the front row replacements. So it means that New Zealand have been able to keep the majority of their core healthy for the entire tournament.
The front row looks incredibly difficult to play against, with the height and power of Ethan De Groot and Tyrel Lomax likely to cause a few problems for the Springboks. Codie Taylor offers brilliant open field work and is reliable at the set piece. Scott Barrett is in brilliant form and you don’t get much more experience than Brodie Retallick.
Captain Sam Cane has played exceptionally throughout the tournament. Richie Mo’unga will play a huge role from fly half while Jordie Barrett needs another strong game carrying. With Beauden at 15, all three of the Barrett brothers will be starting in the Rugby World Cup Final, a pretty spectacular achievement.
From the bench, New Zealand have a huge amount of power and pace throughout. If Sam Whitelock does feature in this game, then he will become the first player in Rugby World Cup history to feature in three finals.
South Africa Team News
The Springboks have been a lot more drastic in their changes compared to last week. There have been two pretty major changes to the starting XV, with Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard the new halfback pairing, replacing Cobus Reinach and Mannie Libbok.
Both Libbok and Reinach drop out of the squad completely, a harsh team selection from head coach Jacques Nienaber. The other major headline is the bench and the fact that South Africa have opted for the 7-1 split. Willie le Roux is the only back named on the bench and so any sort of injury could be a real issue for the Springboks in the backs.
While it is a risk, you can certainly see the reward. South Africa have the chance to bring on almost an entire new forward pack in the second half which should give them a massive boost. Interestingly, the only other time the Springboks have used this split in the tournament, they lost to Ireland.
Nienaber has gone for experience in this team. Pollard and De Klerk were the pair which started in the final four years ago. It is not a huge surprise that the Leicester Tigers fly-half starts in this game because he was subbed on in the first half of last weeks game after a poor start to the game for Mannie Libbok.
The bench split is an interesting one, but when you look at the names on that bench it looks impossible to stop. I would imagine that Bongi Mbonambi will want to have a big game this weekend considering his conduct in the semi-final has been one of the major talking points over the last week.
Cheslin Kolbe will have a massive role to play in this game as well. One of the try scorers from four years ago, Kolbe is the man who will step into scrum half if there is an injury to Faf de Klerk at any point during the game.
The Recent record between the two teams
New Zealand and South Africa have played six times since the previous Rugby World Cup and have both won three games each. In 2023, both teams have a win against each other. What might be seen as the more significant result is the RWC warm up game which took place just two weeks before the start of the tournament.
South Africa crushed New Zealand 35-7 in a one-sided game that very few people saw coming. It was the Springboks biggest ever win over New Zealand and so a historic result. You would imagine that this will bring a lot of encouragement to South African fans.
Prediction for the game
It is so difficult to accurately predict such a tight affair like this. Both teams pulled off incredible upsets to get to this position and come into the game with fearsome squads. There is going to be world class talent all over the pitch on Saturday.
If I have to make a prediction then I would edge towards New Zealand becoming four-time RWC champions. They come into this game on better form and look unstoppable at the moment. They have been the most impressive side in the tournament so far and I think they get it done on the biggest stage.