They have done it! Not for the first, second, or third, but the fourth time!

The Springboks have done it!

South Africa won their fourth Rugby World Cup by the barest of margins after they beat New Zealand 12-11 in a white-knuckle and infuriatingly tense final at the Stade de France on Saturday.

The Boks joined their feared rivals as the second team to defend a title.

Siya Kolisi, now purely unmatched as a Bok captain and producing easily his best performance of the tournament despite being yellow-carded for leading with the head in a tackle, joins Richie McCaw in the exalted territory of winning two World Cup titles while defending them.

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Team profiles

The All Blacks were considered far off their best as recently as a few months back, but performances in the shortened 2023 Rugby Championship changed that perspective quickly. They have found their rhythm just in time and have rediscovered their physicality in the pack. That, combined with their dangerous backline attack and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga pulling the strings, makes them a side capable of beating anyone on their day. You simply can’t bet against New Zealand when it comes to Rugby World Cup season, can you?

There is a real belief in France that this could finally be the year for Les Bleus. They have become one of the powerhouses of the game, fine-tuning their philosophy by prioritising forward dominance. France are playing a brand of rugby not dissimilar to what has historically worked for the Springboks, and it is working for them, too. They have also become far more disciplined, giving away fewer penalties, and with the weight of a nation behind them, they will be incredibly difficult to beat at their own World Cup.

This is Uruguay’s third Rugby World Cup in a row and they have solidified their status as the second best team in South America behind Argentina. They qualified for the 2023 edition by knocking out the USA in one of the upsets of the tournament so far. They will back themselves to beat Namibia, but will be eyeing Italy as their big scalp of the competition. If they can land those two victories, then this will surely be considered the best performance by Uruguay at a World Cup.

Allister Coetzee finally gets his Rugby World Cup, not as Springbok coach, but Namibia’s. It is a wonderful story for a man who has contributed so much to world rugby, but this is going to be a tough outing for the southern Africans. Namibia are the lowest-ranked team in Pool A and will likely take some big numbers against the All Blacks and France. They lost 26-18 to Uruguay in August, though, and will be looking at that fixture as a chance to land a valuable win in France.

You have to feel for the Italians being drawn in a pool that includes two of the pre-tournament favourites. It is very difficult - almost impossible - to see them causing an upset against either France or New Zealand, but that is what the Italians will need to do if they are to book a quarter-final spot for the first time ever. There have been glimpses of growth over the last couple of years, but this remains a tall order.

Can the Springboks do it again? The defending champions have a lot of continuity in terms of personnel, but they also have their fair share of injury concerns with star players Handre Pollard and Lukhanyo Am not in their squad. The Boks have a mountain to climb. They must get past Ireland and Scotland in their pool before a quarter-final against one of France or New Zealand. It is surely the most difficult road to the final the Boks have ever encountered at a World Cup, but they are still considered one of the tournament favourites.

There are many pundits who believe that Ireland, the No 1-ranked side in the world for much of the build-up, are the favourites to win the 2023 World Cup. They are so incredibly clinical in their execution of a smart, low-risk gameplan that sucks in defenders and creates opportunities, and that attacking excellence has transformed their game completely. Ireland are also incredibly difficult to break down, while they have a world-class playmaker in Johnny Sexton to kick them into positions of dominance, on the field and the scoreboard. This will be a huge test for the Springboks.

Like Italy, you have to feel for the Scotts. They are in perhaps their best shape ever entering a World Cup, but their path to a quarter-final is more difficult than any of the other top-tier teams with the Springboks and Ireland in their pool. Scotland will need to win at least one of those matches to progress, but there is no doubt that they have the tools. An influx of South African-born players has seen them improve their physicality tremendously, while they have also developed their attacking game with pace in their backline. They are more than capable against anyone.

Tonga have always proved a tricky opponent, and South Africans will remember the Boks sneaking past them at the 2007 World Cup in France, winning 30-25 to avoid a massive upset. They have never progressed to the tournament knockouts, though, despite this being their eight World Cup appearance in a row. Still, Tonga have a habit of running the big sides close regularly – they lost 23-21 to France at the 2019 edition, for example. All of South Africa, Ireland and Scotland will have to be on their toes.

Very little will be expected of Romania, who are the lowest-ranked side in the pool. This will be a game where the bigger sides give their extended squads a World Cup run, potentially wrapping their star players in cotton wool. Anything can happen, of course, but it is difficult to imagine any of South Africa, Ireland or Scotland being tested here. Romania will, however, be eyeing an upset against Tonga in the only pool match they can realistically win. Remarkably, 2019 remains the only World Cup that Romania haven’t qualified for.

Wales have regressed massively since the 2019 World Cup when they were losing semi-finalists to the Springboks. Remarkably, they are down to 10th in the world behind both Fiji and Argentina. But, because of their favourable draw, Warren Gatland’s charges are still expected to make the tournament quarter-finals. Very little is expected of them beyond that, though. When it comes to the business end of the competition, they will surely be no match for the likes of France, Ireland, New Zealand or South Africa.

The Wallabies, back under the tutelage of the forthright Eddie Jones, enter the tournament after some difficult results. Few are giving them a chance of making a play at the title, but the Australians are at least on the right side of the draw and should get through their group unscathed where a quarter-final against one of England or Argentina will await. Jones opted for a young squad, leaving out veterans Quade Cooper and Michael Hooper with 22-year-old Carter Gordon backed at flyhalf.

This is a golden opportunity for Fiji to reach their third Rugby World Cup quarter-final. They have shown immense improvement in recent years, firming up their set-piece and defence, and they enter the tournament in the top 10 of the world rankings. Fiji will eyeing their fixtures against both Wales and Australia with a lot of optimism, knowing that they can cause an upset on their day. If they do that and find a way through to the knockouts, a quarter-final against England or Argentina will likely be on the cards. They will back themselves there, too, so this has all the potential of being a famous World Cup for the men in white.

This will be Portugal’s second World Cup appearance after last featuring in 2007, where they took over 100 points against the All Blacks, and they will be up against it once more. The experience is surely more important than any of the results here, though a first win at a Rugby World Cup will definitely be the main objective.

Like Fiji, Georgia will be grateful that they have been pooled on this side of the draw and will be looking to push for a playoff spot. They beat Wales 13-12 in Cardiff as recently as 2022, and Wales have not really improved since then. That, alone, will be motivation enough for the Georgians. They will be eyeing that clash and their date with Fiji as two winnable opportunities that could potentially break new ground for Georgian rugby.

Where other sides have improved over the last few years, the 2019 World Cup finalists have moved backwards. Eddie Jones was sacked as coach at the beginning of the year, but that late change has done little to inspire any confidence that the 2003 champions are now suddenly on the right track under Steve Borthwick. Fortunately for them, England have been drawn on the ‘right’ side and they should progress through their group and into the knockouts. But given everything we have seen in recent months, there is not enough evidence to suggest that they can mount a serious challenge fo the title.

Having rocked the rugby community at their home World Cup in 2019, Japan will desperately want to show that their quarter-final appearance that year was no fluke. The rise of Japanese rugby has been one of the game’s success stories in recent years. They are not yet at a level where they can compete with the best sides in the world, but France 2023 is another fantastic opportunity for Japan to reach the knockouts. They will have to beat at least one of England or Argentina to get there, but they will back themselves in both of those matches. Who could forget Brighton 2015, after all?

Like Tonga, Samoa are always capable of giving the top-tier nations a scare and taking them deep. They have played in every World Cup since 1991 but have not progressed to the quarter-finals in any of their last six attempts. That is unlikely to change in 2023. They should beat Chile in their tournament opener, and they will then take on Argentina in a match that is likely to define their tournament. If they win that, then a victory over Japan should be enough to make the knockouts. That is a big ‘if’, though.

The Pumas missed out on the knockouts in 2019, but at the three World Cups before that, they were good enough to at least qualify for the quarter-finals. Since Japan four years ago, they have continued to make strides in the right direction and this included beating the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time ever. They have the charismatic Michael Cheika as their coach now and they are looking as dangerous as ever. Many pundits have Argentina favourites to finish top of Pool D given England’s decline, but they should be strong enough to secure second at the very least.

It’s always good to see the game growing, and Chile will be welcomed in their first-ever Rugby World Cup. They enter as the lowest-ranked side in the competition – 22nd in the world – but will hopefully take a lot of learnings from this experience.

The Springboks

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Design and production: Kelly Anderson, Lynn Butler & Sharlene Rood
Words: Lloyd Burnard