Three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and one of New Zealand or South Africa reaching the final of the Men’s Rugby World Cup.
Since its inception in 1987, the All Blacks and Springboks have lifted the William Webb Cup three times each.
Saturday’s showdown is set to be the seventh occasion that at least one of the nations has reached the final.
New Zealand performing the traditional haka before World Cup Final match at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, 24th June 1995.
Their World Cup dominance in the last decade-and-a-half has been staggering – South Africa beating England twice either side of Kiwi victories in 2011 and 2015.
Saturday’s victors will clinch an unprecedented fourth World Cup, with South Africa aiming to match their opponents in being the only side to win it back-to-back.
Memories of 1995 final
Saturday’s final will be the second time the teams have ran out side-by-side in a World Cup final, 28 years on from their first World Cup encounter.
New Zealand had entered that match as heavy favourites, especially with a rampaging Jonah Lomu fresh off the back of a four-try display in the semi-finals against old-foes England.
Jonah Lomu on his way to scoring 4 tries in a 45-29 semi-final win against England in 1995.
It was South Africa who triumphed in a jubilant Johannesburg that day – a Joel Stransky drop-goal securing a 15-12 victory deep into extra-time.
Yet, the underlying context of that tournament and the iconic images of Nelson Mandela in his Springbok jersey will forever be etched into South African memory.
Both with the number six on their backs, Springbok captain Francois Pienaar accepted the trophy from the hands of Mandela himself in front of over 60,000 euphoric fans in Ellis Park.
South African President Nelson Mandela congratulating Springbok skipper Francois Pienaar after handing him the William Webb Ellis trophy.
It had been a significant tournament for many reasons, both on-and-off the field.
The Springboks had been subjected to an international sporting boycott during apartheid rule, and so did not compete in the first two editions of the World Cup.
IRFB (now World Rugby) had only readmitted South Africa to the international stage in 1992 following negotiations to end apartheid.
“When the final whistle blew South Africa changed for ever. It’s incomprehensible,” said Pienaar in an interview with The Observer back in 2013.
The story of a nation galvanised by its rugby team was then adapted into film in the 2009 Clint Eastwood-directed film Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.
An adaptation of John Carlin’s book, the film perfectly depicts the political subtext which served as an omnipresent backdrop to the greatest spectacle in rugby.
The quality of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final may not have been anywhere near the gripping quarter-final defeats of France and Ireland, but its social significance was unequivocal.
Rugby’s powerhouses meet again
Seven World Cups later, and the two dominant forces of international are to meet again in search of a coveted fourth title.
The All Blacks suffered their heaviest-ever Test match loss during their last clash with the Boks, losing 35-7 on hallowed Twickenham turf in August.
Kurt-Lee Arendse of South Africa breaks past Dane Coles of New Zealand to score the team’s second try during the final warm-up match at Twickenham.
It is a matchup often framed as the most intense of rivalries yet matched by equally high degrees of mutual respect from both sets of players and supporters alike.
Neutral onlookers will hope for as much drama and quality as the quarter-finals provided, in arguably the greatest weekend of international rugby.
Nobody will ever forget the twist-and-turns of those two enthralling battles, knocking out northern-hemisphere heavyweights Ireland and France.
The All Blacks haven’t looked back since their opening 27-12 loss to a buoyant French side, in what seems like an age ago.
With uncertainty surrounding the All Blacks form, the devastating 96-17 defeat inflicted on a sorry Italian side cleared up any lingering doubts.
The Springboks will be wary of the attacking threat which the Kiwis pose, with winger Will Jordan one score away from becoming the record try-scorer at a single World Cup.
8 – Will Jordan has scored 8 tries at #RWC23, the joint most any player has managed in an edition of the men's Rugby World Cup. Elite.
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) October 26, 2023
The Springboks’ route to the final has been equally as impressive.
Much like their opponents, the Boks suffered a narrow 13-8 pool stage loss to tournament favourites Ireland, as a sea of green descended on Paris.
With rumours of Handre Pollard’s imminent return, Manie Libbok’s accuracy off the tee suddenly became the centre of attention.
Having been the starting flyhalf for the tournament, Libbok has been the focal point of South African creativity.
After being hooked 31 minutes into their semi-final encounter, Pollard’s 77th minute penalty finally thwarted a resilient English outfit.
South Africa’s flyhalf Manie Libbok after being substituted by South Africa’s flyhalf Handre Pollard in the first-half against England.
Therefore it comes as no surprise as Pollard returns to the highly-pressurised number 10 jersey for this, the most important of matches.
The big team news from the Boks camp is the return to the 7-1 split on the bench, resulting in Libbok’s complete omission from the matchday squad.
Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber admitted: “If we’d gone with 5-3 split he would have played.”
Will the bomb squad offset the potential creativity that Libbok would’ve brought off the bench if the Boks are chasing the game?
6ft 9 substitute RG Snyman will be hoping to spark the ‘bomb squad’ into life come the second half.
A South African victory would ensure back-to-back World Cups for Siya Kolisi and co., whilst the All Blacks will be looking to secure their third title in four tournaments.
Whilst the 2023 final is not as geopolitically important as 1995, several issues continue to overshadow the Springbok’s on-field dominance.
One thing is certain: Saturday night will be historic.