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Dashed dreams in Paris: All Blacks’ World Cup heartbreak

In a dramatic and controversy-filled World Cup final at Stade de France, the All Blacks lost by just one point to the Springboks, denying them a record fourth global title.

PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 28: Siya Kolisi of South Africa kisses his wrist strapping, which features a Religious Cross, as he lifts The Webb Ellis Cup after his team's victory during the Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

A tightly contested Rugby World Cup final at Stade de France has seen South Africa narrowly defeat a 14-man Aotearoa NZ team 12-11, clinching the Webb Ellis Cup.

In a game marred by an unprecedented four yellow cards and a historic red card, the Springboks’ resolute defense and early penalties from flyhalf Handre Pollard were just enough to edge past the All Blacks.

The red card, issued to All Blacks captain Sam Cane, marked a first in World Cup final history and significantly impacted New Zealand’s gameplay, as they were reduced to 14 men. Cane expressed regret over the incident.

“I’m extremely gutted... the boys had to play with 14 men for the last fifty odd minutes,” emphasizing the challenge faced by his team.

The ABs, despite being a player down, displayed remarkable resilience. Beauden Barrett scored the only try for the All Blacks, while Richie Mo’unga added two penalties. However, their efforts fell just short against a determined South African side.

The game’s outcome was heavily influenced by the disciplinary decisions, with the difference in punishment for similar head collisions by Cane and South African captain Siya Kolisi causing controversy. Cane’s red card contrasted with Kolisi’s yellow card for a similar infraction, sparking debate among fans and analysts.

Former All Black and Sky Sports commentator Israel Dagg expressed strong criticism of referee Wayne Barnes’ officiating at halftime, stressing inconsistency and perceived over-penalization.

“He has missed... with so many poor decisions”.

The 2011 Rugby World Cup winner further lamented what he saw as the excessive influence of the Television Match Official (TMO), Tom Foley, on the game. “There’s probably no mitigation there; he’s hit him in the head. That’s the way the rules [are], and obviously Tom Foley, whoever he is, the TMO, is having more say,” he said, expressing his frustration.

At one point the TMO overturned a critical Aaron Smith try, by retrospectively identifying a knock-on several phases earlier in the play.

“I know I’m gonna sound like a sore loser here. But this is our showpiece event. That has been overshadowed by people out there in the middle that is putting apprehension in the minds of our players. And we’re seeing a snorefest out there. Twelve to six, how boring is that?” Dagg said.

PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 28: Aaron Smith scores a try which is later disallowed by the TMO during the Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

“I’m honestly fed up.”

Dagg’s critique of the officiating found broad backing, with a number of international playing veterans and commentators echoing his sentiments.

England’s 2003 World Cup captain Martin Johnson told BBC Radio 5 Live someone needed to “explain to Sam Cane why he has left the field and Siya Kolisi stayed on.”

“Kolisi put his head into someone’s jaw and stayed on the field. [I] would have not sent either of them off - they were both accidents.” Johnson jibed.

“One captain has been off the field for 50 minutes and one hasn’t.”

Despite the setbacks, All Blacks coach Ian Foster praised his team’s effort, acknowledging the difficulty posed by the red card: “The red card really put us behind the eight ball... South Africa are a strong team and deserve the win.”

The final score stood at 12-11 in favour of South Africa, testament to the intense, tightly fought nature of the match.

The defeat marks the end of an era for departing legends Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, and Dane Coles as well as Nepo Laulala, Shannon Frizell and Leicester Fainga’anuku – all of whom now leave the All Blacks.

This back-to-back victory secures South Africa’s fourth World Cup title.