South Africa clinched a record fourth Rugby World Cup title by doing just enough to deny 14-man New Zealand and retain their crown in a helter-skelter final in Paris.
The Springboks seemed to have control when, with Handre Pollard’s dead-eyed goalkicking having already given them a 9-3 lead, Sam Cane caught Jesse Kriel high in the 27th minute.
The New Zealand captain was shown a red card on review and another Pollard penalty left the All Blacks a man down, nine points behind and in deep trouble.
But New Zealand rallied, rode their luck and dragged themselves back into the game. Richie Mo’unga kicked a penalty before the break and Beauden Barrett scooped up a loose ball and slid in after the interval to cut South Africa’s lead to 12-11.
Both teams pushed for a decisive score in an enthralling, lactic-drenched final quarter, but neither found one, with Jordie Barrett missing a long-range 73rd-minute penalty and the Springboks clinging on for a third successive one-point victory in the knockout stages.
Captain Siya Kolisi clutched his head in disbelief as he danced off the bench and towards his team-mates on the final whistle. His side are the first team to win the tournament back-to-back away from home – a statistic Leinster-bound coach Jacques Nienaber underlined in the build-up – and are now the undeniable dominant force in World Cup history.
Their latest victory means the Springboks have won half of the eight tournaments they have taken part in. South Africa were absent from the first two editions because of the sporting exile imposed by the rest of the world in reaction to the country’s apartheid government.
In that era, the Springboks were hated by many black South Africans. But under the leadership of Kolisi – the team’s first black Test captain – they have won backing from across the spectrum of the Rainbow Nation.
Ian Foster’s four-year reign as New Zealand head coach ends within a whisker of the ultimate prize, having come under pressure in the build-up when his team dipped below their usual high historical standards.