Rugby World Cup: Final the ultimate decider between All Blacks, Springboks

Forget Mt Smart, forget Twickenham - Sunday's Rugby World Cup final will be the ultimate decider to determine who'll claim bragging rights between the All Blacks and Springboks.

Already this year, rugby's two fiercest rivals have met twice, with a victory going each way.

In July, New Zealand defeated South Africa 35-20 in a clinical display at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart, but little more than a month later, the Springboks flipped the script to hand out a 35-7 hiding to coach Ian Foster's side, the largest defeat in All Blacks history.

Come kickoff at the Stade de France on Sunday (NZ time), neither of those results will mean a thing to either side.

Rival coaches Jacques Nienaber and Ian Foster
Rival coaches Jacques Nienaber and Ian Foster Photo credit: Getty Images

"If you look at both the games we played this year against each other, the one played in New Zealand, they played really well and the one at Twickenham, they got a red card, so were down to 14 men," said South Africa loose forward Kwagga Smith.

"We know each team has played against the other team, but this weekend is the one that counts. This is the most important one this year.

"We're really looking forward and we know it's going to be an epic battle."

The All Blacks and Springboks share arguably the proudest rivalry in the game. Since their first meeting in 1921, they have played 105 tests, with New Zealand winning 62 and South Africa 39, along with four draws.

While the rivalry is fierce, the admiration between both teams goes without saying.

"There's always respect," said fullback Willie le Roux. "The rivalry goes back a long time.

"The games we play against each other are always hardfought. After the game, you can see the guys gave it their all.

"There's a lot of respect between the Springboks and the All Blacks.

Whoever lifts the Webb Ellis Cup on Sunday will do so for an unprecedented fourth time, with both teams holding three titles apiece.

This will be the All Blacks' fifth World Cup final, with a record of three wins and one defeat, while South Africa are three from three, having never tasted defeat in the tournament decider.

The two sides have met once already in a World Cup final, as the Springboks claimed a famous 15-12 victory that united the nation after apartheid.  

The two sets of players would have been no older than children in 1995, if alive at all. Le Roux is one of those with memories of that World Cup final and knows what a repeat would mean.  

"That would be unbelievable," added le Roux. "I was six years old in 1995.

"I can remember my dad and mum screaming in the house, and I couldn't understand what was going on.

"To have the chance to play against them in the final would be amazing."

Often derided for their style of play, which favours a forwards-oriented approach that sees scoring in multiples of three instead of seven, South Africa's achievements in the past four years have gone under the radar.

As winners of the 2019 World Cup, Jacques Nienaber's side was unable to play the following year, due to COVID-19.

When they returned in 2021, the Springboks also defeated the British & Irish Lions in South Africa, a feat the 2017 New Zealand side failed to do, after winning the 2015 World Cup.  

Despite their achievements and the distinct lack of praise coming their way, the Springboks insist that admiration is not why they do what they do.

Richie Mo'unga against South Africa.
Richie Mo'unga against South Africa. Photo credit: Getty Images

"We don't play for that, for people to respect us," said Smith. "We play for each other and we play for South Africa, so they can be proud of us.

"For us, achieving those goals that were set out for us were great. We've got another one coming up this weekend.

"We just want to play for each other and play for our country, so they can be proud Springboks supporters."

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