Now that the dust has settled on that tense and dramatic final between South Africa and New Zealand and in the week that England celebrated 20 years since winning the World Cup in Australia in 2003, it is time to reflect on the 2023 World Cup to discuss whether it was the best one in World Cup history since that first final took place in 1987 in Auckland

The final, containing the only two teams to have previously won the World Cup 3 times each and therefore a true match of equals.   It was a tale of two halves and two captains, with the New Zealand captain Sam Cane being the only player to receive a red card in the World Cup final for a high tackle on South Africa’s Jesse Kriel, who was absolutely heartbroken at the final whistle.  Siya Kolisi, the South African captain, already a history maker for becoming South Africa’s first black test captain was dancing and singing at the end after lifting back-to-back titles. A 12-11 victory was just enough to deny New Zealand who had rallied themselves in a fight back with Beauden Barrett’s try just after half time.  South Africa clung on for a third successive one-point victory showing again how small margins matter.  Their ruthlessness in making substitutions to deal with any problems such as kicking showed how much they learnt from the Ireland defeat, and they were taking no chances in this match. South Africa can truly claim to be champions after beating out France, England, Ireland and the All Blacks to win this tournament.  They can also truly describe themselves as representatives of their country having won the hearts of the South Africans given the diversity of language and backgrounds in the dressing room and it was fantastic to see the dancing and celebrations at the end.   

It really was the most competitive World Cup and South Africa truly fought to the very end of matches to ensure they won demonstrated by the slimmest margins of victory.  There were a number of pool games of real quality and a number of surprises, such as Ireland’s loss and England’s performance in the semi-finals.  Many of the games came right down to the wire resulting in dramatic, tense finishes adding to the spectacle. France were fantastic hosts belting out music at key moments in the games to get the crowd going and create a magnificent atmosphere.

And so to the next World Cup to be held in Australia in 2027.  Rugby is facing a crisis in many of the countries with England’s teams going out of business at an alarming rate, Australia facing a declining audience in competition with other sports, Wales suffering a financial crisis losing players to England and France and player safety causing a long term decline in rugby participation.  World Rugby has a number of issues to address in order for the 2027 tournament to match the quality, drama and excitement of the 2023 one.  It really was a great showpiece for rugby.