Red card to skipper Sam as All Blacks lose dramatic World Cup final to Springboks
Springboks 12 (Handre Pollard 4 pen) All Blacks 11 (Beauden Barrett 58min try; Richie Mo’unga 2 pen). HT: 12-6.
Red card: Sam Cane (All Blacks) 29min. Yellow card: Shannon Frizell (All Blacks) 3min, Siya Kolisi (Springboks) 46min, Cheslin Kolbe (Springboks) 72min.
Pour yourself a stiff drink, take a long walk on the beach or stare at the ceiling, New Zealand, because this really stings.
The pain may linger for many weeks, maybe months.
Only a crazy rugby wizard could have dreamed up such a mad, pulsating World Cup final at a slippery Stade de France in Paris and watching the All Blacks lose 12-11 to the Springboks on Sunday morning (NZT) was like taking a blow to the heart with a rubber hammer.
The All Blacks could have won if Jordie Barrett had succeeded with a 49m penalty in the 74th minute but the ball swung wide, and that seemed to add another couple of litres of gas to the tanks of the Springboks in the mad minutes that followed.
Because there was so much action packed within these 80 minutes, it will surely be regarded as the greatest World Cup final of them all.
Has there ever been a more bonkers game? You have to feel for All Blacks coach Ian Foster, what a way to finish up. They almost did it.
All Blacks captain Sam Cane became the first player to be red carded in a men’s final, his Springboks counterpart Siya Kolisi was fortunate to only get a yellow (and in the 72nd minute team-mate Cheslin Kolbe copped yellow for a deliberate knock-on) and there was also the sight of All Blacks No 6 Shannon Frizell getting a yellow in the opening minutes.
It was a busy night for referee Wayne Barnes. This was hectic, dramatic and made your ticker thump at 180 bpm.
The All Blacks, despite having to play with 14 men when Cane was given his marching orders in the 29th minute, were brave and courageous, refusing to get dragged into a dull kicking game to create pressure.
Instead they wanted to explore every inch of the park with a running game, whether it be using their runners close to the ruck, or going wide to stretch the green line of defence.
No 8 Ardie Savea, promoted to captain with Cane sitting helplessly on the sideline, was magnificent; he chucked his body into every dark crevasse in the rucks, tackled, ran and cajoled.
All of the All Blacks, to be clear, were tremendous.
Savea made several bold calls, much to the delight of the crowd, to spurn shots at goal in the second spell and try to score tries off lineout drives. It didn’t work but eventually the All Blacks popped a seam in the defensive line when Mark Telea wriggled down the left edge and created a try for Beauden Barrett.
It was justice for an earlier try to Aaron Smith being ruled out, Savea having knocked the ball on during the attacking lineout.
Barrett’s effort was the only try of the game, but don’t be fooled. This was chess on steroids.
Discipline problems have plagued the All Blacks throughout this tournament and, for whatever reason, they were reluctant to absorb the lessons.
All Blacks fans must have felt the oxygen had been squeezed out of their lungs when Cane was yellow carded, later upgraded to red for driving his shoulder into Springboks centre Jesse Kriel’s head as he attempted to step inside him.
Earlier, in the third minute, the All Blacks had blindside flanker Frizell yellow carded for dropping his weight onto the leg of Boks hooker Bongi Mbonambi in ruck.
But it was the Cane send-off that sent the 80,000-strong crowd, the majority supporting the men from the Long White Cloud, as they dug their heels in and tried to scrape their way out of the trench they had made for themselves.
Then, as if some creature high in the heavens above France wanted to even-out this contest, was the sight of Kolisi getting his yellow card for a high shot on Savea .
Despite his tackle catching Savea in the face, not dissimilar to what Cane did to Kriel, Kolisi’s yellow didn’t become red.
That will be talked about for months, even years, by frustrated Kiwi fans who believe there’s no justice in this world.
For departing All Blacks Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga and Frizell this was an extremely painful way to exit New Zealand rugby.
They deserved better. They all did.
The first major drama for the All Blacks unfolded when Frizell flopped on Mbonambi.
It could have been much worse. TMO Tom Foley said Frizell didn’t deliberately set out to maim Mbonambi, and Barnes’ message to Boks captain Kolisi was clear: “He’s fallen on to it, it remains a yellow card.”
Foster, having heard that verdict, may have almost fainted with relief.
When Mbonambi immediately clutched his knee, the expression on his face an open window to his pain, it was obvious he was going to be forced to retire.
The irony of this situation was lost on no-one; Mbonambi had been embroiled in a controversy in the build-up, with World Rugby investigating an allegation that he racially abused English flanker Tom Curry.
Much to the chagrin of English coach Steve Borthwick, Mbonambi was cleared of wrongdoing, and the Springboks, having a part-timer in Deon Fourie as the back-up, were delighted.
Then, of course, Fourie was required in the opening minutes. It was almost too wacky to be true. The All Blacks, truth be known, were happy to just concede three points when down to 14 men but their troubles were just beginning.
The news of Cane’s red card was met with disbelief by Savea hen Barnes, having consulted with Foley, delivered the news from the bunker: “There is a high degree of danger and no mitigation.”
Savea’s response was abrupt: “Red?!” But there was no turning back time, and Savea returned to his men to deliver the bad news.
If the All Blacks were to win the World Cup, it had to be done with 14 men.
This was like two tectonic plates grinding against each other, two of the best from the southern hemisphere, and for the All Blacks, who began their preparation in July, came within a point of dragging the game into extra time.
Close, but no cigar. Sport isn’t fair.